Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Next two months critical to determining if he will race beyond 2017

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In a wide-ranging conversation with reporters Saturday night, Dale Earnhardt Jr. expounded on how long he intends to race in NASCAR, confirming he will wait “a couple of months” to decide.

Earnhardt, who is in a contract year with Hendrick Motorsports, told writer Tommy Tomlinson about the timeline in an ESPN The Magazine story published this week.

After missing the last half of the 2016 season with concussion symptoms, Earnhardt said Saturday he wants to affirm his well-being but likely will re-sign if things check out.

“I told (team owner) Rick (Hendrick) I’d like to get a couple of months under my belt to get confidence in my health,” he said. “When I got hurt last year and what I saw it put the company through, how I saw it frustrate certain aspects of the company, it put a strain on our relationships. Our (sponsors) were worried about my future.

“Rick and everybody was worried. I don’t want to do that again. So I want to get some races under my belt and get confidence in my health before I can commit to him. I don’t want to make any promises I can’t deliver on, and so once I feel like I think I’m good.”

Earnhardt, who turned 42 last October, has suffered at least five concussions during his career. Richard Petty recently said he was disappointed the 13-time most popular driver decided to return instead of retiring.

Earnhardt respects Petty’s point of view (“it just shows he cares about me as a person”) but wants to drive beyond 2017.

“I think I can withstand the wear and tear of driving these cars to do a couple of more years,” he said. “I’m ready to do it because I want to race. I want to be here.

“I used to try over the last year or two to put a number on it and say this is when I’m going to retire. This will be the year, the day, the age. I’ve decided that maybe it’s best that I don’t considering my health. I can’t really try to put a date on it because I don’t know what’s going to happen to me going forward.”

At a Phoenix International Raceway test session two weeks ago, Earnhardt talked with Carl Edwards, who is stepping away from NASCAR this season. He advised Earnhardt to consider only himself in thinking about the future.

“He said, ‘Man it was a real easy decision to make when I didn’t worry about anyone else or worry about how it affected anyone else,’” Earnhardt said. “That’s the hard part for me. There are so many moving parts to what we have going on. There’s a lot of elements, and it’s not an easy decision to say when is the time to hang it up.

“There was a lot of time in there during the recovery where there were days I was 90% sure I wasn’t going to drive again. … I had to decide for myself if I wanted to drive anymore. I’m not going to race because any other reason than I want to be out there. I don’t think it’s smart for any other reasons.”

Earnhardt said he talked most about furthering his career with Dr. Micky Collins, who kept reminding him that having passion was the key.

“There are motivations to racing,” Earnhardt said. “The fans, the camaraderie and all the great things you get to experience. But if I’m going to come back, I’ve got to be racing because I want to be out there.

“I couldn’t put myself through the chance that I could put myself back in rehab for months and months going through that crap again if I really didn’t want to be out there. I couldn’t do it because of contracts or responsibilities or we just ain’t ready to retire, or we don’t have our ducks in a row from a financial standpoint. We can’t keep racing because of those things. It’s too much of a risk I think.”

On the bad days during his recovery, Earnhardt said he thought every day about life outside the car.

“Me and (his wife) Amy and whomever would have conversations,” he said. “We’d get into scenarios or situations and go, ‘Wow, this is what it would be like.’

“I don’t know if we ever got 100% to feeling like retirement would be like. I certainly got a glimpse into what that side of life would be like. Let me tell you: It’s a lot less stress. I really never knew how much pressure all the drivers are under until I got out from under that. Man, it is a mess.

“So, I don’t know whether I’m right about this or not, but I think for the longest time, I let racing be who I was instead of what I did. So maybe (I’ll) enjoy it more and not let it become so stressful that it’s unenjoyable. Maybe I’ll just try to focus on letting it be what I do instead of who I am. Like Richard Petty said, I’ve got a whole other life beyond driving, and I really believe that.

“I have a lot of things I’d love to do. Outside of having a family, there’s a lot of business that I’d love to see if I can succeed at. I think we got a glimpse of what that would be like. It looks pretty awesome.”

NASCAR America: Short tracks are Clint Bowyer’s favorites

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It was a question that needed to be asked, although the answer was not a surprise to anyone. What is Clint Bowyer’s favorite type of track?

“Short tracks are obviously my favorite,” Bowyer answered. “I think they’re probably everybody’s favorite. That’s what we grew up doing. That’s probably where we feel most comfortable.”

“I love back-to-back short track races because the drivers don’t have time to forget about who they’re mad at,” Steve Letarte interjected.

But Bowyer’s love of short tracks is not limited to Martinsville, where he snapped his long winless streak earlier this year. He is even more excited about coming to Richmond Raceway this week.

“I feel like Richmond is the perfect-sized race track.”

Bowyer went one step further, suggesting there is a way to add more tracks like Richmond to the schedule.

“I feel like, some of these mile-and-a-half tracks, we need to just use as parking lots and build Richmond in the infield,” Bowyer said.

For more of what Bowyer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had to say about short track racing, watch the video above.

NASCAR America: Clint Bowyer’s parties are legendary

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Clint Bowyer parties are not only legendary, they have the same effect as a black hole on unsuspecting passersby, as Steve Letarte found out in Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America.

“The cab driver comes up, goes inside, decides he is going to clock out – stays at the party,” Bowyer explained. “(The fare) is in the car waiting on him. He’s still inside partying. So somebody (else) got in the cab and made several laps on the go-kart track that night.”

It was eventually returned – muddied and with ungrateful patrons.

The cab driver is not the only person to get sucked into the vortex of a Bowyer party. Pizza delivery men, famous singers, and countless others have made this mistake of wandering too close.

“I’ve known Clint a long time, so none of this is shocking to me,” Letarte said as he correctly answered every bizarre question aimed at him.

For more of what has happened at one of Bowyer’s parties, watch the video above.

NASCAR America at 5:30 p.m. ET: Clint Bowyer joins Dale Jr. at the Big Oak Table

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5:30-6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is joined at the Big Oak table by Clint Bowyer and Steve Letarte. Krista Voda hosts.

On today’s edition of Wednesdays with Dale Jr.

• Clint Bowyer, a few weeks removed from his victory at Martinsville, joins Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte at the Big Oak Table to discuss the season, short track racing, the move to Stewart-Haas Racing last year and snapping his 190-race winless streak.
• Have a question for Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Clint Bowyer? Hit us up on Twitter using #WednesDale to get your question answered on air.
• Bowyer’s Martinsville victory celebration included some Moonshine & Fire. We’ll put his personal party knowledge to the test with this week’s game “Did This Really Happen at a Clint Bowyer Party?”

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5:30 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Bump & Run: Who will be next to challenge Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick?

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images
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Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch have combined to win five of the first eight races of the season. Who is most likely to break up their dominance?

Nate Ryan: Any of the Penske drivers. That team seems to be next in class behind Stewart-Haas Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing.

Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney. Has shown a good bit of speed lately and seems to be close to scoring a win or two in the near future.

Daniel McFadin: Kyle Larson is poised to wreak havoc on the field if he can put together complete races without any miscues, like his spin in Bristol. He’s the defending Richmond winner, so it’ll be interesting to see if he can carry his momentum there.

Dan Beaver: If it’s possible to overlook the defending champion, that is what seems to be happening with Martin Truex Jr. With five wins and 14 top fives in his last 18 races, he needs to forget about his bad luck in the last two races and concentrate on all the things the team has been doing right.

Parker KligermanWhen I look at the current landscape, I feel the drivers that can break their stranglehold will either be driving a JGR Toyota or Team Penske Ford. 

Ryan Blaney (30-race winless drought), Jimmie Johnson (31), Joey Logano (35), Ryan Newman (40 races) and Kurt Busch (43) are in droughts. Who is the first among this group to return to Victory Lane?

Nate Ryan: Logano, possibly as early as Saturday. Blaney would be 1A as it’s only a matter of time for Team Penske.

Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney. He’s been strong lately, finishing eighth at Auto Club, third at Martinsville and fifth at Texas before crashing out of the Bristol race while in the lead. His time is coming. 

Daniel McFadin: I think it comes down to either Logano or Blaney with Logano likely to win at Richmond or Talladega. He’s finished in the top two in the last two Richmond races and he’s one of the best plate racers of this generation

Dan Beaver: As consistently strong as he has run, it is difficult to believe Logano has not already won. Along with Kyle Busch, he is the only driver with seven top-10s in the first eight races. Five of these were sixth-place finishes or better. Returning to the site of his last win, Logano could break through this week – and this time it will not be encumbered.

Parker Kligerman: I believe Ryan Blaney will win first. He is showing some serious speed and seems to be in great form. I feel that crew chief Jeremy Bullins and Ryan will want to start to assert themselves inside Team Penske as the title contender I feel they will be this year. 

After the perceived success of PJ1 before the resumption of Monday’s race, should NASCAR consider doing mid-race treatments with a traction compound to tracks?

Nate Ryan: Yes. While it’s worth pondering whether it might be unfairly tampering with the competition to reapply traction compound during a race, the circumstances of a postponement should allow it, and the ends certainly justified the means in Bristol’s case.

Dustin Long: NASCAR should do what is necessary to provide the best type of racing for the fans. 

Daniel McFadin: It’s a toss-up for me, but I think I’d rather they didn’t. It’s more interesting to have teams have to account for the loss of a racing element over time, just like they do with tires. That happened in Bristol and the race was great from beginning to end. Also, applying it mid-race just makes for longer races.

Dan Beaver: If NASCAR can find a way to substantially improve the action, they should do whatever is necessary. Many dirt tracks around the country take time to water the surface before the A-Mains to develop a second groove. NASCAR still has some lessons that can be learned from the grass roots.

Parker Kligerman: Why not? I feel until we find a way to stop hearing the words “loss of downforce” from following other cars, NASCAR should continue to look at all available tools to add in variables that can cause uncertainty for the teams and drivers and create changes in track state like we saw at Bristol to cause the most dynamic races possible.