NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. opens up about his challenges of the past year and his return to NASCAR racing in a pair of interviews appearing on ESPN platforms this week.
Earnhardt will compete in the Feb. 25 Daytona 500, his return to racing in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series following a lengthy layoff due to concussion-like symptoms. Selected by fans as the Most Popular Driver in NASCAR’s top series for 14 consecutive seasons, Earnhardt missed the second half of the 2016 season after crashes at Michigan International Speedway and Daytona International Speedway.
In what reporter Marty Smith called “the most revealing interview I’ve ever heard from him,” Earnhardt and his wife Amy sat down with Smith for a two-part piece that will air in the 10 a.m. ET hour on the Saturday and Sunday (Feb. 18-19) editions of SportsCenter. PREVIEW
Also, in a feature piece appearing in ESPN The Magazine’s Entertainment Issue, on sale Friday, writer Tommy Tomlinson, who spent time with Earnhardt on several occasions researching the article, reports the driver thinks he’s found himself and become a better man during his time off from racing. As he prepares to return at Daytona, his focus is on slowing down and becoming a better person while still keeping the edge it takes to survive on the track. PREVIEW
Smith, who has known and covered Earnhardt since 1998 and covered his entire career in NASCAR’s top series, conducted the SportsCenter interview on Earnhardt’s North Carolina farm. Cameras were set up on an indoor basketball court Earnhardt named the “Dirty Dome.”
“I’ve known Dale for a long time, seen him grow and evolve as a man, seen insecurities of his disappear and the most confident, joyful version of him emerge,” Smith said. “A lot of that is Amy’s influence. She taught him that vulnerability is ok. She showed him unconditional love, and proved it by walking through the darkness with him, personally and professionally. We touched on all of those things during this interview.”
Some quotes from the SportsCenter feature:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. —
The first thing you think is I never drive again. And the reason why you say that is because of how bad you feel and because your eyes don’t work and because you can’t stand up you never want to be in that position again. And so your initial reaction is I don’t want to be like this. So I’m never going that to put myself in that position.
Marty Smith –
You just want to live.
Yeah. And you know when I told my doctor when I first went to evaluate I said all I care is that when I get married I don’t have any symptoms. I don’t want a foggy brain not being to remember anything. I don’t want to have balance issues worried about falling over them, stumbling over my own feet. I want my eyes to work right.
From ESPN The Magazine:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t like going anywhere without his wife Amy. “I’m his Binky,” she says. She calms him when he worries, and he worries all the time. Mostly he worries about letting down all the people who care about him. Time and again his family has crashed and broken, through death and divorce and detachment, and he has spent his life welding the scraps together. He worries that it will fall apart again if he’s not a good enough driver and a good enough man.
“I always make things worse than they are, or create problems that aren’t there,” he says. “And going and doing some simple task becomes a problem. I start imagining problems that aren’t there. What people are going to think, who’s going to judge me and am I going to be good enough, am I worthy?”
Suarez Featured on Sunday SportsCenter
Sunday’s SC Featured segment on SportsCenter will tell the story of Daniel Suarez, who made history in 2016 as the first foreign-born champion in one of NASCAR’s national series when he took the title in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. This year, with the unexpected retirement of Carl Edwards, the native of Mexico was named as his replacement and was suddenly thrust into a higher-profile role in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He will make his debut in the Daytona 500 on Feb. 28, as Mauricio Pedroza reports. The story will debut in the 10 a.m. ET edition of SportsCenter on Sunday, Feb. 19, and will re-air in other editions of the program throughout the day.
ESPN at the Daytona 500
SportsCenter will have reports from Daytona this weekend from ESPN NASCAR analyst Ricky Craven while Smith will report from the track during race week.
In addition, ESPN.com will have full coverage from Daytona with writers Bob Pockrass, John Oreovicz and Ryan McGee, with additional contributions from Smith and Craven.