Dale Jr. looking to make memories in “final” race at Daytona

Written by Erik Slaby


Daytona, FL – Despite the excitement heading into Independence Day weekend and the Coke Zero 400, there is a bit of a bittersweet and somber tone surrounding the events throughout this week. This could be the last NASCAR race at Daytona International Speedway for the popular Nationwide 88 driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. He stated earlier this year that this would be his final season before retiring.

Earnhardt has been one of the most popular NASCAR drivers throughout his whole career and is third on the all-time victory leaders list at Daytona with 17 victories. He is third on the list behind his father, Dale Earnhardt, and Tony Stewart, with 34 and 19 victories respectively. Earnhardt was honored by Daytona International Speedway Friday with a painting of some of his memorable races and he also took the time to speak with the media about a variety of topics such as his history with Daytona and his future in racing.

Earnhardt spoke reverently about the Daytona race track and its importance and impact on the sport. “Daytona has been so important to NASCAR, you know, the Daytona 500 is so important to our sport, the health of our sport” said Earnhardt. “A lot of great things have happened here, a lot of drivers have made their careers here. It’s just something to be proud of, I think, if you’re in the industry.” Earnhardt also spoke about the remodel that was done on the track and how overtime, the driving styles have changed.

“This was a great, great place to race in the early 2000s,” said Earnhardt. “The repave changed the track quite a bit but I’m sure some drivers loved it. Not to say they changed it for the worse, but as the track ages, in my opinion, it just gets better and better as the grip goes away and handling becomes more and more important, so skillfully, it’s a very fun track. It’s a challenging track even though it’s a superspeedway and we kinda run wide open. When the handling becomes an issue you can’t run wide open, you have your hands full and I appreciate and admire that about the track.”

Earnhardt also spoke about his decision earlier this year to retire and how he feels about it. “This decision to retire, it wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment [decision], it was sort of building inside me because of the things that we’ve been through over the years” said Earnhardt. “What I mean by saying that is I’m quite comfortable with it, maybe more than anyone else, I guess.”

On Friday, Earnhardt also won the pole position in the qualifying races for the Coke Zero 400. The crowd cheered louder than they had all day once he won. This was the first time since 2013 that he had won a pole. This win also guaranteed him a spot in the exhibition Clash at Daytona in 2018. When that was mentioned to Earnhardt, he smiled and quipped, “I’ll talk to my boss (Rick Hendrick) and see what he has in the shed.”

Even though Earnhardt may come back and race in the Clash, this will likely be his last race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series here at Daytona, so NASCAR fans should cherish this last race.

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