Dale Earnhardt Jr., arguably the face of NASCAR, has been one of the cornerstones of the sport for more than a decade.
Now picture the past 13 years without the 11-time NMPA Most Popular Driver. In an interview on "The Dan Patrick Show" on Tuesday, Earnhardt revealed that he once thought about quitting the sport altogether.
"You know, I think I came … if I ever would have, you know, quit, it probably would have been after my dad was killed in Daytona," Earnhardt said. "That was probably as close as I literally came to maybe thinking about not driving anymore but I don't know that I came that close."
"You just can't quit what you're doing. You just got to keep trying and you'd never get over it if you give up."
-- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dan Patrick: Your dad, you couldn't have quit. Even as tragic as that was, your dad, what would he have said if you thought about something like that?
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Right. That's why I kept digging. You know, it's never really been an option. You just can't quit what you're doing. You just got to keep trying and you'd never get over it if you give up.
It certainly would have been understandable if he decided at the time to walk away, given the circumstances surrounding the 2001 Daytona 500, but what about in his early Hendrick Motorsports days, when he found himself mired in two-year slump that saw a winless No. 88 finish 25th and 21st in 2009 and 2010, respectively?
"I just have never really … (quitting) wasn't really an option even when we weren't running good in '09 and 2010," Earnhardt said, before crediting positive changes to his personal life and girlfriend Amy Reimann for his turnaround. "You weren't having fun, you weren't … things weren't working out like you wanted them to, but you weren't going to quit. I'd have never been able to get over that. I would've regretted that for the rest of my life.
Speaking of Dale Sr., Earnhardt went a little more in depth about the context behind his text conversation with his mom post-Indy, which he shared on Twitter last week.
"I thought it was pretty neat. Mom, you know, she pretty much texts me after practice and after qualifying and she has a comment about what she thought about it and she's never really said (before) you know 'you drove like your Dad' or ' you look like your Dad out there,' " Earnhardt told Patrick. "But she would know. Back when they had women scoring the races or they had people scoring the races, she used to score races for Dad, so she'd been to a lot of races. And she grew up around a racing family so I take her advice or comments to heart.
"But she said that I looked like Dad out there, taking a crap car and doing something with it. And I thought that was pretty cool. I said 'you know, you've never mentioned anything like that before, but I thought that was the coolest thing you've ever told me … but my cars are actually all really good.' I wanted to tweet the text, but I needed to clear it up there that the cars were always good. Steve (Letarte) appreciated that, my crew chief.
DP: Seriously, is that the best compliment your mom has ever given you?
DJ: I think it ranks right up there.
DP: Is that the best compliment that anybody could give you? That you drove like your dad.
DJ: Yeah. Absolutely. I analyze a lot of film and like a lot of people I thought that he was the best. So, yeah. I think that's an awesome compliment.
Watch the full interview in the video below, as Earnhardt touches on a range of subjects that include his fantasy football team, why Tony Stewart should be a Raiders fan and which will come first: a Sprint Cup Series title or engagement ring.