Dale Jr. trying to get back on trackWritten by Nicholas Huenefeld | | firstname.lastname@example.org
DETROIT — Dale Earnhardt Jr. excels off the track, but he is going through the toughest stretch of his career on the track.
His victory in last year’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway (MIS) was his only victory since May 6, 2006, at Richmond.
“My daddy told me a long time ago that this sport can humble you in some pretty impressive ways,” Earnhardt said at an MIS event on May 28. “The day after your worst career day can be your best. You never know what’s around the corner and what tomorrow might deliver.”
His struggles reached the point where Rick Hendrick of Hendricks Motorsports replaced Tony Eury Jr., Earnhardt’s cousin and crew chief, with Lance McGrew.
“We were like brothers,” Earnhardt said. “We really, truly wanted to make that relationship work. Eventually, you’ve got to face the music and Rick has to run his company because it’s a business and he has to make business decisions.”
It’s been a sad and frustrating time for Earnhardt, but he realizes Hendrick is going to make the right call, he said. All he can do is move forward with optimism.
“We got a change in the program, but it’s going to be seamless, I believe,” Earnhardt said. “When we really get our backs against the wall, we respond. I feel like we’ll come out of this mess.”
On May 28, he headlined an MIS event at the Motor City Casino in Detroit with more than 700 autoworkers and soldiers. He will be the featured guest at the MIS Acceleration Club on June 13 and 14, where he will answer fans’ questions and sign autographs.
It’s also where he has a chance to turn his season around at this year’s LifeLock 400 on June 14. Besides being the defending champion, he likes the speedway.
“It’s a fun track, and if I had to put a list together, it would definitely be toward the top of the list,” Earnhardt said. “I love all the tracks that have been around for a long time — the ones that have stood the test of time, and [MIS] is definitely one of them.”
His friend, Kid Rock, also happens to be the 2009 LifeLock 400 grand marshal. About a year ago, the two started swapping e-mails because Kid Rock wanted advice on how to build a go-kart track.
“I sent him about six really detailed e-mails about how to make [the track],” he said. “It was essentially a 1,000-word explanation on how to make a dirt track, and he e-mails back, ‘Nah, it’s gonna be paved.’”
So, Earnhardt wrote another 1,000-word e-mail about how to make a paved track.
“I was thinking this track he was going to make was going to be 2,000 to 5,000 feet long,” he said. “[However], this track goes around his whole property. So, it’s like it goes out of sight over there, comes back in sight, goes out of sight, comes back in sight over here, under a bridge, through a tunnel…”
Earnhardt saw the finished product and said his advice worked because Kid Rock hasn’t written him any e-mails with problems.
“It looks amazing, but deadly,” Earnhardt said. “Trees — you come up to a tree and it’s like he just came up and took a right hand turn with a paver. So, there’s a lot of obstacles.”
When he isn’t giving advice on how to build tracks, Earnhardt is hanging out with Kid Rock and Tony Stewart. In fact, the three of them crashed a bar in West Virginia after attending a concert awhile back.
“There was a band there. Kid Rock just kicked them off and said to me, ‘Can you play drums?’ I said, ‘I’ll give it a shot.’ So, Tony was on bass guitar. I didn’t know that he played guitar. We were rocking out.”
Rock ‘n’ roll aside, Earnhardt said he is focused on being successful in NASCAR.
“My willingness, my desire, my resolve and determination is still all intact and that’s the real important thing, I think,” he said. “I’m a long, long ways from giving up on my dream to be successful.”
Aside from his mental state, Earnhardt said he is careful during his physical preparations in pre-race activities, especially in terms of eating and drinking. He never eats breakfast and only sometimes grabs lunch.
“I can’t eat too soon before the race,” he said. “My stomach’s just tensed up and if I put anything in there, it really doesn’t like it.”
He also mixes water with Gatorade for hydration. Gatorade, he said, can get “real sweet” and is tough to drink because the temperature inside the race car climbs to 130 or 140 degrees. He also doesn’t do much weight training. Instead, he focuses on cardio when he does work out.
Earnhardt said he likes how MIS has a lot of different ways to go around the corners, so if he’s in a car that isn’t working on the bottom, he has options.
Earnhardt said the auto industry plays a role in his thoughts when he’s at MIS.
“It’s never more intense than it is in Michigan because everyone’s boss man is watching in the suite,” he said. “Being that it is in the backyard of autoworkers, it brings it to the forefront.”
Earnhardt has one message for fans attending the LifeLock 400 race at MIS.
“It’s a big weekend for us and we hope a lot of you guys come out.”