Earnhardt Jr. Says Turnaround Is Just Around the Corner
By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in Atlanta this week, promoting the upcoming Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It’s part of the obligations that fall on recent race winners in NASCAR. Each track gets a day’s time from recent winners to use to promote upcoming races. As bad as Earnhardt’s racing fortunes have been for the past season or so, it’s sometimes easy to forget that he’s still part of the Winner’s Circle program.
He last won at Michigan International Speedway, where he’ll be racing this weekend.
He recalled that day last June at Michigan where he and his then-crew chief Tony Eury Jr. executed a winning fuel-mileage strategy.
“We were kind of struggling on fuel mileage, trying to make it last, make it work,” Earnhardt recalled. “It was a pretty exciting day. (Team owner) Rick (Hendrick) was there. Everybody was pumped up. The Victory Lane celebration was really fun. Everybody seemed to enjoy it.”
But somewhere shortly thereafter, the fun began to fade. He heads back to Michigan this week 25th in the points standing with just one top-five finish this season.
He said that performance-wise, he’d give himself and his team a “pretty low grade” for the races since that Michigan triumph, the 18th of his Cup career.
“We haven’t accomplished even a fraction of what we intended to accomplish,” he said. “We’ve had to go through some pretty trying times. Some difficult decisions were made. Some pretty stressful weekends occurred. We worked through them the best we could.”
The most difficult change was a crew chief swap that saw his cousin Tony Eury Jr. replaced by Hendrick veteran Lance McGrew.
Earnhardt said he believes the worst is about to be behind him.
“There’s been a light at the end of the tunnel working with Lance,” he said. “I see there’s an opportunity for us to have some break-through runs. I see that there’s an opportunity to turn our program around. We’ve had some pretty decent race cars in last month or two and had pretty poor luck.
“I personally feel like it’s repairable and fixable, but it’s been tough to deal with.”
That’s not to say that Earnhardt has been miserable the whole time. On the contrary, he said his off-track life is giving him lots of satisfaction.
“I’ve got a lot of good things going for me at home, in my personal life,” he said. “The things that I’m occupied with throughout the week are going better and keep getting better.”
He has several projects to occupy his time and his mind. There’s his bar in Charlotte, Whiskey River, and lots more as well.
“I tore down my old house, and I’m in the process of building a new one,” he said. “That’s been an experience.”
He also seems to have inherited his father’s love of the land.
“I have 300 acres that I’m always working on, doing little projects,” he said. “I sort of mold out how I want it. That takes a long time. That’s been fun doing that.”
Lately he’s added a covered wooden bridge over a creek that flows through his spread.
“It’s like one you’d see on an old calendar,” he said.
His next addition likely will be a windmill, and the property already has a pond on it.
“It’s got a lot of neat little nooks on it,” he said. “I’m trying to turn it into a real pretty place. It’s a piece of property that I think my family, particularly my father, would be proud of.”
He’s also built some bridges, so to speak, at work. He continues to enjoy his relationship with his car owner and with his teammates.
“I’m getting to know my teammates better,” he said. “I would never had that opportunity racing against them. Working with Mark (Martin) has been great, being around him. He’s a great supporter and has really been helpful.”
Earnhardt also takes satisfaction from the way he’s handled himself throughout an unexpected rough stretch in his career.
“This has been a trying season,” he said. “I didn’t know how I would handle a season like this or what would happen if I ran like this.
“I’m proud of how I handled it. It wasn’t as difficult as I thought to handle. I’m almost at the end of it. I feel like this is a temporary phase. I don’t think this is what the rest of my career is going to be like.
“We’re working to turn it around.”
And he said that despite the struggles, he still very much loves what he does for a living.
“I feel fortunate every week to be able to climb into the race car and be able to do what I want to do,” he said. “You want the ability to produce. You want to go out there and win, but no matter how competitive I am, I’m still thankful to have that opportunity.”
– Rick Minter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments