Dale Earnhardt Jr. relaxed after ‘positive’ feedback to retirement news

Photo by Harold Hinson Photography

By Yvonne Jones, Staff Writer

RICHMOND, Va. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. is relieved days after announcing his plan to retire at season’s end.

Getting the news off his chest was one thing, but the man, whose name is synonymous with NASCAR, was more concerned with the reaction to his decision.

And it’s been good, he told the media following the first practice at Richmond International Raceway on Friday.

“It’s been real positive which I’m thankful for,” said Earnhardt, who announced on Tuesday he’ll hang it up after Homestead. “I was worried people were going to be upset and angry, like ‘what the hell’, so I was glad that they … so far, for the most part it’s been real positive.

Earnhardt, the sport’s most popular driver the past 14 years, said he was encouraged by the feedback from peers and even members of the press. And another layer of Earnhardt’s burden was lifted on Thursday as he visited Nationwide Children’s Hospital, a stop that was already planned long before he dropped the retirement news.

“Obviously, the conversations I’ve had with folks in the media, the industry and the garage has been great,” said Earnhardt, who along with wife, Amy, have an activity room at the hospital named in their honor. “So, it’s been good, we also went to the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Thursday, which was a really timely good thing to do because I was ready to get back to work and get back to my routine, if you will.

“That was fun to go there and sort of get the whole announcement and everything else off your mind for a little bit.”

Earnhardt’s mind may be clear ahead of Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400, but it doesn’t mean the pressure is off for the rest of the season.

“Well, I think there will still be … the fans are going to want you to do as well as you can,” said Earnhardt, winner of 26 Cup races. “They are still going to have expectations per usual.  The team, the guys, they all and myself we would love to win some races.  I’m going to say a race, but some races would be great going out in your last season to get some victories.

Earnhardt, who missed the final 18 races of 2016 with concussion-like symptoms, hasn’t won a Cup event since Nov. 15, 2015, at Phoenix.

“We just want to go to Victory Lane one more time just to get that experience one more time would be awesome for me and I think the guys would love it for sure,” he said. “But, I certainly did feel a lot more relaxed now.”

Earnhardt is a three-time winner at the Cup level at Richmond, with his last victory coming on May 6, 2006. In the Xfinity Series, he has four wins at the .750-mile D-shaped track, including last year.

“It’s been a great race track,” Earnhardt said. “I think I like this race track so much because it really reminded me of Myrtle Beach. It’s very similar in shape as well as grip level. And I kind of grew up racing in Myrtle Beach for about four years in the mid-90’s.

“So, when I came here it was like wow, I’m not intimidated, and I really didn’t have to find my way around this place when I first started coming in the Xfinity Series in ’98. It just kind of seemed to fit because of my experience at Myrtle Beach.”

Earnhardt was 14th in practice at RIR, and qualified 12th. But he’s as calm as ever at the Virginia track.

“Usually when we start practice and the car is tight in the center and stuff the tone of the conversation is completely different, but since being able to make that announcement and let my guys know and everybody else included, I am not going to get so spun out if something is just not perfect on the car or the car is not exactly what we need or we are a little slow.

“I guess I won’t be as panicky about it and the frustration won’t jump in there as quickly as it usually does.”

 

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