Dale Jr. still has ‘the itch’ … but he also has a day job


MOORESVILLE, N.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t mind that he still has a little urge to drive a race car after a year where he competed in one Xfinity Series race and spent the rest of his time at the race track primarily in the television booth.

Earnhardt retired from Cup competition after the 2017 season, and he seemed pleased and content with his first year where he barely raced. He finished fourth in the Xfinity Series race at Richmond in September.

“I have this itch or an urge to go race or run a race or just drive a car somewhere,” Earnhardt said Thursday. “But I don’t have a clear regret or a real urge that’s got to be satisfied.

“The way that I feel about it and the way that I miss it is kind of healthy toward doing the job as a broadcaster. It makes me excited to go watch the race and excited about what I’m going to see.”

Unsure if he would thrive as an analyst in the NBC booth, Earnhardt was more than satisfied with his first season as a broadcaster.

“I was thrilled. … It was just so fun and people seemed to be happy with it for the most part,” Earnhardt said. “I know there are some people probably don’t love it.

“But the majority of the feedback that I got was positive, and that spurred me on just to keep digging and keep working and keep doing what I was doing. Hopefully that will be enough to keep me around for a while.”

While he wants to improve, the one thing he has trouble at is watching himself and critiquing his performance.

“It was really hard,” Earnhardt said. “It’s good practice to do that. … If you don’t watch the broadcast, you never are really going to know where you are screwing up.”

Earnhardt spent part of his day Thursday surprising Nationwide employees and Alex Bowman fans during a go-kart event and a paint scheme unveil. Bowman replaced Earnhardt in the No. 88 car and finished 16th in the standings.

“This is a day for Alex — this is a day about Alex’s car, so you’ve got to navigate that just right without overshadowing anything else,” Earnhardt said.

Bowman didn’t win a race, but only one Hendrick driver — Chase Elliott — won a race during the season.

“We didn’t win, and that’s pretty frustrating to me,” said Bowman, who was eliminated after the second round. “But we made it further than a lot of people thought we would in the playoffs, which was really cool.

“I really just wanted more. It was a rough year for all of us at HMS.”

While he is the driver of the No. 88 car, Bowman knows some will always associate it with Earnhardt. When they unveiled the 2019 paint scheme, Earnhardt was part of the program.

“He was still standing by [the car],” Bowman said with a laugh. “I feel like everybody has been really supportive. … Definitely there are a lot of Dale Jr. fans out there and it’s cool to take over the 88 car, but it’s also cool to have Dale’s support and all of his help.”

For what it’s worth, Earnhardt felt Bowman handled 2018 well.

“He never put it on anybody, he never pointed fingers,” Earnhardt said. “He never said anything that had a little attitude. … Alex proved this season that if they can get the cars where they need to be, they’ve got the right guy in the seat.”

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