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Dale Jr. Hopes Wilkesboro Isn't Last Late Model Start

The two-time Daytona 500 winner just wants to finish all the laps.


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Dale Earnhardt Jr. has wanted to get back behind the wheel of a Late Model Stock Car for quite some time and will finally make good on that ambition Tuesday and Wednesday in the CARS Tour race at Historic North Wilkesboro Speedway.

It will be his first race in this discipline since 1997 when he ran a handful of races while making the full-time transition to the NASCAR Busch Series.

READ MORE: Dale Jr., Sun Drop Reunite for Late Model Run at North Wilkesboro

Since then, Earnhardt has remained a devotee of short track racing and has invested in the discipline through a JR Motorsports Late Model Stock program that has seen the likes of Josh Berry, Sam Mayer, Anthony Alfredo and Carson Kvapil all amass success on the way to their own national touring careers.

But for Earnhardt, it was always a way to stay involved in Mid-Atlantic short track racing while also keeping the door open for his return, should he ever want to. As it turns out, the desire has always been there, but a healthy nervousness has been too … but not for the reasons you might expect.

"I don't think I will be nervous about driving or running well," Earnhardt said. "I just want to finish all the laps. I'll be really really nervous that I'll get wrecked out or I'll wreck the car and not finish the race. Finishing the race is really my only hope and objective."

Earnhardt, while retired from full-time NASCAR competition, has made a single start in the Xfinity Series every season since 2018 at Richmond, Darlington, Homestead-Miami, Richmond (again) and Martinsville.

But again, he has really wanted to get back behind the wheel of a Late Model Stock, even having himself a track day at Florence Motor Speedway in November 2020.

Thus, his CARS Tour debut at Wilkesboro in a No. 3 wrapped like his old car replete with the Sun Drop sponsorship and a partnership with Richard Childress Racing.

"My heart is really in that series and that type of cars so I'm super pumped about it," said Earnhardt. "Love the Sun Drop connection and love the design. I'm looking forward to that. I've wanted to drive the Late Model car for a really long time but just didn't have the guts to do it.

"So, I don't know if I can make that make sense.

"I've been too scared. I have the opportunity, I have the cars, right? I haven't gone off and done it because I don't want to get beat or embarrassed or not run well."

But Earnhardt says he's been inspired by Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman, pavement graduates running dirt Sprint Cars for the first time over the past three years.

"Watching those guys run and knowing they're not going to be at the top of the sheets is helpful for me because I'm probably going to have a hard time being ultra-competitive," Earnhardt said. "But hopefully we're going to run well.

"I've always viewed it as, people will say about me showing up: 'Oh, he should win, he's a Cup guy or have great equipment' and if I don't, they'll ridicule or make fun of me.

"I'm going to have fun and I think I'm old enough now that I can just blame being old if I don't run well."

Earnhardt hopes this isn't the last time he'll race the Late Model Stock either, but it's a game of we'll see.

"I hope after this race I'll have so much fun that I will want to do more next year," Earnhardt said. "I really love the Late Model divisions and running the local tracks and love the idea of showing up somewhere on a Friday or Saturday unannounced."

Don't forget you can watch all of the action of Racetrack Revival's final week of pavement racing on Racing America on August 30th and 31st.

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Oct 3, 2022