Dale Earnhardt Jr. Didn't Want to Race

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IJanuary 29, 2011

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 21:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet, stands on pit road prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 21, 2010 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The son of the Intimidator said, "I never wanted to see another racetrack or race car,"  As he sat before the media at Hendrick Motorsports this week during the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway.

He had lost his father, Dale Earnhardt, only one week before in the tragic crash on the final lap at Daytona International Speedway. 

Now it was Feb. 25, 2001, and time for the Dura Lube 400.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. made it very clear he didn't want to be at Rockingham to race his No. 8 Budweiser car.

The only thing that made him keep going was the fact his father had gotten him to this point in his racing career.  Junior said, "What else am I going to do?  I would be a fool to squander it."

So the green flag dropped at Rockingham, fans held up three fingers and waved flags with the trademark No. 3 car.  It was still the first lap and as the cars bunched up in turn three, suddenly the red No. 8 is turned, taking a hard hit into the wall.

From the announcer's booth, Darrell Waltrip said, "This cannot be happening to that young man."  A limping Earnhardt Jr. walked from his heavily damaged car. 

As he came from the infield medical center, he said he was "okay" to a reporter, then added, "It was tight going down into three.  I checked up and somebody didn't."

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Junior added, "I cared less that I crashed.  It was embarrassing that I wrecked the car, but it didn't break my heart any worse than it was broken."

That day at Rockingham he finished 43rd, but he pulled himself together as a race car driver and went on to an emotional win at the Pepsi 400 in Daytona.  Later in the season he won the MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400 and the EA Sports 500.

Earnhardt Jr. was reflective as he answered rapid fire questions.  When asked about the day his father died he said, "It's pretty fresh, not blurry like in the movies.  Couldn't think, it was all crazy."

Dale Jr. prefers to reflect on the happy times.  He stated his thoughts tend toward "something fun or funny, him picking on me.  I did a lot of things that pissed him off that I thought were hilarious."

There will be incredible coverage of the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt during Speedweeks and the Daytona 500.  Speed TV will devote considerable air time to footage never seen before of the seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup (Sprint) Champion.

Earnhardt Jr. said the attention to the anniversary didn't bother him.  He stated, "I enjoy hearing other people talk about him.  Hear how important he was to you and you and you." 

The driver of the Amp Energy/National Guard Chevrolet acknowledged how important it is for the fans and people who knew him to honor him.

When asked if it would be a distraction for him as a driver at the biggest race of the year, he responded, "I can focus on what I am doing."

Junior spoke of the off-season and said, "It couldn't be any longer.  It would drive me crazy.  Anxiousness and anticipation is 10-fold to get to the track and see if this is going to work." 

He is very upbeat about the relationship he will have with his new crew chief, Steve Letarte.

Rick Hendrick showed his confidence in Earnhardt Jr.  He commented, "He can win.  If we get him equal, he can win every restrictor-plate race.  He's really good on mile-and-a-half tracks.  He's really good on flat tracks.  And the in-betweens, we just need to get better."

Hendrick added, "We just have to give him good stuff and he's got to believe he's getting it."

The more subdued Dale Jr. we have seen the last few years is his defense from being judged and analysed.  He decided to change his outward approach to everybody.  He admitted the failures of the last two years have taken a toll.

Junior stated, "I have a great life.  I'm just a little introverted.  I have the same hopes and dreams and fire inside me.  "I'm happy inside, I promise, just monotone on the outside."

Earnhardt Jr. stayed close to home during the off-season.  He spent time with family, moved his mother to a new home on his property and stayed relatively quiet in preparation for the upcoming season.

Look for a re-focused, optimistic and driven Dale Jr. when the 2011 season kicks off in Daytona.  He wants to win badly and another season, even like 2010, is not something he can deal with.

It might just be time for the driver of the No. 88 to perform.  A few wins will bring those smiles back to his face and it will be great for the sport and, of course, for Junior Nation.

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