A subpar start to 2017 in Cup won’t have an impact on whether Dale Earnhardt Jr. races in NASCAR’s premier series beyond this season.
In an exclusive interview with NBCSN reporter Marty Snider that will air on NASCAR America today (6-7 p.m.), Earnhardt said his decision “won’t be performance-based” as he weighs a contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports.
“I would never let performance make that decision,” the 14-time most popular driver, who has indicated he wanted to wait a couple of months into the season before mulling his future, told Snider in the interview. “If you don’t run well, it’s almost ‘I’m just not going to go (leave).’ You want to come back and get it right.
“I went through some struggles in a few years, and man, am I glad that I stuck around. I’m glad I fought to get some success. It was so rewarding. I feel good health-wise, and me and (team owner) Rick (Hendrick) are in conversation talking about what we want to do in the future.”
Earnhardt hasn’t finished higher than 14th in his first six races since returning from a concussion that sidelined him for the second half last season. He is ranked 25th in the points standings.
He was running well Sunday at Martinsville Speedway before his No. 88 Chevrolet was caught in a multicar crash with 82 laps remaining
“Looking at the finishes, I’m disappointed,” said Earnhardt, who also crashed out of the Daytona 500 after leading eight laps. “I felt we’ve always started really strong. We’ve had a hard time maintaining that. … We’ve come out flat and haven’t had great finishes. We’ve lacked a little speed. We saw some promise in the car at Martinsville, which made me feel good and made me excited about whether we’re getting back on track. But we have to get the results when we have an opportunity like we did at Martinsville to get a top-five finish. We can’t make mistakes and have the poor runs we had at the start of the season and not capitalize when we have those chances.
“If we continue to have that result, we’re not going to make the playoffs. So I’m not really panicking just yet. But we can’t be giving away points like that on a weekend when we need to finish in the top 10.”
Earnhardt told reporters during Speedweeks that the first few months of 2017 were critical to determining his long-term future and establishing confidence in his health.
He told Snider in Tuesday’s interview at the governor’s mansion in Columbia, South Carolina, that his No. 88 Chevrolet team had been a source of strength.
“I believe in our team,” he told Snider. “They believe in me. We’re a great combination. We’re a great group of guys and this is a great opportunity for me, so yeah, we’re struggling and have had challenges and aren’t getting the results, but I don’t expect that to last too long.
During the interview, Earnhardt also discussed the importance of the Southern 500 throwback weekend to NASCAR tradition and his recent dust ups with Ryan Blaney (a good friend and neighbor of Earnhardt’s).
Watch NASCAR America at 6 p.m. on NBCSN for Earnhardt’s full interview with Snider.