The weight of the world has been lifted from Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s shoulders.
Saturday afternoon, Earnhardt found himself enjoying the Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway. Not only because his JR Motorsports team finished 1-2 with Tyler Reddick and Elliott Sadler, but he was genuinely enjoying the race.
“It’s actually been really nice to not have to worry about performance or living up to expectations or your own or someone else’s,” Earnhardt said. “It’s been great to get all that off my shoulders. This is the first race we’ve won on a Saturday [and] I have not had to worry about Sunday.
“I walked around every day of my life with a thousand pounds on my shoulders that was Sunday. What was going to happen, how was I going to run, and I think every driver does that. Now that that’s off my shoulders and I don’t have to worry about that anymore, everything in my life is so much more enjoyable.”
Earnhardt retired from full-time Monster Energy NASAR Cup Series competition at the end of 2017, after 18 full seasons. The son of seven-time champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt amassed 26 wins, including two in the Daytona 500, in 631 starts.
Popularity? Never was a problem; Earnhardt took home 15 consecutive most popular driver awards. And while he grabbed two Xfinity Series titles (1998-99), Earnhardt never took home the big prize in the Cup Series.
Don’t misunderstand Earnhardt exulting in his newfound freedom though, as Earnhardt loved driving racecars. During the winner’s news conference inside the media center, he made sure to mention as much.
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) February 18, 2018
But racing made everything else take a backseat, and that’s where Earnhardt acknowledges life wasn’t as fun. Now, well, now Earnhardt is really starting to live.
Wife Amy is expecting the couple’s first child this coming May. The two also spent a lot of time during the offseason filming a show for the DIY network centered on renovating a house in Key West, Florida. And with his new day job at NBC Sports, Earnhardt has already participated in the Super Bowl and is headed to the Olympics on Monday.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) February 4, 2018
After he serves as the Daytona 500 grand marshal.
“I’m living. I’m loving. I’m having a good time,” Earnhardt continued. “I haven’t had any nerves about the broadcasting stuff. I’m really excited about getting into talking NASCAR, sending me to the Super Bowl, and sending me to Korea has anxiety through the roof.
“They haven’t told me what I’m doing when I get there. Like really. Like they haven’t told me what I’m doing. So, I’m a little nervous. But I know they won’t set me up to fail.”
That would be hard to do, anyway. Because just like Saturday afternoon in Daytona, Earnhardt knows he’s going to have fun.
“I’m going to have a chance to see some of the best athletes in the world do what they do best, and that’ll be an experience that I’ll never forget,” he said. “So, I’m looking forward to that. [I’m] very blessed.”