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.”
Aug 30, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Out of all the Chase-bound drivers, “Rowdy” may be the one in most need of a good performance at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend.
Aug 30, 2014, 4:14 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. — When you’re hot, you’re hot: Bristol winner Joey Logano and pole sitter Kevin Harvick were the fastest drivers in Saturday’s final Sprint Cup practice in preparation for Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Lessons learned from Dale Earnhardt death readily seen in way NASCAR has dealt with Tony Stewart tragedy
Aug 30, 2014, 3:54 PM EDT
While the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy occurred outside of its jurisdiction, it wasn’t the first time NASCAR has had to deal with tragedy and subsequent changes to the sport. One need look back no further than the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001 for the resulting lessons that NASCAR learned from.
Aug 30, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
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Aug 30, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Spanish rider bounces back from a fall in practice to secure pole ahead of Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso.
Aug 30, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
German Quiroga and Andrew Ranger lead the way in a pair of practice sessions for the Camping World Truck Series at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.
Aug 30, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Expect the track to play a key role in Saturday’s MAVTV 500, more than most oval tracks.
Aug 30, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Two-time F1 world champion weighs in on the Mercedes team orders debate.
Aug 30, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Rumors about Ferrari’s line-up unfounded; Mattiacci plans to keep both Kimi and Fernando on for 2015.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
The high-speed circuit plays host to the Italian Grand Prix next weekend.
Aug 30, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Charlie Kimball on last night’s accident with Mikhail Aleshin.
Aug 30, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
The fight with Ferrari is set to rage on until the end of the season.
Aug 30, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Deputy team principal Federico Gastaldi is going into the Italian Grand Prix weekend with an open mind.
Aug 30, 2014, 7:30 AM EDT
Lotus driver doesn’t think the removal of the gravel track at the corner will change a great deal.
Aug 29, 2014, 11:45 PM EDT
Severe looking three-car accident affects Mikhail Aleshin and two others.
Aug 29, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT
Harvick earns his sixth Sprint Cup pole of 2014 with the help of some advice from returning boss and teammate Tony Stewart.
Aug 29, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
Helio Castroneves on pole; Will Power struggles to P21 for Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying.
Aug 29, 2014, 7:29 PM EDT
The Nationwide Series rookie and Sprint Cup regular top today’s two practice sessions ahead of tomorrow night’s Great Clips 300 benefiting Feed The Children.
Aug 29, 2014, 7:06 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. — According to Jeff Gordon, the last three Sprint Cup races just weren’t quite the same without Tony Stewart. Gordon is glad Stewart is back.
Aug 29, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, Ryan Newman, and Brian Vickers share their thoughts on Tony Stewart getting back behind the wheel in Atlanta.
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