NASCAR AMERICA: Optimism about team, life suits Dale Earnhardt Jr. (VIDEO)

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In recent years, it’s become clear that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has found the happy balance between his lives in and out of his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

A good amount of credit for that can go to two people in particular: Steve Letarte, who served as Earnhardt’s crew chief from 2011-2014, and Earnhardt’s girlfriend, Amy Reimann.

With Letarte’s guidance, Earnhardt re-emerged as a legit contender. In 2013, he finished fifth in the Sprint Cup standings and last year, he delivered his best season in a decade with four victories (Daytona 500, both Pocono races, Martinsville fall). And through it all, Reimann has not just been by Earnhardt’s side but has also spurred him on to enjoy life more.

The son of the Intimidator is seemingly as positive as he’s ever been about himself and his future – which will include a new crew chief this coming season in Greg Ives (Letarte has joined NBC Sports as a NASCAR analyst).

In the past, Earnhardt may not have feared such a change, but he may not have been happy about it. Now, he’s optimistic. After all, his last big change did wonders for him.

“When I got put with Steve, I had a new bus driver, I had a new girlfriend, I had a new crew chief – everything in my life had changed,” Earnhardt recalled in a one-on-one interview with NASCAR AMERICA’s Dave Burns. “A lot of it was a bit unwilling. I was very scared about what was gonna work and what wasn’t. And fortunately, all of it worked out for me.”

For more of Earnhardt’s thoughts on Letarte, Ives, Reimann, and the upcoming retirement of teammate Jeff Gordon, check out the full interview at the top.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will race IndyCar stars in iRacing at Michigan

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The invite has been received, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. has another iRacing event on his schedule.

The NASCAR on NBC analyst tweeted Wednesday that he will make his debut in the IndyCar iRacing Challenge with Saturday’s race at Michigan Speedway. The race will be shown live on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

The 2-mile oval was chosen by IndyCar drivers as the third track in the six-race series. Earnhardt heartily endorsed Michigan as a potential iRacing venue Monday along with Daytona and Talladega. Michigan nearly was selected by fans as the opener in the iRacing Challenge.

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Earnhardt, a longtime avid iRacing fan, had been lobbying since last Thursday that he was interested in racing with IndyCar drivers.

He has driven in the first three races of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational, finishing second to Denny Hamlin in the opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last year, he attended his first Indianapolis 500, working as an analyst as part of NBC Sports’ inaugural broadcast of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“I’d love to do it,” Earnhardt said Monday about joining the IndyCar iRacing Challenge. “I think I’d love to get to know those guys.

“I had such a great time at the Indy 500 last year, and the reception that I received from other drivers there really meant a lot to me. So I know they’re all a lot of great dudes in that series that I already know that I’d love to get to know some of them even better.”

It already has been quite the week for Earnhardt, who was announced Monday as one of 15 nominees for the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame.

The field for Saturday’s race at Michigan should include another  NASCAR driver in Jimmie Johnson. The seven-time Cup champion has driven the first two races of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge (and has plans to race IndyCar part time in the future).