CHICAGO – Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t get scared by much on or off the racetrack, but he’s dreading next month – and it has nothing to do with the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Hard as it may seem for some of his fans to believe, Earnhardt turns the big 4-0 on October 10. And as he approaches that milestone, Earnhardt admits he’s thinking about it more and more.
“Real nervous,” Earnhardt said during Thursday’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Media Day in downtown Chicago. “I don’t know what to think about that. I don’t want to grow up.
“You don’t have much of a choice sometimes with your age when you hit these milestones, but I feel physically and mentally 10 years younger than that. I guess that’s a good thing.”
Earnhardt realizes that he’s seen a lot in his 15-year Sprint Cup career and knows things will eventually start going downhill.
But for now?
“I’m still enjoying what I do,” he said. “I’ve had the best time driving race cars this year. Which surprised me, because I hadn’t been having a good time several years ago and I didn’t know if that was ever going to change.
“I feel really fortunate, to be honest with you. I feel lucky to still be enjoying what I do, the passion. It’s a big deal with this championship Chase and I really hope we can make our fans proud, make all our supporters proud of the job we do.
“I feel there’s a lot of pressure, a lot of people are relying upon us and depending on us. We want to be able to deliver.”
But can he deliver and finally give his long-suffering fans – and himself – that long dreamed about first Sprint Cup championship?
“I do,” he said unequivocally. “I think this is our best shot in the last six, seven years.
“You always see that when the Chase happens, there’s a team that just sort of comes out of nowhere or really ramps up the performance. We don’t have to ramp it up too far, we’ve been doing pretty good. Hopefully, we haven’t shown our best yet and haven’t delivered the goods just yet.”
With that said, Earnhardt admits he’s trying to put thoughts of retirement out of his mind and as far down the road as possible.
“How do I retire? I don’t know how the hell I retire, so I’m going to have to do this a lot longer,” he said matter-of-factly but also with a smile on his face. “I’m fine with that. I’m having fun. I’m having as much fun as I’ve ever had.
“When I was younger, I was so naïve about it and just didn’t realize how fortunate I was, how lucky I was to be in the position I was in. I thought I did, but I think I take it more seriously now and really appreciate the situation I’m in.
“That appreciation and passion is still there, and as long as that stuff is still there, you do the details, the extra little things that really matter in the whole picture as a driver.
“When you lose that passion, that drive, you stop doing those little things because you don’t think they’re that important or they don’t quite matter. That’s when you see the performance drop and everything follows suit behind that.
“I think the fact I’m still there, still having fun, hell, I can go another 10 years.”
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