Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a backup plan for his race at Darlington Raceway on Saturday just in case, but it doesn’t sound like he’s going to need it.
NASCAR’s 15-time most popular driver retired from full-time racing at the end of the 2017 Cup Series season, but since then, he’s made plans to compete once a year in the second-tier XFINITY Series, driving for his own team, JR Motorsports.
This season, his one-time race is a little more than two weeks after Dale Jr. and his family were in a plane crash. On their way to Bristol Motor Speedway on August 15, Earnhardt’s private plane bounced after landing on the runway, slid off onto a neighboring highway and caught fire. Dale Jr., his wife, Amy, their daughter, Isla, their dog, Gus, and two pilots were all OK and did not suffer serious injuries.
And a week after the crash, Earnhardt said his back was bruised “real bad” and there was “lots of swelling,” but he planned to race still. Now, two days before the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200, Earnhardt shared an update on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Dale Jr. said:
“I had some bad bruising on my back, but I went and got some excellent advice and care and treatment for that, and I’ve been doing a lot at home to bring the swelling down and get rid of a lot of the blood. It was just really swollen and bad, but all that’s actually gotten better very quickly. So I think I’m going to be OK.
“I think once you get in the car, you won’t even think about it. Race car drivers get a lot of credit for driving with severe flu and bad knees and sore backs, but once you’re in the car and you’re in the middle of the action, you don’t even think about those things. You’re just concentrating so hard on driving the car that you don’t even remember that stuff until you finally get done and get out of the car.
“I’m looking forward to it. I think maybe getting in the race car and driving and going through all of that experience — the practice and qualifying — will be great for my mental processing and all that. I think that’s the hurdle that’s going to be the toughest, just getting past it mentally, getting my confidence back up to get back in an airplane and all those things.”
In the days following the plane crash, Earnhardt released a statement and said they are “truly blessed” that everyone escaped the fiery plane with no serious injuries.
For the Darlington race, Earnhardt is driving the No. 8 Chevrolet for his brief return to the track with a paint scheme that honors the one his dad had in his first Cup Series race in 1975. It sounds like he’ll be good to go, but JR Nation can’t fault him if he’s not feeling 100 percent up to it.
His lone race in 2018 was at Richmond Raceway, where he qualified second and led for a race-high 96 laps before finishing fourth.
The XFINITY Series’ Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 on at 4 p.m. ET.
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