Dale Earnhardt Jr. will compete in the Daytona 500 on Sunday. It will be his first race since July 2016, when he suffered a season-ending concussion.
Earnhardt, who crashed at Michigan International Speedway and Daytona International Speedway last year, said he has spent his time away from the track recharging his batteries.
“I had a six-month vacation,” Earnhardt told Damon Amendolara, who was filling in as host of CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “That certainly got me excited about getting back in the car. I missed all the guys, I missed my team, and I got married and I’m starting a family with Amy. Perspectives and priorities always kind of change as you get older, and that’s certainly been the case for me. But I’m looking forward to this season, looking forward to being in the car. I’m ready to race and ready to have some fun doing it. It’s an enjoyable job.”
Earnhardt, 42, missed racing, but he missed the people more.
“The friendships,” he said. “You can find the adrenaline somewhere else in something, but it’s hard to replace those friendships, the relationships. I’ve been with this team for so many years, and a lot of these guys I’ve worked with, I’ve worked with a really long time. Also, outside of my team, you got a lot of people in the garage, a lot of drivers, peers, people in the media. (They see) you every single week for 38 weeks of the year, and it’s your family in a sense. That’s one way that you might feel about it, so it’s good to be back at the track this week and seeing all these people. It makes you realize how many good, good people we have in this industry. So that’s probably the part I missed the most. The adrenaline, the fun, of racing is definitely a big motivation for continuing to do it. But I did miss the camaraderie and the people.”
Earnhardt described his time away from racing as a reality check, one that gave him a new perspective on racing – and on life.
“I think everybody goes through reality checks,” he said. “You may lose your position to someone else. You may get traded, cut. You may get injured. Those things can certainly have a profound effect on you and your ego. Our season is very long. We’re doing this every single week. It’s 38 weeks out of a 42-week season, so 38 races in 42 weeks. It becomes who you are and not what you do anymore – and that’s a bad thing. You need to always remember in my situation, race-car driving is what I do; it’s not who I am. I’m other things as well and I want to be other things beyond driving. You get a little caught up in the driving, and you just got to stay grounded. Staying grounded and staying humble is a real challenge, and those reality checks definitely can keep you grounded and keep things in perspective. Plus, I married a great girl that’s going to be honest with me when I’m getting out of line and keep me in check, keep me honest.”
In other news, Earnhardt, a lifelong Redskins fan, implored Washington to sign Kirk Cousins to a long-term contract.
“I think they are making a mistake if they don’t sign him,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t know what the deal is. I know he wants a lot of money. I know that they want to tag him and he’ll probably get the tag again before they negotiate. Hopefully they don’t tag and trade. That would be ridiculous. I don’t care what anybody’s offering. It makes me nervous to have to search for another quarterback. We went through this for so many years. Grossman and those guys were in there. We had a lot of trouble with consistency, trying to find a quarterback to get in there and get the job done, trying to find our franchise guy. We went through the RG3 deal and the Kirk deal basically at the same time with all that bouncing back and forth. It’s been an up-and-down roller coaster ride. Can we please get some continuity in there and consistency? I think signing Kirk to a long-term deal would do that.”