For any athlete, it’s tough to give up something you’ve done your whole life. That holds true in the world of motorsports. A year ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr., one of NASCAR’s all-time favorites, said he was getting the strong urge to return to racing after retiring from the sport in 2017.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has racing in his blood
It was no secret Dale Earnhardt Jr. was going to become a NASCAR driver. His father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., was one of the best in the racing business. His grandfather used to build racecars. Earnhardt Jr.’s siblings were all involved in racing. He climbed the racing ladder and became one of the top drivers and possibly the most popular NASCAR driver in history.
Earnhardt Jr. is a two-time winner of the Daytona 500, claiming victory in 2004 and 2014. Throughout his 19-year career in the NASCAR Cup Series, Earnhardt Jr. won 26 races. He finished in the top 10 260 times. He was inducted into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2017. Earnhardt Jr. is also a NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee (2021).
From 2003-2017, Earnhardt showed how much he meant to NASCAR and its fans. He won the Monster Energy Cup Series Most Popular Driver Award for 15 consecutive years. After retiring from racing in 2017, Earnhardt remained in the sport when he joined the NASCAR on NBC broadcasting team in 2018.
Concussions forced Earnhardt Jr. into early retirement
In 2012, Dale Earnhardt Jr. saw his consecutive streak of 461 races come to an end. He was forced to sit out after suffering a concussion that was a result of a 25-car wreck on the last lap of Talladega. His consecutive-race streak dated back to 1999.
In July of 2016, Earnhardt Jr. missed most of the second half of the racing season due to concussion-like symptoms. Two months later, he announced he would sit out the remainder of the year. He was cleared to return for the 2017 season and he made the announcement that it would be his final year of full-time racing.
In 2017, he finished with just one top-five finish. He failed to qualify for the playoffs and wound up No. 21 in the final points standings. Despite the struggles on the track, Earnhardt Jr. still managed to win his 15th straight Most Popular Driver Award.
Dale Earnhardt said he missed racing badly last year
A year ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. waved the green flag for the Daytona 500. Prior to the race, he stressed just how much he missed racing when he spoke to reporters, according to Yahoo!. Earnhardt was a month away from driving in the Xfinity race in Miami. He said he was nervous getting back into the racing scene even if it was just one race a year. “I’m nervous,” he said. “I’ll be honest, I’m a little nervous.”
Earnhardt Jr. then said how much he missed racing. He said he thought that would go away, but felt it was getting worse. “I really missing racing,” he said. “I really miss driving and it’s getting worse. I thought as I got out of the car and the further I got from my full-time career the less that would bother me but it actually is getting worse for some reason. I really look forward to getting some seat time and smelling the smells and hearing the noises and just enjoying being in the car.”
Earnhardt did say he doesn’t expect to jump back into racing full-time. He said missing it was tough but healthy. “It’s a healthy thing to miss it and want to do it,” Earnhardt Jr. told reporters. “I think it helps me in the booth to have that energy as a fan. One is plenty, probably one is more than I should be doing. I’ve got my wife and Isla and all that, I should devote as much as I can to them. One is just perfect.”