By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
There were times last year during his recovery from a concussion sustained after a crash in Michigan, that Dale Earnhardt Jr. felt 90-percent sure that he would never race again. The long road back into the driver’s seat was paved literally with sweat and tears, but Earnhardt dug deep. In his doctor’s estimation, Earnhardt would be able to race again. That was the proverbial carrot dangling in front of the 14-time Most Popular Driver.
“I’m not an expert. My doctor is,” Earnhardt said Wednesday. “So when I have concerns, questions, I go to him. I say, What’s going on? What do you think about this? Am I in danger? I’m 42 years old. If you want me to quit racing, I’ll quit racing today. I’d like to keep racing if you think I’m able to keep racing.
“He gives me that confidence in our conversations. He doesn’t work in the gray area. He’s black or white. He don’t care about racing. He just cares about me being healthy. He knows I just got married. He knows I want to have a family. He knows I want to have a good quality of life the next, however, 40, 50 years that I’m alive. So he don’t care about racing.”
After seven months away from competitive action in a stock car, Earnhardt appears as healthy as he’s ever been, and he honestly sounds as determined as he’s ever been. Earnhardt is ready to get back behind the wheel and chase the one thing he still wants more than anything — a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
At 42 years old, Earnhardt is definitely in the twilight of his career, especially when you factor in the recent retirement of his peers Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart as well as his health. On Tuesday, Earnhardt made a guest appearance on the Dan Patrick Show where he boasted that he would retire on stage in Las Vegas if he won this year’s championship.
Wednesday at Daytona 500 Media Day, Earnhardt was asked if he was being serious on the sports talk show. Would Earnhardt seriously consider retirement if he were to capture the 2017 Cup Series crown?
“Hell, yeah. I would definitely not want to come back and try to race anymore if I won the championship. I would be outta here,” Earnhardt quipped.
“You know, I’ve always wanted to win a championship so badly. Coming back from this injury, we worked so hard. To come back this year, win a championship, it would be hard not to hang it up,” Earnhardt continued. “This is the last year of my deal. I would like to race more. But if I win the championship, I’d have to consider going out on top. I mean, I don’t know. It just really depends on a lot of different things.
“That was tongue-in-cheek. I said that a little tongue-in-cheek yesterday. But I’d definitely consider it because that’s the last box I don’t have checked really. There’s a few races I’d like to win. The championship would definitely be the icing on the cake for my career.”
Will Earnhardt race past 2017? That remains to be seen. But it genuinely feels like Earnhardt really wants this championship this season.