DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be back in the Sunshine State next month for his only scheduled NASCAR Xfinity Series start of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But as the NASCAR season gets started this weekend at Daytona International Speedway, he admitted that the lure of competition remains as strong as ever.
“I really miss racing. I really miss driving, and it’s getting worse,” Earnhardt said before waving the green flag Sunday. “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, smelling the smells and hearing the noises and just enjoying being in the car.”
Since retiring from his full-time role as a NASCAR Cup Series driver after the 2017 season, Earnhardt has participated in one Xfinity Series race each year with his JR Motorsports operation. He finished fourth at Richmond Raceway in 2018 and fifth at Darlington Raceway last year. This season, he’s set for a March 21 date at the 1.5-mile Homestead track.
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Though there’s a pull from within to do more racing on a part-time basis, Earnhardt said he has no plans to add to his schedule.
“No, not really. I think it’s a healthy thing to miss it and want to do it,” Earnhardt said. “I think it helps me in the booth to have that energy as a fan. I think one’s plenty. Probably one’s 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’s just perfect. I think that it really helps me remember what drivers are thinking about, so I’m going to get in that car, and as much as it’ll be about having fun, it’s also going to be about reminding myself about all the things that goes through a driver’s mind when he’s out there in car. So when I’m in the booth, I’m really able to explain and remember and recall some of the things that emotionally drivers are dealing with. It’s so helpful on that front.
“If anything, I’d love to maybe get an opportunity to test a Cup car, and I’ve talked to a couple teams when they’re out there testing about hopping in for a few laps.”
With his single race just more than a month away, Earnhardt admitted he’s anxious about his return to the wheel, which is likely to entail some brushes with the outside retaining wall in Homestead’s preferred high groove.
“That’s coming fast. Typically I have all year to sort of wait for it to happen,” Earnhardt said. “I’m nervous. I’ll be honest, I’m a little nervous. Being out of the car for a year, it’s kind of tough jumping back in there and getting right back into it and understanding exactly where the limits are. Luckily, we run right on the fence at Homestead and the limits are right there, so if I get into it, those cars are pretty tough, them little Xfinity cars. You can get in the wall a little bit and not have to worry too much about hurting your car.”
“I’m sure we’re going to tear the right side off that thing after practice, qualifying, through the race. I’m going to hit it several times, so I’m just going to go ahead and prepare myself for that. We might just show up and not even have decals on the right side, it’s probably a waste of time.”