Amy Earnhardt

Picture Perfect: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s race topped only by family photo

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RICHMOND, Va. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. smiled when he walked to his Xfinity car for the first practice at 8:30 a.m., when he worked later in the day in the NBCSN booth, when he stood next to wife Amy and daughter Isla before the Xfinity race and when he climbed from his car after winning a stage, leading 96 laps and finishing fourth.

The last time Earnhardt had this much fun as a driver?

“When I was racing late models in the ‘90s probably,” Earnhardt said on pit road. “I had a lot of fun in the late ‘90s running the Xfinity Series (but) I didn’t know how good I had it. (In) the Cup garage, it’s so damn cutthroat it’s hard to have fun in there.”

Friday, he oozed energy. Earnhardt spoke as quickly as his Chevrolet ran. He laughed. He bobbed. He raised his hands.

He took it all in just as the fans did at Richmond Raceway. They rejoiced when the No. 88 led. They roared when he was introduced before the race and exclaimed as he stood on pit road after running 250 laps. They followed their pied piper as he walked down pit road to the media center. Halfway there, he diverted his path so he could walk with them, sign autographs and take selfies.

Other than a win – which went to Christopher Bell – the day couldn’t have been much better. Especially since he sought to manage expectations by saying before practice began that he hoped to score a top-10 finish.

“You just can’t assume you can miss eight months, 10 months and come in and win, much less run in the top five,” he said.

As the day progressed, a top-10 finish would be almost a disappointment.

Earnhardt was fast during the day, qualified second and put himself in position for a strong run.

“Right around three-quarters of the way through that race, I’m like, ‘Man if I don’t win now I’m going to be disappointed,’ ” Earnhardt said. “I had backed myself into a corner with my expectations getting too high. It’s easy to be disappointed that we didn’t win because we should have, but I didn’t do a good job on that one restart. I just spun my tires.”

Even so, Earnhardt called it a “fun night” and noted the challenges for JR Motorsports to bring a fifth car to the track, especially with three of the organization’s drivers competing in the playoffs: Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler and Tyler Reddick.

Yet, the car for the boss proved to be the best. Earnhardt even won a stage, which he noted on the radio to his team after it happened.

“I never won a freaking stage before. It’s kind of embarrassing to be honest with you,” Earnhardt said with a smile. “It felt good. I had fun doing it.”

That feeling, though, couldn’t compare to what he felt before the race when he stood with Amy and Isla for pictures in front of his car.

“Being with Isla, that meant a lot to me,” Earnhardt said of his 4-month old daughter. “I don’t know what she’ll think of my racing career and how that will register with her since she won’t have experienced any of it. We got to have one race together. Pretty important moment for me.”

But it might not be the last. Earnhardt talked about running another race next year. He might return to Richmond or go to Atlanta.

That’s for another day.

On this day, after he had given his fan base and himself one more memory, there was still something else to do.

“I can’t wait to get back to the (motor home),” he said.

And celebrate his accomplishment with his wife and daughter.

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Dale Jr. talks family, concussions and his new book on the Dan Patrick Show

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. feels “liberated” to tell the story of his history with concussions and racing in his upcoming book, “Racing to the Finish.”

Earnhardt talked about the book and more in an appearance Wednesday on NBCSN’s “The Dan Patrick Show” ahead of his first weekend as an analyst on NBCSN’s NASCAR coverage.

“When I was racing I didn’t want to spend my final season trying to tell everybody this story,” Earnhardt said. “I just wanted to enjoy one last year and not let it be dominated by headlines of concussions and things I had maybe hid from people and not shared with people openly. Finally once I got out of the car, I’m like, ‘You know what? I can finally try to tell this story. Not everybody’s going to be real happy with me, but hopefully it helps people understand if they’re making the same mistakes that I made.'”

Earnhardt also discussed his new life off the track with his wife Amy and their first child, Isla Rose.

“Those type of things have a way of maturing you super fast and forcing you to change your lifestyle and the way you think,” Earnhardt said. “I really am frustrated with myself that I didn’t do this sooner, that I didn’t get married sooner, that I didn’t have children sooner. I know I had a lot of fun in my 20s and in my 30s. I realize now how great these experiences are. Frankly, I wish I could have started sooner and enjoyed those at a younger age.”

Watch more from Earnhardt’s appearance on “The Dan Patrick Show” in the videos above and below.

It’s a girl for Amy, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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Amy Earnhardt revealed Tuesday morning on Twitter that she gave birth to a baby girl, Isla Rose Earnhardt. The daughter of Amy and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the couple’s first child. Amy Earnhardt called the baby “the best dream ever.” The baby was born Monday night April 30.

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Brad Keselowski’s dog lost and found prior to Daytona 500

Paige Keselowski
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Brad Keselowski‘s family had a brief scare in the final hours before the Daytona 500 when they lost and found their dog, Tess.

Keselowski’s wife, Paige, tweeted at 1:47 p.m. ET that the small dog had gone missing.

But Amy Earnhardt, the wife of Dale Earnhardt Jr., announced the dog had been located and was safe and sound less than half an hour later.

Green flag for the Daytona 500 is set for 3:05 p.m. ET on Fox.

Dale and Amy Earnhardt Fund to support Nationwide Children’s Hospital

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced Tuesday the creation of the Dale and Amy Earnhardt Fund at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and the Dale Jr. Foundation made a contribution of $88,888.88.

The Dale and Amy Earnhardt Fund will aid pediatric injury rehabilitation and research and prevention at America’s largest pediatric hospital and research center.

“Amy and I are incredibly proud to make this announcement and to continue to be involved with Nationwide Children’s Hospital as I step away from racing,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said in a statement. “These children and their families go through so much during rehabilitation, and pediatric injury research is really underfunded. We want to support them and give hope to children everywhere by speeding research discoveries and being an advocate for this important issue of injury prevention. This also allows us to grow and expand the mission of The Dale Jr. Foundation, which is to help children in need and see them achieve their full potential.”

MORE: Wish upon a star: Dale Jr.’s dedication to ill children leaves lasting impact

“The Dale Jr. Foundation is excited to join Dale Jr. and Amy in launching this long-term relationship with Nationwide Children’s Hospital,” said Kelley Earnhardt Miller, general manager of JR Motorsports and vice-president of The Dale Jr. Foundation. “This is an opportunity to spread our mission by helping children through an organization that has such a national impact. This marries so well with our ongoing commitment to help organizations of all sizes, both here in Charlotte and across America.”

“On behalf of all the patients, families and staff at Nationwide Children’s Hospital we send our deepest gratitude to Dale Jr., Amy and everyone supporting this vitally important Fund,” said Steve Allen, MD, CEO of Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Dale Jr. is a beloved NASCAR champion but many of his biggest fans are here on the floors of Nationwide Children’s. He and Amy have a special place in our hearts and this Fund will create a legacy that helps children for generations to come. Their involvement will help us continue our mission to help kids everywhere and support life-saving research and advocacy in pediatric injury.”