Dale Earnhardt Jr. is certainly no longer a kid. But it still seems strange that he’s going to be turning 40 years old next week.
No doubt that he’s matured, though, both on and off the race track.
And as he prepares to hit the big 4-0, the son of the seven-time Sprint Cup champion, Dale Sr., is feeling good with what he’s done on the race tracks of the world.
Growing up, he wondered if the Intimidator’s legacy would make it harder for him to succeed in the sport.
But one could argue that Junior has become every bit as vital to NASCAR as his father was.
“I just wanted to make it and being the son of a guy that was so successful – the more success he had it seemed like the harder it would be for me to make it,” Junior said today at Kansas Speedway. “I would just be sort of a chapter in that whole thing. But I’m real happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish and who I have been able to work with and the friends I’ve been able to make.
“That is probably the best thing is the relationships that you create. Being a part of this sport there are so many great people in it, no matter what department you talk about. It’s just fun getting to know all those people that helped get this thing going and move it from race to race.”
And while Junior has yet to join Senior as a Cup champ, he feels that his list of accomplishments – which include two Nationwide Series titles, two Daytona 500 victories, and status as the most recognizable racer in America – has turned out to be much longer than he expected.
“We are still winning races and running good so maybe we can get a few more wins and have some more fun before it’s over,” he said.
“Definitely having this birthday come up makes you reflect quite a bit back on not so much the decisions or any regrets you have, just the fun stuff you have done and is the next 40 years going to be just as good? Because the first 40 were pretty great.”
Junior will get to celebrate his milestone birthday before next Saturday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with fans welcome to join the party with the purchase of a pre-race pit pass or driver intro pass along with their regular race ticket (more details here).
But that comes later. This weekend, Junior hopes to put a sub-par Challenger Round behind him with a solid run in the Contender Round opener on Kansas’ 1.5-mile oval.
“We feel like we are not realizing our potential and I think it is obvious we are not realizing our potential,” he said. “This gives us an opportunity to sort of get back into the championship battle.
“Had they not structured it so, I don’t know that we would be feeling too confident about our chances at this point. Now it’s all back to zero. We can get regrouped and get confident again and come out of here with a great finish, we are back in it.”