Earnhardt Jr. honored at Monster Mile as career hits finish line

Dale Earnhardt Jr. waves to the crowd after qualifying at Dover International Speedway on Friday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Dale Earnhardt Jr. already received a trophy this weekend at Dover International Speedway.

He hopes to bring home another one on Sunday after the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, his final race at Dover before he retires.

But first, Earnhardt Jr. was honored by the racetrack’s staff. President Mike Tatoian presented Earnhardt Jr. with a trophy commemorating his only Cup Series win at the Monster Mile.

It remembers when Earnhardt Jr. won NASCAR’s first race after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The event on Sept. 23, 2001, was one of the first large-scale sporting events contested in the country in the weeks after Sept. 11.

Earnhardt Jr. famously celebrated with a burnout on the frontstretch while holding a large American flag out of the window.

Tatoian said Earnhardt Jr.’s win was pivotal for establishing a sense of normalcy and helped NASCAR fans start the healing process.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. left, and Dover International Speedway President Michael Tatoian with the unveiled presentation to Earnhardt on Friday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“I felt really lucky to be the guy that got to win that race,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I know that anyone would have reacted similarly. That was a very special win for me personally. I’ll have this to remember that day for a very long time.”

Earnhardt Jr. talked candidly in the media center about how he plans to settle into life post-racing.

He said he wants to start a family and is excited to have the chance to spend time with his friends away from the track.

Earnhardt Jr. got a sneak preview of retirement life last season when he was sidelined with a concussion. He said it helped him realize there is more to life than racing.

“Being out of the car last year for such a long period of time gave me a new perspective on life on what things are important,” he said. “For the longest time when I was racing, if it wasn’t driving cars then it wasn’t on the table, I didn’t want to do it. Now I’m excited about getting out of the car and having time to spend around my family and friends.”

He said when he was racing full-time he became too self-centered and racing was the only thing he could think about. He says he has gotten away from that mindset in the last couple of years and credits his wife Amy for making him a more thoughtful and open-minded person.

“I just never had the time to do other things, me personally,” he said. “When I was racing full-time for the last 20 years I was negative to do anything outside of racing. I wouldn’t make time to be with family, it was racing, racing, racing.”

He said he’s not sure if he’ll return to racing at the local level.

Earnhardt Jr. owns a late-model team as well as fielding four full-time cars in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. While his NASCAR career will be finished after this season, he did say he could see himself racing at some local tracks if his family was O.K. with it.

“It will be very hard to quit cold-turkey.” he said.

“I’m really interested just to see what the urges will be when I’m out of the car full-time. If I miss driving the cars more than I think, maybe I’ll want to drive the late-model car more than I think. But obviously it’s a team back at the house so I’ll need to make sure everyone is comfortable with that.”

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.