After a six-year hiatus, Dale Earnhardt Jr. got back behind the wheel in the NASCAR Xfinity race at Bristol on Friday. In a pre-race interview, Earnhardt explained the heartfelt reason behind his decision to return.
In 2017 Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced his retirement from Cup Series racing after suffering numerous concussions. But, that decision didn’t keep him off the track altogether. Each year following his retirement, Earnhardt competed in one Xfinity race. 2023 was no exception.
On Friday, the 48-year-old racer returned to Bristol Motor Speedway, a track he hasn’t run since the 2017 Cup Series, for his first race of the year. But, this time was different…his motivation for returning to the sport was there to watch.
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With his 5-year-old daughter Isla on his hip, Dale told NBC in a pre-race interview that she was the reason he was racing at Bristol.
“Well, I am racing for my daughter so that she can see what we like to do and what we have done all our lives. Just gonna have some fun, I missed Bristol, I ain’t raced here for 6 or 7 years,” Earnhardt said before adding that he may have “bit off a little more than I could chew.”
“When I went to practice I was not sure if I was good enough to do this, but luckily we got a great car that could carry me through the qualifying. I think the worst case would be I might get caught up.” he added.
As Dale talked to the reporter, Isla hugged his neck, clearly proud of her dad and happy to be with him at the track. The father-daughter affection continued when Dale was joined by his wife, Amy, and both of their daughters, Isla and Nicole, at his car. Isla kissed and hugged her dad repeatedly, showing what a sweet relationship the pair have.
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Toward the end of Dale’s pre-race interview, he talked about the thrill of being back on the track again and experiencing all of the sights, smells and sounds of the race.
“I won’t be disappointed, no matter what…I’m gonna have some fun tonight,” Dale said. “I just love going around this race track in the middle of competition with everything your fighting and smelling and sensing in the race car. It’s great to be reminded about why you love it.”
Little did he know at the time that one thing he would be sensing during his Bristol race was smoke and flames. The NASCAR legend was forced to end the race early after his car caught fire with 29 laps left to go.
He told a reporter, “I saw some smoke in the car, and I smelt it. I was like ‘Hopefully, that’s not me.’ That last lap, I saw a big fireball down in the tunnel in the car, and I felt it, obviously. My uniform was burning up. I was like ‘I can’t keep going, I gotta stop.'”
When Dale pulled into the pit he was quickly helped out of his car with no injuries and a burned hole in his pants as the only evidence of what had taken place on the track.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) September 16, 2023
Watch Dale Earnhardt’s sweet interview with his daughter Isla in the video below.