Hard to believe: Dale Earnhardt Jr. turns 40 this year — wants to send Steve Letarte out as a winner
Jan 29, 2014, 12:03 AM EDT
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For many, the image of Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been frozen in time since the late 1990s or perhaps his first full season on the Sprint Cup circuit in 2000: that of a young red-haired, cherub-faced kid just excited about life and living the dream of being a NASCAR driver.
But Earnhardt revealed some rather sober and potentially earth-shattering news Tuesday that potentially may shock many members of his legendary Junior Nation of fans:
NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver the last 11 years running is going to turn 40 this year!
October 10, to be precise.
“I think I turned 40 before I was supposed to,” Earnhardt laughed during the second day of the four-day NASCAR Media Tour. “I don’t feel 40, I don’t even feel close to 40. It’s weird for me to say that and I think about it all the time that I’m going to be 40 years old this year, because I don’t feel anything near 40.
“I don’t think I think like a 40 year old man, I still have a lot of immaturity in me and like to have fun and goof off. And I feel in my racing and work ethic and the way I approach what I’m doing and how long I’ve been here, I don’t feel 40.
“I don’t feel burned out, don’t feel worn out, don’t feel like this is old hat, don’t feel bored. I feel like I’m just as excited about Daytona as I’ve ever been each year that I’ve went there. I guess when it gets boring or it’s not as exciting, I’ll start to freak out. Yeah, I don’t feel 40, that’s weird. But maybe that means I’ll last a little bit younger than most guys.”
And if Junior has his way once he hits 40, he plans on racing for another decade, something his loyal fans will likely be happy to hear.
That means there’s still plenty of chances for that elusive first Sprint Cup championship – if not 10 titles in a row potentially (hey, you can’t blame him for being optimistic, right?).
“Ten’s a lot of years and that would be enough,” Earnhardt said. “I think if I retired at 50, I’d be real thrilled that I made it that long.”
While Earnhardt stressed that his main goal in 2014 is to win races – he hasn’t won a Cup race since 2012 and only two since 2006 – winning a championship would be a fitting sendoff and homage to Letarte, who will become a TV analyst for NBC Sports in 2015.
It’s important to send Letarte out on top, Earnhardt said.
“It’s important to me, but hell, it’s part of his responsibility, too,” Earnhardt said with a laugh.
But then, Earnhardt turned more serious on his feeling about Letarte.
“I’m going into the last season with Steve, who I love to work with, and I really want to enjoy that moment, that is, the whole season,” Earnhardt said. “Me and Steve are so close and this is going to be a lot of fun to work with him one more season. I want to make sure it’s one we enjoy and he can be happy when he’s finished and then we can move on and continue to compete.”
And that final farewell season to one of the best crew chiefs he’s had in his career starts in a few weeks, Earnhardt said.
“When we run Daytona, we’re going to run it for the last time, his last Daytona 500 as a crew chief,” Earnhardt said. “We’re going to be working every single lap to try to do the best we can for each other. And I think that’s good, it can elevate our performance and our team.
“I think the team could feed off that and we may be able to accomplish the things we set out to accomplish in this last season together.”
How has Earnhardt changed from a 23-year-old Busch Series driver in 1998 to a 40-year-old, 15-year Cup veteran in 2014? Hardly at all, Earnhardt said.
“I don’t think my personality is anything special or unique in any way, but I think I’m a good guy that tries to make good decisions and tries to treat people right.,” he said. “All the things, the success, star power, celebrity has been just short of a fluke, like an oddity that could have happened to anybody.
“The work ethic is however you want to be at your job, and if you enjoy what you do and want to be successful at it, you’ll work hard to try and do that. I know myself, I’ve learned a lot about work ethic over the last 20 years.
“You get into racing thinking you’re working your guts out, and then you learn there/s another step, and then you learn that there’s another step and you just keep finding more in yourself over a long period of time and look back at all those things you wish you’d known when you were a kid. It could have made things easier.”
Sep 30, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
Also: Crew chief in same series fined, put on probation for car weight issue from last weekend at Dover.
Sep 30, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT
Williams’ gap on Ferrari for third in the Constructors’ Championship is down to nine points going into this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.
Sep 30, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT
Also coming up today: A closer look at the Contender Round tracks and who’s been successful at them; Joe Gibbs Racing focusing on continued momentum at Kansas; more radio goodness with the Dover Chase edition of “Scan All 43.”
Sep 30, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
Sixteenth in the 2014 IndyCar season was rookie Mikhail Aleshin, ever the fighter.
Sep 30, 2014, 3:50 PM EDT
Agag hopes for “three or four different makers of motors and batteries” during F-E’s second season.
Sep 30, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
P15 caps a difficult IndyCar season for Justin Wilson and Dale Coyne Racing.
Sep 30, 2014, 2:47 PM EDT
The son of two-time Nationwide Series champion Randy Lajoie will race the upcoming NNS events at Kansas, Charlotte, Texas, and Homestead.
Sep 30, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
Charlie Kimball fights through an OK, but often challenging, 2014 season en route to P14 into the IndyCar standings.
Sep 30, 2014, 1:55 PM EDT
20 multicultural and female drivers from across the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and South America will seek to earn a spot in the D4D’s Class of 2015.
Sep 30, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
“The Mayor” has now apparently become The Minister.
Sep 30, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
A busy day for members of two IndyCar teams, as Penske and CFH drivers head to New Jersey and Mid-Ohio, respectively.
Sep 30, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Two years ago, Kamui Kobayashi stood on an F1 podium in his home country, with Sauber. It seems so long ago, now.
Sep 30, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Some of the stats of note as we head into the Japanese Grand Prix.
Sep 30, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Honda has Ryan Hunter-Reay, but losing Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden are big blows from marketing and on-track standpoints.
Sep 29, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
More comments from Stewart’s press conference on Monday in North Carolina.
Sep 29, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
Instead of racing to protect his position in the Chase, Jeff Gordon went into attack mode Sunday at Dover – and it paid off with a win. Check out his Victory Lane interview with NASCAR AMERICA’s Kelli Stavast here.
Sep 29, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
All the notes and numbers to keep in mind as the Contender Round begins on Kansas’ 1.5-mile oval.
Sep 29, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT
Coming up: Highlights from the first cut race of the Chase; reports on Kevin Harvick’s tire failure and Hendrick Motorsports; Tony Stewart speaks about trying to carry on after his involvement in a fatal sprint car accident.
Sep 29, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
Josef Newgarden ends P13 in 2014, after a year where an overall top-10 finish was possible.
Video from NASCAR America
- NASCAR AMERICA: Jeff Gordon, 24 team make statement at Dover (VIDEO) 0
- Weekend wrap-up: Was first Chase elimination race an exciting one? 0
- Tony Stewart speaks, cites overwhelming support in the search of return to normalcy 15
- Simon Pagenaud confirmed at Team Penske in fourth IndyCar 3
- Jeff Gordon advances to next round of Chase with first Dover victory since 2001 6
- Open letter from Kevin Ward Jr.’s aunt questions Tony Stewart, evidence of marijuana in nephew’s system 49
- Kyle Busch outduels Joey Logano for Nationwide win in Dover 2