By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
DARLINGTON, S.C. – Months out of the racecar have left Dale Earnhardt, Jr. with mixed feelings before his only NASCAR Xfinity Series start of 2019.
Aside from his start at Richmond Raceway last season, Earnhardt’s last start was at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 2017. At Richmond last year, he led 96 laps on his way to a fourth-place finish.
Earnhardt did run about 15 laps in a test session at Darlington Raceway earlier this year. In the first practice for the Sports Clips Haircuts VFW 200, the 1998 and 1999 NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion was fifth fastest. The JR Motorsports co-owner ran 22 laps in the opening practice session.
“I’m feeling great and real nervous about getting in the car just because I hadn’t been in the car in a really long time,” Earnhardt admitted. “I’ve only drove at Richmond last year. In 24 months, that was the only time I’ve been in a race car.
“I did come over here a couple months ago and ran about 15 laps when Noah was testing and that didn’t do anything to help my anxiety. I know it was faster than me and it just reminded me of how hard it is to drive these cars, how good these guys that drive them are and how hot and miserable it is inside there.”
Earnhardt will have some nostalgic feelings as he honors his father. The No. 8 Hellmann’s Chevrolet Camaro SS brings back to life the paint scheme that Earnhardt, Sr. made his Cup Series debut with in 1975. The car also honors Ed and Norman Negre who owned and built the car.
The 44-year-old reminisced as he explained why he chose to race at ‘The Track Too Tough to Tame’ this season.
“Some of the things that you kind of forget about while you’re in the booth and being abroad yesterday. It’s a real blessing for me to be able to run at least one race a year and sort of relive my past. And, that’s kind of why I picked this race at Darlington, cause of the throwback weekends.
“Such a great celebration of the history of the sport. And I wanted to be more a part of that. I got to experience it from the broadcast booth last year and I thought, man, I’m getting to run an eight race a year.
“Why don’t I just go to Darlington and do something fun with a throwback car and draw some awareness to not only dad’s story but Ed Negre and Norman Negre, the guys that own that race car that dad drove in 1975.”
In 23 races this season, the No. 8 has a best finish of second with Ryan Truex behind the wheel at ISM Raceway. The ‘All-Star’ car has four top-five and 16 top-10 finishes in 2019. Earnhardt, Jr. will be the ninth driver to climb behind the wheel of the No. 8 for JR Motorsports this season.
JR Motorsports has just one victory this season in the season opener with Michael Annett.