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 21, 2014, 8:43 PM EDT
Millen scores his second win of 2014, while YouTube icon Block takes an 18-point lead in the championship with two races left in the season.
Sep 21, 2014, 7:51 PM EDT
Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel), Courtney Force (Funny Car), Dave Connolly (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle) were the winners in Sunday’s final rounds of the NHRA FallNationals in Ennis, Texas.
Sep 21, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
The talented rookie continues to duel with the Chasers at New Hampshire before finishing second to Joey Logano.
Sep 21, 2014, 6:36 PM EDT
As the Chase for the Sprint Cup moves to Dover for next Sunday’s third race of the playoffs, nine drivers will be fighting elimination by vying for five advancement spots there.
Sep 21, 2014, 6:09 PM EDT
Brad Keselowski started from the pole, led the second-most number of laps in the race (78), overcame a late wreck and still almost won Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:49 PM EDT
Prior to last week’s opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kevin Harvick said it would take wins and uncanny consistency to advance to the final four, winner-take-all battle in the season-ending race at Homestead.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:36 PM EDT
The Connecticut native joins Penske teammate Brad Keselowski in the Contender Round with his victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Sep 21, 2014, 5:13 PM EDT
Kenseth was running in the Top 10, when Paul Menard washed up into him and sent him spinning into the wall with 31 laps to go at New Hampshire.
Sep 21, 2014, 4:38 PM EDT
Kurt Busch had a tire rub on his Haas Automation Chevrolet when the right front tire appeared to blow on Lap 222 of the 300-lap Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, sending him hard into the wall and suffering right front end damage.
Sep 21, 2014, 4:20 PM EDT
Several drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup suffered damage to their respective race cars in a wreck that involved Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman with just over 100 laps to go in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Sep 21, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
4 p.m. ET – Already several laps down, Hamlin was caught in a multi-car crash that also involved Martin Truex Jr., David Ragan, and Cole Whitt.
Sep 21, 2014, 3:42 PM EDT
Kevin Harvick is the halfway leader of Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Joey Logano is running second, followed by Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers and Jamie McMurray.
Sep 21, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Spanish driver still pleased with the race weekend in Singapore, feeling that Ferrari has made a step forwards.
Sep 21, 2014, 2:31 PM EDT
Less than a week after a track flagman was killed at a Florida short track, a Wisconsin sprint car driver was killed following a wreck on Saturday night.
Sep 21, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Bottas finishes outside of the points for the first time in 2014, with his only other non-score the result of a DNF at Monaco.
Sep 21, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Kvyat and Magnussen both go without water for much of the race, leaving them dehydrated following the race.
Sep 21, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
German driver lost the lead of the drivers’ championship for the first time in four months.
Sep 21, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Less downforce? More horsepower? Or something else entirely? It sounds like we won’t have to wait much longer on what the 2015 Sprint Cup rules package will bring.
Sep 21, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Australian driver enjoys a great deal of home support in Singapore, but feels that Red Bull should have been closer to Mercedes.
Sep 21, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
Singapore GP winner admits that he had worries about the reliability of his car following Nico Rosberg’s retirement.
- Joey Logano avoids “yellow fever,” wins at N.H. to advance in Chase 1
- Wreck involves several Chase drivers; Keselowski spins, suffers minor damage 0
- Rosberg reflects on a tough day in Singapore (VIDEO) 2
- Reports: 2015 Sprint Cup rules package expected to be released on Tuesday 0
- Hamilton rules in Singapore to re-take championship lead as Rosberg retires 0
- Rosberg forced to retire in Singapore after electrical glitch 1
- Brendan Gaughan takes lead with 6 laps to go, wins Nationwide at Kentucky 0