Dale Earnhardt, Jr. first said in 2014 that he would be interested in racing Late Model Stock Cars after he retired from racing full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, something he reiterated on Friday.
Last week, Earnhardt announced he would be retiring from competing full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at the conclusion of the 2017 season. However, he will continue to run a handful of races in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. On Friday, the 42-year-old said he was still open to competing in select Late Model Stock Car events.
“I will just have to see how much I’ve got as far as how much I want to do that,” Earnhardt remarked. “I have the access to the cars that we have on our late model program. We are going to run some Xfinity races and we will see. If the itch gets too bad we will have to go to the track and have some fun. Yeah, I’m certainly still open to that.”
Earnhardt spoke about the level of competition in Late Model Stock Car racing, something he knows well. The two-time Daytona 500 champion has fielded Late Model Stock Cars for Josh Berry, Christian Eckes and William Byron, among others, in recent years and he has been to Hickory Motor Speedway multiple times to watch them race.
“It certainly just depends on the side of the bed you wake up on as to whether you want to go over to Hickory and fool around and have some fun,” Earnhardt continued. “I mean those guys are serious. They are not out there goofing off as a hobby, so if you are going to go do it, you better be ready to get after it. I’ve been over there and watched them. They are trying to do the same thing I was when I was running late models was trying to get up to the next level.”
Earnhardt has become an advocate for short track racing in his career. He had cut his teeth racing Late Model Stock Cars across the Southeast in the 90s, competing alongside his brother, Kerry, and sister, Kelley, before moving up into the NASCAR ranks.
In October 2014, he scored a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory at Martinsville Speedway, one of the most cherished wins of his career. The night before, he had gone to Hickory Motor Speedway and watched as Josh Berry, driving a JR Motorsports Late Model, picked up the victory in the Fall Brawl.
“I love going to local tracks,” Earnhardt said prior to the 2014 race. “There’s nothing like that smell and atmosphere. For Josh and those kids racing there, they don’t know how much fun they’re having because they’re worried about going out there and running well… It’s fun to see that youth and excitement.”
Regardless of whether Earnhardt returns to his roots after retirement, the Earnhardt legacy lives in. Earnhardt’s niece, Karsyn Elledge, currently competes at Millbridge Speedway and made her debut in a Limited Late Model at Hickory last year.
AUTOWEEK’s Matt Weaver contributed to this report.