Retired NASCAR star driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is getting ready for his first time at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in the NBC Sports broadcast booth. But on Thursday, he hinted that he might also attempt a return to the cockpit in the event if the right ride was available.
“I wanted to come back (to the Rolex 24) but I never thought I would be in this capacity with NBC Sports,” Earnhardt said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, watching up on the pit box and watching the action and reacting. It’s such an amazing event. They had to be careful sending Steve (Letarte) and myself here, because we might want to come out of retirement and run this again one time. I’ve always thought about it in the back of my mind, coming back. It was such a fun time competing, and the past several times I’ve watched this race on TV from start to finish because I’m such a big fan of the event itself.”
Earnhardt was a two-time competitor in the Rolex 24. He finished fourth overall and second in GTS in 2001 (pictured above), joining his father Dale Earnhardt, Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins in Corvette Racing’s team car to the overall winner. Two years later, he took fifth overall and third in Daytona Prototypes co-driving the Howard Boss Motorsports Chevrolet Crawford that came within 17 minutes of scoring the overall victory.
“I’ve had some opportunities to come back and run,” Earnhardt said. “But I’d have to see if Ron Fellows, Boris Said and guys like that would be interested in getting together. The two times I came down here I put so much pressure on myself. I really didn’t understand what I was getting myself involved in, I didn’t understand how incredible the event was, and wished I had known to take it in a little bit better. To do it one more time, regardless of how we ran — just to go through the process — testing and all the things you do here is is so different from anything we do in NASCAR, and I’d love to try it again.”
Another of Earnhardt’s partners on the NBC Sports team — former fellow NASCAR driver, A.J. Allmendinger (pictured above) — will be doing unique double duty in this weekend’s 57th Rolex 24, hustling from the NBC Sports booth to the cockpit of the No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing with Curb-Agajanian Acura NSX GT3.
“I’m planning on driving close to seven hours, and they have me set up for the finish,” Allmendinger said. “I’m doing nine hours for NBC Sports. As for sleep — zero hours right now. I’ll get my sleep in tonight.
“For me, it’s an honor to be part of the team at NBC Sports,” added Allmendinger, who won the historic 50th Rolex 24 in 2012 and finished second in his debut in 2006. “It’s unique this weekend, running back and forth. Usually, you’re standing around during the weekend; you don’t get a lot of time in the race car. They’ve got my schedule busy, but I’m enjoying it.”
Allmendinger ran the event in 13 of the last 14 years, leading (overall or in his class) in every one of them.
“That’s a cool stat,” he said. “I’m going to try to do that again.”