Dale Earnhardt Jr. said earlier this week after a tire test at Dover International Speedway that your goals change as you get older.
“As a driver, you come into this sport wanting to win a lot of races and make a lot of money,” he said. “You think about yourself, that everything is for you, and what can I do for me.”
“As you get older, you start to realize how critical everyone’s involvement is important to the health of the sport. You think about what you can do to help the sport and make the sport healthy, and promote it more and try to become an asset for the sport,” he added.
Certainly, no one in recent years as been more essential to the health of NASCAR’s premiere series, now called the Monster Energy Cup Series, than Earnhardt.
While not the most successful driver in the Cup Series, he has been the face of it and built on his father’s legacy by handling himself with class through various ups and downs both on the track and off it.
Having announced his retirement back in the spring, Earnhardt will make his final appearance as a driver at Pocono Raceway this weekend and his farewell figures to be the focal point throughout NASCAR’s second summer stop in Monroe County.
Even with qualifying moved to Sunday morning, Earnhardt will make an appearance at Pocono’s first FanFest infield block party on Friday night and then do a youth autograph period and media session on Saturday morning, followed by a question and answer on Sunday morning at the Tricky Triangle Club.
It won’t be his final appearance at Pocono. He’ll return as part of the NBC Sports Group’s broadcast team in 2018 and beyond.
However, this will likely the final opportunity for his legion of fans to cheer him during the pre-race introductions and follow his every move on the 2.5-mile tri-oval.
Struggling in the final season
Coming off a year in a concussion-shortened 2016 season, Earnhardt has struggled mightily in his final season. In 20 races, he has just one pole, one top five finish and only four top ten finishes. He is ranked 22nd and needs a win to get into the Cup series playoffs.
He’d likely to rekindle the magic that produced success at Pocono in the past. He won both 2014 races and finished in the top 10 15 times overall and in the top five 11 times in 34 career starts.
His memories of the place go back to his youth when he’d come with his father to watch races.
In a video shown on nascar.com, he remembered his father battling Alan Kulwicki on the final lap of the Summer 500 at Pocono in 1987. Kulwicki passed Earnhardt Sr., on Turn 1 and Earnhardt came back to take the lead on the tunnel turn (Turn 2) and hung on for the victory.
“Dad won that race and that’s something I’ll always remember,” he said on the video. “I also remember going around that track for the first time and thinking ‘Man, this place is hard.’ The tunnel turn for a rookie is quite intimidating. It just seemed like it was going to be pot luck to get around that place right.”
However, Earnhardt said he remembered nearly winning one of his first races at Pocono, finishing second to Bobby Labonte in 2001 when Labonte passed him with two laps left.