Dale Jr reflects on fifth place Darlington Raceway throwback finish

Photos by SaJorden Miller/Kickin' the Tires

By SaJorden Miller, Staff writer

DARLINGTON, S.C. – To say the least, it’s been a crazy few weeks for Dale Earnhardt Jr. as just over two weeks ago, he and his family survived a plane crash heading to Bristol Motor Speedway and this week he raced in the Xfinity Series Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 at Darlington Raceway.

It was the retired driver’s first race since the 2018 Go Bowling 250 at Richmond Raceway where he finished 4th. Earnhardt Jr. qualified Friday at 15th and finished Saturday’s race in fifth – his second race since officially retiring in 2017. But Earnhardt Jr. made commitments to JR Motorsports sponsor – Hellmann’s – that he would run a few events for them just for fun in exchange for their sponsorship of one if his team’s other cars. So, he picked the throwback weekend at the historic Darlington Raceway and paid tribute to his father by running a paint scheme from Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s first Cup Series win in 1975.

It was an emotional race for Earnhardt Jr. and when he climbed out of his car the crowd roared. He told NBC Sports he appreciated all of the fans coming out to show their support and cheer him on.

“Man, they love this place … Thanks to Hellmann’s for allowing us to do the throwback. Shout-out to my dad! Also shout-out to the Negre family, Ed Negre and Norman Negre, who owned this race car back in ’75. Just thanks for everybody’s support, and I hope they enjoyed the race. It was a fun one.”

He would later tell members of the media that he was pleased with his one-off run.

“I feel like we did pretty good, I was pretty happy with it,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I don’t know how much better we could have done but running every week and being in the car, maybe, we could have done a little bit better but I don’t think much better.”

For those wondering after scoring a fifth-place finish if Earnhardt Jr. is missing being in the racecar every week, he said, not so much.

“Well about half-way through the race I was starting to remember all the reasons why I don’t do it anymore … it’s hot, it’s hard, it’s hard,” he said. “What I’m really reminded of when I get to do these races is how much we gotta’ respect the drivers that do it every week because it’s so hard, not just driving the race but all of the grind throughout the week, the testing, the debriefs, the studying, watching races and film. It starts to pop in my head and I just remember why I’m glad I’m not in that grind anymore. But just going practicing, qualifying and running the race it’s fun.”  

Earnhardt Jr. said the team did great overall and he was proud of them. Now, he goes back in the TV booth and will call the shots for the Southern 500 tomorrow night. Does he have another race, or two, in him? He teased fans this week saying he would like to run the Xfinity race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2020.