DARLINGTON, S.C. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. was back in an Xfinity Series race car at Darlington Raceway Friday afternoon as he prepares to compete in Saturday’s Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200.
Since his retirement from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at the end of the 2017 season and his subsequent move to broadcasting for NBC, he has made only one other start. A little over a year ago, Earnhardt competed at Richmond Raceway, qualifying second and finishing fourth.
Friday also marked his first public appearance since Earnhardt and his family were involved in a plane crash on August 15 at Elizabethton Municipal Airport near Bristol Motor Speedway.
Earnhardt spoke to the media Friday and said, regarding his health, “I feel great.” He also admitted to being apprehensive about the upcoming race.
“Really nervous about getting in the car just because I haven’t been in a car in a really long time. I did come over here a couple of months ago and ran about 15 laps when Noah (Gragson) was testing and that didn’t do anything to help my anxiety. Noah was faster than me and it just reminded me of how hard it is to drive these cars and good these guys that drive them are. And, how hot and miserable it is inside there, some of the things you kind of forget about while you’re in the booth and being a broadcaster.
On why he chose Darlington, Earnhardt explained, “It’s a real blessing for me to be able to run at least one race a year and sort of relive my past. That’s kind of why I picked this race at Darlington because of the Throwback Weekend, such a great celebration of the history of the sport. I wanted to be more a part of that. I got to experience it from the broadcast booth last year. And, I thought, man, I get to run a race a year, why don’t I just go to Darlington and do something fun with a Throwback car and draw some awareness?’
“It’s fun to be down in the garage, in and around the other cars and understand their stories and what they’re all about. It should be a fun weekend.”
Earnhardt was fifth fastest in the first Xfinity Series practice and 10th in the final practice driving the No. 8 for JR Motorsports. His throwback car is a Hellmann’s Chevrolet paint scheme that was inspired by the car his father ran in his first premier series start in the 1975 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The Xfinity Series Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC.
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