By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
There were times over the past 18 years, where Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t necessarily want to be at a press conference to discuss the upcoming season. But since his rough and tumble days of being one of NASCAR’s young guns, Earnhardt has done some serious growing up. Wednesday at Charlotte Media Tour, Earnhardt explained that he is ready to get back to work after being on the shelf for an extended period of time due to a concussion sustained last season.
“I’m excited to be here for media day, which is new for me this year,” said Earnhardt. “Usually you kind of tell everybody Daytona will get here when it gets here, but I’m excited for the season. It can’t get here fast enough. Really thankful to be back and be working, and can’t wait for the opportunity to test at Phoenix in a couple of days and then get on to Daytona and get on to work.”
Earnhardt, 42, is excited to get the season started, but at the same time he is nervous after being sidelined for the second half of the 2016 season. It isn’t fear of re-injury though that has Earnhardt worried, but rather how far behind he has fallen from his competition since he stepped out of the car after the July race at Daytona.
“Being out of the car you hope you can jump back in the car and not miss a beat, but like I said this is the top series and any time you’re away you’re getting behind,” Earnhardt explained. “I’m really anxious and curious where we shake up early in the season, how competitive we can be, what – if any – learning curve there is for me. We’ll figure all that out.”
In the offseason, Earnhardt married his longtime girlfriend Amy. Since Amy came around, Earnhardt’s career which was stagnant has bounced back and he has been one of the most consistent drivers in the sport in recent years. As the wick continues to get shorter on his NASCAR driving career, Earnhardt’s future is as bright as it’s ever been thanks to the personal life he has built outside the race track.
“Getting married has been incredible,” Earnhardt admitted. “I wish I would have figured this all out sooner. I’m frustrated with myself that I took so long to grow up because I have an amazing wife and she’s changed my life. She’s really helped me as a person to become better on all fronts – personally, and all my friendships with people and how I react to people and treat people. And, obviously, in my professional life she’s helped me as a driver. It’s been great. Just hoping to enjoy what’s left of my career, and hopefully I get to make the decisions on that myself as far as how much further I’ll race. Going to start a family, too, so have a lot of good things to look forward to. Really excited about my future.”
Regardless how this return season shakes out, you get the sense that Earnhardt — who has shown signs over the years of being uncomfortable in his own skin — finally truly feels that he is a winner inside and out.