Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Thursday that his back is improving and he’s looking forward to competing in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Darlington Raceway (4 p.m. ET on NBC) in a car that pays tribute to his father.
Earnhardt made the comments Thursday on the SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Beyond Racing” that is co-hosted by his sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller and Danielle Trotta.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a bruised back when the airplane he was in crashed upon landing Aug. 15 at Elizabethton (Tennessee) Municipal Airport. Earnhardt, wife Amy and daughter Isla, along with the two pilots, escaped the plane, which caught fire in the crash.
“I had some bad bruising on my back, but I went and got some excellent advice and care and treatment for that and I’ve been doing some things at home to bring the swelling down,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
“All of that has actually gotten better very quickly, so I think I’m going to be OK. I think once you get in the car you won’t even think about it.”
Earnhardt is looking forward to racing at Darlington Raceway for the first time since the 2017 Southern 500. This will be his first Xfinity race at that track since 1999 and his first race of any type since competing in last summer’s Xfinity Series race at Richmond.
“I picked this weekend solely for the throwback experience,” Earnhardt said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “When we were there last year as broadcasters, I was like this is so much fun, this would be a great race to run on my schedule if I get a race and here we are.
“Then I went to run some laps at Darlington. (JR Motorsports driver) Noah Gragson was there testing our cars, and I went there just to run about 10 or 20 laps just to check some boxes for me personally. I didn’t want to take away from Noah’s opportunity to understand the track and learn. I just wanted a few laps. I ran about 20 laps. It was hot, miserable, hard. I was slow.
“Although I know I can go out there and do it, I’m not quite sure exactly how well I can do it. I picked a very, very challenging race to run.”
The field includes Cup drivers Denny Hamlin, who has won the Darlington Xfinity race five times, and Ryan Blaney.
“It’s going to be a hard race to win, much less to run in the top 10,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t know where to really put my expectations or my personal goals.”
But even having to compete against such a field, including Xfinity title contenders Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer, the weekend is a good opportunity for Earnhardt to celebrate his father.
The younger Earnhardt will drive a car that looks similar to the one his father drove for his Cup debut.
“I think the one thing that is fun about this whole experience is to be able to draw attention to the paint scheme, the story behind the paint scheme,” he said. “Not only is it dad’s first race in the Cup series in 1975 at Charlotte but the family behind the car and the story about how dad got into the car.
“(The 1975) car was owned by Ed Negre. Dad and Norman Negre, Ed’s son, were friends. Dad and Norman got the nerve up and go to Ed and say, ‘Ed, this car is sitting in the back of your shop and we’d love to take it to Charlotte and try to run that race.’ He at first was real reluctant and finally goes, ‘Whatever, you guys take it.’ They go and qualify and make the race.”
Earnhardt said on “Beyond Racing” that sponsor Hellmann’s has an option to sponsor him in a car for a race next year.
Earnhardt said he will focus on his car Friday and Saturday and will not be a part of the NBC Sports broadcast crew those days. He said he will return to the booth for Sunday’s Southern 500, which airs at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Earnhardt said he will be in the booth with Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett during the race’s second stage to call the action and share stories.