HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Perennial fan favorite and NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. tipped following Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway that the Hooters 250 might have been his last on-track appearance in NASCAR competition.
Earnhardt made the remarks during a national video conference following the first of two Xfinity Series races for the weekend in Miami, which marked his only scheduled start of the season.
He was on pace to finish second to teammate Noah Gragson before a caution with seven laps left set up a green-white-checkered finish, but he still fought hard during the final two laps to secure a fifth-place result.
It was Earnhardt’s 70th career top-five finish in the Xfinity Series in his 142nd start. Since dropping his schedule to one race a year in NASCAR’s second-tier division, Earnhardt hasn’t finished worse than fifth.
“Right now I think it’s going to stay the same, I’m not doing any more (than one), that’s for sure … and I can say that with confidence,” said Earnhardt. “I don’t know how many more of these I’ll do; this might be the last one. And this ain’t no tease, or anything like that, I’m not trying to be annoying about it. It’s a lot of a commitment.
“I’ve got to decide if I’m helping things or not. I really enjoy it, I really do. There’s got to be a point where I decide to make the change to broadcasting entirely,” Earnhardt continued. “That said, being in the car today, I certainly learned a lot that will help me in the booth. I just gotta think about it – I certainly don’t wanna run more; one is plenty. It’s a great series, we’ll just see how it goes.
“It’s a tough question to answer and I’m sorry about that.”
Earnhardt was pleased overall with his performance, but admitted that “little mistakes” kept him from challenging more at the front of the field when it counted most.
“Man, I was so rusty,” said Earnhardt. “It was a lot of fun but I was rusty, all the way through. We had it sailing there a few times. Got some good speed out of the car and we were gaining on the No. 9 … ended up burning it up, but he was so good on the long run we weren’t going to catch him anyways. I hate that we got that late yellow because our cars didn’t fire off very good. You saw it at the end of the race. We couldn’t go. It takes our cars a couple corners.
“That was a lot of fun, but this is the elite. This is the top, elite form of motorsports in my mind next to Cup and it’s not easy to get out there and compete with those boys,” he continued. “They’re so good and race so hard, and my time’s running out.”
Earnhardt had a fierce early battle with Ross Chastain before eventually driving to the lead and pacing four laps Saturday afternoon. He was complimentary of the Alva, Fla., native after the race as well.
“You saw I was having trouble getting around the No. 10 car there earlier in the race,” he noted. “That’s just because I didn’t have enough time to be able to trust where the car’s going to end up sending it into the corner. He’s pretty aggressive anyway. Racing with him is pretty hard.
“I know he can be annoying, but I really appreciate his style. If I like it in the booth, I’ve got to like it on the track!”
And as for whether he was nervous going into what might have been his final hurrah on the driving stage, Earnhardt was quick to offer an affirmative on that front as well.
“Once I fired the motor and started messing with things inside the car and learning where everything was, and we got rolling around with pace laps, I really felt pretty comfortable at that point,” Earnhardt admitted. “But I worked myself up for the last 72 hours (going in).”
If Saturday’s Xfinity Series race is indeed the last dance for Earnhardt, it’s the closing chapter in a NASCAR Hall of Fame-worthy career that includes two Daytona 500 wins, 26 NASCAR Cup Series triumphs and two Xfinity Series championships.
Earnhardt is on the ballot for induction next year and said he’ll be doing his Dale Jr. Download podcast live on Tuesday evening when the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees are announced to capture the moment if his name is called to join those already in the hall.
“Whether we are chosen to go into the Hall of Fame or not,” Earnhardt said, “I’m already honored and think it will be a fun experience to sort of document through our podcast. I’ve said this from the start, and really feel it in my heart, everybody on that list belongs in there and it doesn’t seem at this point that there’s one more deserving than another.
“To that respect, I’m young enough to wait my turn. And there’s a lot of names that are not on that list that need to be on that list. We’re all going to argue that every year.”