Why did Dale Earnhardt Jr. Act Like a Pest in an Effort to Replace Kyle Larson?

The future Hall of Famer pleaded for an opportunity to participate in NASCAR’s Next Gen car tests. No, Dale Earnhardt Jr. went further than that. 

He begged Hendrick Motorsports’ Chad Knaus, pleaded with the vice president of competition to give him a chance. 

Groveling may be going a bit too far, but Earnhardt desperately lobbied for a chance to replace 2021 Cup champion Kyle Larson, who is off playing on short dirt tracks. 

Earnhardt’s persistence eventually paid dividends. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. begged for an opportunity to drive Next Gen car tests 

Or Knaus finally tired of hearing from the second-generation icon. 

In an interview with NBC Sports on Jan. 10, Earnhardt said, “If you want to know the truth. I probably texted Chad Knaus about six times, asking him if they would let me run a few laps at the test.” 

Earnhardt, who will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Jan. 21, engaged in a Next Gen tire test at Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, last October. He was eager to get a second feel for the new technology at a track where he has deep history. He captured two Daytona 500 titles. 

Earnhardt retired after the 2017 season with 26 wins and consistently fends off rumors of his return to Cup racing for select events, like the Daytona 500. 

“I’ll do whatever you need, anything you need,” Earnhardt said, relaying his conversation with Knaus. 

Initially, Earnhardt expected to get a few laps. 

Then he was asked to do the entire first day. 

Finally, an opportunity opened up for the second day. He detailed how the deal was closed with a zinger. 

Earnhardt: ‘I’m looking forward to going back and kind of reliving some of that’ 

Former NASCAR premier series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. greets fans after a testing session with Next Gen cars at Bowman Gray Stadium on Oct. 26, 2021 in Winston Salem, North Carolina | Grant Halverson/Getty Images

“(Knaus) jokingly said, ‘You sure you want to do both days?’“ Earnhardt said. 

He replied, “Why wouldn’t I?” 

Knaus deadpanned, “You used to hate testing.”  

Earnhardt attempted to explain why he’s altered his testing attitude. 

 “When you pull in and out of the garage and make a change, you go back out, that process of trying to get the car to go faster, I hated that when I was a driver because I just wanted the car to go faster,” he said. “I hated all the frustration because nine times out of 10 the change didn’t help it. Then, when I realized that I was never going to get to do that again, I thought, ‘Man, that’s actually something I’m going to miss.’ I’m looking forward to going back and kind of reliving some of that.” 

Despite all his pleading with Knaus to land the replacement gig, there was still one hurdle to clear: Earnhardt’s wife, Amy. When approval was granted, Earnhardt started preparing to run Hendrick Motorsports’ Next Gen cars on Jan. 11 and 12. 

Earnhardt: ‘I know that people are going to want to know if I’m going to run a race or maybe run the Daytona 500 someday … never say never’    


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With Larson and teammate Chase Elliott taking time away from Hendrick to compete at the 2022 Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Earnhardt feels honored to be chosen as a replacement driver. 

“It absolutely makes my heart feel good that they think they can learn something (with me) from the test,” Earnhardt said. “I’m happy to help their situation with all their drivers at the Chili Bowl, so those guys don’t have to worry about getting back and forth, or changing their plans, or trying to squeeze in anything. Everybody can do what they want to do.” 

But what about the rumors of Jr. returning? He said maybe, but not now. 

“I know that people are going to want to know if I’m going to run a race or maybe run the Daytona 500 someday,” Earnhardt said. “Never say never.  

“But this is not done with the intention of moving in that direction at all. If I ever did run another race, this wouldn’t have anything to do with it.”

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