Dale Earnhardt Jr. using platform as a retired Cup series driver to ‘inquire and debate’


Dale Earnhardt Jr. is now in South Korea. NASCAR officials might be thrilled about it.

OK, partially thrilled.

Earnhardt can be the greatest cheerleader of the sport. After the Daytona 500, he tweeted about how much he believes in the future of NASCAR.

But he also can be one of its most influential critics, tweeting questions about rules, interpretations and their calls.

“It’s fun to inquire and debate,” Earnhardt said last weekend at Daytona. “Honestly, you know, you have to understand just about 99 percent of the tweets that I put out have a good amount of sarcasm in them, and I like to have a little fun on there.”

The 15-time most popular driver, who retired from full-time NASCAR Cup series racing after last season, has such a passionate fan base that it can already fuel a hot topic, such as NASCAR’s yellow-line rule at restrictor-plate tracks. Earnhardt called NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell before taping his podcast last week so he could have an understanding of a NASCAR ruling to tell his listeners.

“Steve is very good about engaging and talking, and I called him [Feb. 12] before we did our podcast just to ask him all the questions that I really needed to ask so that when I went on to the podcast, I didn’t sound like an idiot,” Earnhardt said. “He was gracious enough to give me an opportunity to talk to him.

“He could have said, ‘Man, I ain’t got time for that. I’ve got stuff to do on a Monday.'”

O’Donnell will often tweet to fans explanations on NASCAR questions, but he probably knows that an endorsement from Earnhardt goes much further.

“We have a pretty good relationship, and I really like Steve because of some conversations that we’ve had,” Earnhardt said. “I’ve gotten to know that he’s very passionate and wants the right things about the sport, wants the best for the sport.

“It’s fun to go back and forth with him, though. We have a good time. I don’t know if he enjoys it, but some days maybe, some days probably not.”

Earnhardt is in South Korea this week to be part of NBC’s Olympic coverage. He will be part of NBC’s NASCAR broadcast team when the network takes over coverage in July.

NASCAR meets with the television broadcasters every weekend for the analysts to ask questions to help them understand decisions that were made the previous week or any new issues throughout the current race weekend.

“I have a lot to learn on that side of it,” Earnhardt said. “I am completely green on the analyst side. I am sure I am going to bounce off the walls and make a lot of mistakes. … I don’t want to be a guy known for stirring the pot, but I certainly have opinions just like anybody else.

“There’s a right way to voice them. Delivery is key.”

With everything he has going on — he and his wife, Amy, have been renovating a house in Key West, Florida, for a television series, and they are expecting a child in early May — Earnhardt isn’t having any second thoughts about his decision to stop racing. He misses the actual racing of the car and the urge to compete, though.

“There are moments where I see things that I’m going to miss, things that I’ve enjoyed being part of,” Earnhardt said. “There are things you are reminded you won’t miss — the pressure of performance.”

Earnhardt, who was at the track Saturday and Sunday for the Daytona 500 weekend, said he didn’t realize how much pressure he was under when he raced.

“It’s actually been really nice to not have to worry about performance or living up to expectation or your own or someone else’s,” Earnhardt said. “It’s been great to get all that off my shoulders. … I walked around every day of my life with a thousand pounds on my shoulders that was [about racing] Sunday, what was going to happen, how was I going to run, and I think every driver does that.

“Now that that’s off my shoulders and I don’t have to worry about that anymore, everything in my life is so much more enjoyable.”

Although he missed the last 18 races in 2016 because of a concussion and attended some races during that time, Earnhardt said being out of the car in 2018 brought a different feeling.

“In ’16, there was a lot of disappointment over the situation we were in,” Earnhardt said. “It was a hard situation for the team to be in. … It wasn’t a vacation. We handled it well. There were some bright spots about that.

“We made the best of that situation. We got Alex [Bowman] in the car, and that led to what we have today with him being a full-time driver, which is incredible. But not a lot about that whole process was a lot of fun. This particular experience [at the Daytona 500], there is not any baggage or any of that going on in the background behind me.”

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