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Earnhardt Jr. Hits 40, But Only In ‘Literal’ Years

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 11 2014

Dale Earnhardt Jr. turned 40 on Friday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

CONCORD, N.C. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. turned 40 years old on Friday.

Like most drivers, the actual celebration of his birthday occurred earlier in the week because on Friday he was at Charlotte Motor Speedway preparing for Saturday’s Bank of America 500. His family and friends had a surprise party for him in the basement of his house and there were people in attendance he hadn’t seen in years.

“It’s awesome when your peers come out and support and celebrate your life with you like that,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “That meant a lot. (Former NASCAR driver) Jimmy Means was there, which was great.”

The fact NASCAR’s Most Popular Sprint Cup driver has now reached age 40 has probably hit many race fans like an electrical shock. However, don’t expect Earnhardt Jr. to change.

“I’m like aging in literal years faster than I am physically and mentally,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I feel like I just have a lot of things that I’ve yet to accomplish, not only in racing, but in life in general; lot of fun that I’m not done having. Hopefully, the next 10 will be just as good and we will just keep going.”

That could easily be the case if Neil Bonnett’s belief that a race car driver normally peaks between ages 35 and 45 proves true. Granted, there are exceptions, but the late Alabama driver’s philosophy focused on the experience that must be gained before consistent success can be obtained.

Earnhardt Jr. is one of those who ushered in the changing of the guard in the Sprint Cup Series. The others have already passed the 40-year-old mark. Greg Biffle is 45, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are 43, and Matt Kenseth is 42. Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson turn 40 next year.

Seven of the 12 drivers in the Chase are in the numerical span where Bonnett believes a competitor peaks. The average age of the 12 drivers in title contention is 35.2. Gordon is the oldest at 43 while Joey Logano, the point leader entering Charlotte, is the youngest at age 24. For Logano, the thought of possibly having 20 years remaining in his career is “crazy.”

“When you’re only 24, 20 years sounds like a lot so I’m excited about it,” Logano said. “I’ve got a long ways to go. I remember sitting right here for my 18th birthday and they had a cake in the car and they had my car out front. That was gonna be my first race in Dover the next week and it was a whole big deal. Now, I’m sitting here at 24.

“I’m just now starting to see the benefits of starting that young and the fact that I’m starting to reach my peak. I’m getting closer to where I feel I need to be to go out there and being only 24 years old there’s the advantage that I can hopefully do this longer and at my peak than most that started a little later.”

Only time will tell in regards to Logano’s success, but as far as Earnhardt Jr. is concerned, when his Sprint Cup days conclude he’ll still be racing in Nationwide and possibly late models.

“I would like to race late models and just have fun every other weekend, whenever I felt like going,” said Earnhardt Jr., who also enjoys finding new talent. “I had a lot of fun at that level.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, October 11 2014
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