A Drivers Council. A traveling safety team. A charter system to ensure valuation for teams in its premier series.
When Darrell Waltrip, who won championships in 1981, ’82 and ’85, looks around at how NASCAR rapidly has evolved in the 21st century, there is a familiarity to its appearance.
“All the things that are happening today are things that have progressed over the years, they’re things we complained about over the years,” the Fox Sports analyst said during the latest episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “Things that we asked for and now they’re finally coming to fruition.”
Waltrip also can relate to the 2017 comeback of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has returned after missing the second half of last season with concussion symptoms.
While practicing for the Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway in July 1990, Waltrip suffered a broken arm, leg and concussion in a crash. He missed six races and was out of the car for most of two months before returning with a third at Richmond International Raceway.
Waltrip said his rehabilitation was “more for me than it was for anybody. I wanted to prove to myself that my career wasn’t over, and I could come back and better than I ever had been. And I was. I was in the best shape I’d been in.
“I couldn’t believe the desire I had to get back in the car and race again,” he said. “I missed it so much. I missed the track and missed the people but more than anything else, winning was more important than getting hurt.
“I think that’s where Dale Jr. is. You can’t race and be careful. You’ve got to let it all hang out. If you go in thinking, ‘I’m not going to wreck,’ you’ll get in a wreck.”
Echoing recent comments by Richard Petty, Waltrip said his opinions about Earnhardt Jr.’s recovery were shaped from knowing the 42-year-old virtually since birth.
“He grew up in the sport, and I still call him ‘Junebug,’ ” Waltrip said. “I still see him as a little kid. I watched him grow up and know what a quality guy and great kid he is. He wants to get back in the car, and he’d like to win a championship.
“He’s not going to win seven, but I think if he won, he would think his career would complete. Not that it isn’t complete (now), but I think it would mean a lot to him.”
During the podcast, Waltrip also addressed:
–His offseason left knee replacement (and the 1990 crash at Daytona that started the problems necessitating the first of several surgeries involving his left leg);
–The impact of stage racing on the 2017 season;
–How it felt to wait three years to become a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.