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Junior Ready For His Role As A Flag-Waver

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 16 2020

 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be on the starter’s stand at Daytona on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As a throng of fans stood in security lines for nearly 90 minutes to enter the Fan Zone this morning at Daytona International Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr., one of sport’s most beloved figures, was tucked a few feet away in the infield media center holding court inside a packed media center.

Moments after sitting president Donald Jr. Trump gives the command for 40 drivers to fire their engines today around 3 p.m. ET, Earnhardt will unfurl the green flag to signify the start of the Daytona 500 and the 2020 NASCAR Cup season.

Now a broadcaster for NBC Sports, Earnhardt has done it all in racing, including driving an honorary pace car. But standing in the starter’s stand is a first for the third-generation racer. Sort of.

“Well, I do have a little bit of experience waving a green flag. I remember getting to start a dirt track race a few years ago,” Earnhardt deadpanned with a sly grin.

A relaxed Earnhardt said his biggest thrill in racing centers around the team he and his sister Kelley own. JR Motorsports is considered one of the top-flight teams in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series.

And he has no intention for his team to make the jump to Cup.

“I’m very comfortable where we’re at,” he said. “It’s so expensive and hard to find adequate funding in Cup. And what I really like about the Xfinity Series is that we can develop drivers, crew chiefs and guys on the team for the Cup level.

“I had one of my, now former employees, call me a couple of years ago and tell me he was going to Cup with Richard Petty Motorsports. He thought I’d be disappointed. But it was the complete opposite. I told him I was excited for him.

“That’s what we’re trying to accomplish, getting guys to the next level.”

Earnhardt will begin his third year this summer as a broadcaster. While he’s well into retirement, hestill feels the racing bug.

That’s why he decided to run one Xfinity race each year. His lone time behind the wheel this season is scheduled to occur next month in Homestead, Fla.

“It’s coming fast and I am nervous,” the two-time Daytona 500 winner said. “Being out of the car for a year, it’s kind of tough jumping back into the car and understanding where the limits are. Luckily, we run up against the fence at Homestead.”

While he feels the urge to race again due to his own competivie spirit, he also hopes to use his limited racing schedule to parlay the on-track exeperience into knowledge he can share to NBC viewers.

“In addition to the Xfinity race at Homestead, I’d really like to test a Cup car,” said Earnhardt, who was sporting a black t-shirt adorned with a photo of Richard Petty’s Dodge Charger leading the field at Daytona in the mid-1970s. “I want to know what this package feels like on the 1.5-mile tracks. I’d love to be able to speak more about that in the booth.

“My mom passed away last year and we had the plane crash. And I don’t think I did as good last year (as a broadcaster). I’m looking to rebound this year.

“People may think it’s weird that I’m critiquing myself. But I want to provide solid information to the fans.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 16 2020
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