Age merely a number to Dale Earnhardt Jr., not an indicator of when to retire

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. turned 42 Monday and with each birthday past the 40th, the question to any driver becomes how much longer they will race.

Earnhardt’s situation is a bit different than most athletes as he recovers from a concussion that has kept him out of the car since after the July 9 race at Kentucky Speedway. Earnhardt plans to be back for the start of next season at Daytona International Speedway, but how many more years does he have left as a driver?

“I don’t know,’’ Earnhardt said Wednesday at Martinsville Speedway for the track’s announcement that it will install lights after this season. “Some guys, Jeff (Gordon) was really good and strong (when) he was 43, he probably could have went a couple of more years. (Greg) Biffle has had some good years and he’s 46 now. I don’t know if age is really a factor, it’s really about the passion you have for it, if you get can get out of bed and get up on the wheel and want to do it.’’

Gordon retired last season at age 44, competing for the championship in the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway before returning this year to fill in as a substitute for Earnhardt. Tony Stewart, who made the Chase this year, will retire from the Sprint Cup Series after this season at age 45.

Others, like Earnhardt, are closer to the end of their careers. Six-time champion Jimmie Johnson turned 41 last month. Former champion Matt Kenseth is 44. Former champion Kevin Harvick is 40.

Age, though, shouldn’t be viewed as a key factor for deciding when to retire, Earnhardt said. He says something else is more important.

“When you get up and don’t want it as much as the next guy, you’ve got to start thinking whether you belong there, whether the team deserves that kind of commitment,’’ said the two-time Daytona 500 winner. “The team is going to go in there and work their guts out. They need a driver with the same attitude. Anytime you feel like that maybe you don’t have that attitude, you need to start thinking about letting somebody else get in there and giving the team the opportunity. That’s what I think about.

“I don’t know why some guys’ careers fade. I think it’s different reasons, different circumstances, the cars, the team, the organization maybe, but also the passion to do it because it takes a ton to really want to get up on the wheel and race as hard as you’ve got to race every weekend. It came real easy when you’re young, but the older you get it’s a little bit harder. Them young guys, man, they’re coming into the sport wide open and it’s getting harder and harder to be able to keep up with them.’’

So how does Earnhardt feel in being able to keep up with the younger drivers?

“I feel good,’’ he said. “I feel young. I feel younger than my years. As long as you have the passion and the commitment to do what have you have to do, not just on Sunday and Friday and Saturday but during the week, there’s a lot of commitments not only with sponsors, but you got meetings and you’ve got to be at the shop and you’ve got to make yourself available and accountable with the team and there’re just so much to it that goes to being successful.

“If you don’t have the passion for that, then you probably don’t need to be wasting anybody’s time. I think that’s probably what happens, you sort of lose that want to be able to get up and go do it.’’

NASCAR America: Is there cause for concern with Jimmie Johnson’s performance thus far?

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It’s no secret that Jimmie Johnson is off to a slow start in 2017.

The defending and seven-time NASCAR Cup champion has a starting average of 21.8 and a finishing average of 18.8 in the first five races of this season.

He has just one top-10 finish (ninth at Phoenix), along with 34th at Daytona, 19th at Atlanta, 11th at Las Vegas and 21st Sunday at Fontana.

And let’s not forget he’s 17th in the NASCAR Cup standings heading to one of his strongest tracks, Martinsville Speedway, this Sunday.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we discussed this: After such a slow start to the season, is there a cause for concern over Johnson’s performance?

NASCAR America: Mark Martin is definitely a Kyle Larson fan

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin shared his experience of racing in his home state of Arkansas, as well as the excitement he feels watching  Kyle Larson compete in the Cup series.

NASCAR America: Kyle Larson involved in minor fender bender while leaving Fontana

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Kyle Larson‘s spectacular weekend at Auto Club Speedway — winning both Saturday’s Xfinity Series race and Sunday’s Auto Club 400 NASCAR Cup event — left him feeling good.

But shortly upon exiting the facility, Larson and several others were involved in a fender-bender right outside the Speedway. Larson was a passenger, not the driver.

No one was injured, Larson tweeted.

But somehow, isn’t that strange fate?

NASCAR America: Kyle Larson’s Fontana win shows continued maturing as a driver

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Kyle Larson finally broke his streak of three straight runner-up finishes with his win in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, the crew discussed his win as well as his maturation as a driver.