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.”
Apr 24, 2014, 11:06 PM EDT
Ryan Blaney and James Buescher topped Thursday’s two practice sessions for Friday’s ToyotaCare 250 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Richmond International Raceway.
As NHRA closes in on 100 wins by female racers, it all started with one of the greatest, Shirley Muldowney
Apr 24, 2014, 10:01 PM EDT
The NHRA is just two wins away from recording 100 victories by female drivers in the sport’s all-time annals, which could happen in this weekend’s 27th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Royal Purple Raceway. And while all eyes this weekend will be on drivers such as Alexis DeJoria and Courtney Force (Funny Car), Brittany and Leah Pritchett (Top Fuel) and Erica Enders-Stevens (Pro Stock) as potential candidates to set that significant milestone, it’s also time to reflect back on who started it all, the legendary Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:02 PM EDT
If you like vintage cars, collectors cars, muscle cars — pretty much anything that looks great and is on four wheels — you owe it to yourself to check out some of the fantastic rides that were up for sale Wednesday during the first day of the Mecum Kansas City auction.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:00 PM EDT
The two IndyCar pilots have a blast at U.S. Space Camp before getting down to business this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park (Sun., 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports Live Extra).
Apr 24, 2014, 8:21 PM EDT
Brad Keselowski had a dream season in 2012, winning his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Now Keselowski wants a dream schedule on the Cup circuit – and some of his ideas make sense.
Patrick Carpentier returns to race Quebec’s famed Circuit Trois-Rivieres for first time in nearly 20 years
Apr 24, 2014, 6:34 PM EDT
It has taken him nearly 20 years, but Patrick Carpentier is going back home to race. A veteran of several race series in his career including CART (5 wins), GP3R (2 wins), IndyCar and NASCAR, the Quebec, Canada native will return to the Circuit Trois-Rivieres street course for his first-ever FIA World Championship Rallycross race August 7-8.
Apr 24, 2014, 5:40 PM EDT
Don’t ask Ryan Blaney for directions, period. That’s the message in the latest edition of the Penske Files, in which a Team Penske member asks Blaney for directions to the nearest Discount Tire outlet (Discount Tire is one of Blaney’s primary sponsors in the Nationwide Series this season).
Apr 24, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT
According to driver Aric Almirola, team owner Richard Petty is expected to attend Saturday’s NASCAR Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway. It will be the first time that Petty has been at a racetrack since the death of his beloved wife Lynda on March 25.
Apr 24, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing operations, says that the process of finalizing the ’15 engine package is underway.
Apr 24, 2014, 3:37 PM EDT
Brandon Davis did all he could to keep Swan Racing afloat. But even a multi-millionaire oil and gas industrialist can only bleed so much money before deciding to throw a red flag on the operation. When anticipated funding and sponsorship failed to materialized, the two-team operation sank so fast that Davis had no other choice but to essentially go out of business.
Apr 24, 2014, 12:44 PM EDT
Improved qualifying will likely yield greater results for RLL Racing at Barber this weekend.
Apr 24, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Sebastien Bourdais, Sebastian Saavedra seek their best weekends of the year at the Barber Motorsports Park event.
Apr 24, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
Dale Coyne’s team, plus a handful of others will need to assemble programs shortly to bring the Indianapolis 500 car count number up to 33, and perhaps beyond.
Apr 24, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
After Long Beach debacle, Andretti Autosport looks to right the ship, get second straight Barber win this weekend.
Apr 24, 2014, 8:45 AM EDT
Looking for a second straight fast, solid weekend, Josef Newgarden and the SFHR team seek an improvement on P9 in 2013 at Barber.
Apr 24, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT
Round 3 of the Verizon IndyCar Series could be a humdinger at Barber with high drama, high tempers possible after Long Beach.
Apr 23, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT
RPM’s Marcos Ambrose on his start to the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Apr 23, 2014, 6:53 PM EDT
John Force is your classic workaholic.
Even when he’s on vacation and supposed to be resting and relaxing and taking things slow, the record-setting 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ never stops working. Force was on vacation with his family last weekend in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, a prelude to his upcoming 65th birthday on May 4.
Apr 23, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
Swan Racing has restructured its two-car Sprint Cup team, the organization announced Wednesday afternoon. Minority owner Anthony Marlowe has merged his ownership stake in the No. 26 Toyota driven by Sprint Cup rookie Cole Whitt with BK Racing, which now expands to a three-car operation. Meanwhile, the No. 30 team has been sold to John Cohen, owner of XxxTreme Motorsports.
- As NHRA closes in on 100 wins by female racers, it all started with one of the greatest, Shirley Muldowney 0
- Brad Keselowski: Changes overdue to Sprint Cup schedule; offers his ideas 4
- Richard Petty to return at Richmond, first race since wife Lynda’s death 1
- NASCAR VP: 2015 Sprint Cup engine package to be revealed before All-Star Race 0
- Too much, too fast, too soon: The sad saga of Swan Racing 0
More from NASCAR America
- VIDEO: Vettel ignores team orders, telling team “tough luck” (20)
- Alonso’s doing it again – another year outperforming teammate, equipment (13)
- NASCAR still humming along after last fall’s Richmond scandal (9)
- In re-released interview, Brad Keselowski recalls how Rick Hendrick left him heartbroken (8)
- Maldonado brushes off crash and spin in practice (7)