Junior hopes the next 40 years is "just as good".
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It’s hard to believe that NASCAR’s favorite son is turning 40 next Friday.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will celebrate the milestone at his home track, Charlotte Motor Speedway, where he grew up watching his father win races, played with other kids in the sport and eventually raced himself.
But a lot has changed for Junior, both professionally and personally, since he made his debut at Myrtle Beach Speedway in a Busch Series car more than 18 years ago.
I just wanted to make it and being the son of a guy that was so successful, the more success he had it seemed like the harder it would be for me to make it.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“Definitely accomplished more than I thought I would when I was younger,” Earnhardt said. “I just wanted to make it and being the son of a guy that was so successful, the more success he had it seemed like the harder it would be for me to make it. I would just be sort of a chapter in that whole thing.
"But I’m real happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish and who I have been able to work with and the friends I’ve been able to make. That is probably the best thing is the relationships that you create.
“Being a part of this sport there are so many great people in it, no matter what department you talk about. It’s just fun getting to know all those people that helped get this thing going and move it from race to race.
Just getting started
Earnhardt is at a good place in his life. He’s found success over the last seven seasons with NASCAR juggernaut Hendrick Motorsports. And with his own JR Motorsports, Earnhardt is leading the Nationwide Series point standings with driver Chase Elliott.
Earnhardt has three wins, 11 top fives and 17 top 10 finishes and is enjoying the best year of his Sprint Cup career since he won six races in 2004 with his father’s former race shop – Dale Earnhardt Inc.
“The accomplishments as far as just the statistics it’s definitely exceeded my expectations,” Earnhardt said. “We are still winning races and running good so maybe we can get a few more wins and have some more fun before it’s over.
“Definitely having this birthday come up makes you reflect quite a bit back on not so much the decisions or any regrets you have, just the fun stuff you have done and is the next 40 years going to be just as good, because the first 40 were pretty great.”
A second chance
Recently the No. 88 National Guard team has experienced a bit of slump. Earnhardt, who locked into the Chase for the Sprint Cup early with his win in the Daytona 500, has posted just one top 10 finish since he finished fifth at Michigan in August and hasn’t led a lap. Neither has his shop mate Jimmie Johnson.
With the new playoff system, however, Earnhardt easily transferred to the Contender Round with an average finish of 12.3. He appreciates that this Chase is more forgiving.
This gives us an opportunity to sort of get back into the championship battle.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“We didn’t do too well these first three so the reset button is in favor of our team,” Earnhardt said. “We feel like we are not realizing our potential and I think it is obvious we are not realizing our potential. This gives us an opportunity to sort of get back into the championship battle. Had they not structured it so, I don’t know that we would be feeling too confident about our chances at this point.
“Now it’s all back to zero. We can get regrouped and get confident again and come out of here with a great finish we are back in it.”