Dale Earnhardt Jr. is ‘Chomping At The Bit’ To Race In The Bojangles’ Southern 500 At Darlington Racewayby Hunter Thomas April 5, 2017 0 comments
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. visited South Carolina’s capital on Tuesday to meet Governor Henry McMaster and to promote the upcoming Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Earnhardt Jr. arrived in style as he landed Rick Hendrick’s helicopter on the lawn of the South Carolina Governor’s Mansion. During the event, Earnhardt Jr. discussed in detail of his days competing at local area short tracks, as well as why he chose Darlington Raceway as the track to test at back in December following his concussion-like symptoms.
When Dale Earnhardt Jr. rode past Darlington Raceway as a kid, he was nervous because he had a great deal of respect for the Lady in Black. The Kannapolis, North Carolina native grew up racing around the Carolinas, particularly at Myrtle Beach Speedway and Florence Motor Speedway. Earnhardt Jr. passed the track, Too Tough To Tame on his way to the South Carolina short tracks, and he always dreamed of hitting the high banks of Darlington Raceway.
“I don’t know what it is about South Carolina, but when I first started driving cars, I actually started racing down here in South Carolina at Myrtle Beach (Speedway) and in Florence, I-95 Speedway (Florence Motor Speedway),” Earnhardt Jr. said.
The driver of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet continued and said, “Actually, we raced at Florence on Friday night and go back, swap the car out and drove all the way to the beach to race Saturday. We did that every weekend. We’d drive by Darlington both ways to get to Myrtle Beach, so going by that place over and over and over, looking at it – I was talking to somebody earlier today about Darlington. It’s the Dale Earnhardt (Sr.) racetrack. It’s the Intimidator of racetracks.”
While Earnhardt Jr. has four top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 21 starts at the Darlington Raceway, his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., found success quite often. Known as the Intimidator, Earnhardt Sr. visited Victory Lane on nine occasions at Darlington Raceway in his career, and he also amassed 19 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes. The closest that Earnhardt Jr. has come to winning a race at Darlington Raceway is a second-place finish that he captured in 2014. His most recent finish at Darlington Raceway was an eighth that he earned during the 2015 season.
“When you win at Darlington, it’s no fluke,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Only talented, smart race car drivers win race here. So you know that when you win there, you put yourself in a special category of capable, true drivers, true racers. You don’t back in to a win at Darlington, you have to be good and the car has got to be great.”
Having been sidelined due to concussion-like symptoms, Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t able to compete in last year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500. Over the winter in December, Earnhardt Jr. chose Darlington Raceway to be the first track back that he’d return to the seat of a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race car. The results of the off-season test were a success, and Earnhardt Jr. was able to return to competition at the beginning of the 2017 season.
“We didn’t get to run last year, so I’m chomping at the bit to get back into a race car at Darlington,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We went there this winter to actually get our clearance to get back into the car after the concussion last year. I picked Darlington because it’s one of the toughest racetracks. It’s one of the most difficult racetracks physically and mentally. Probably one of the hardest tracks that we race on throughout the year. Very challenging, very technical, and everybody always told me from the very first time that I went to Darlington is you race the track.”
So far this season, Earnhardt Jr. hasn’t quite found the success that he had been hoping for. In the first six races, he hasn’t even posted a top-10 finish, and he’s currently mired back in the 25th position in the point standings; however, don’t fret Jr. Nation. There are still 20 more races until the checkered flag falls on the regular season before the Playoffs. Earnhardt Jr. has plenty of time to reach the top-16 in the point standings, and don’t be surprised to see him running up front in the 68th running of the Bojangles’ Southern 500 on Sunday, September 3.