February 11, 2011
Tough week for Earnhardt Jr.
By DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - Dale Earnhardt Jr. knows that the questions are coming.
He sits on a stool in front of a bank of television cameras set up for media day at Daytona International Speedway this week in advance of next Sunday’s Daytona 500.
But the questions about to be asked aren’t about the Daytona 500, but about the 10th anniversary of his father’s deadly crash.
As much as Dale Earnhardt’s fatal last lap at Daytona in 2001 affected the sport, it affected the younger Earnhardt a thousand times more.
But unlike his father, who was garrulous, demonstrative and cocky, Junior is reserved, to the point of being shy.
He admits to having two responses to the upcoming anniversary, one of sadness at losing a father and the other of joy at seeing dad’s accomplishments being celebrated.
“He will be recognized a lot over the weekend, I’m sure,” Earnhardt tells NASCAR media members. “It will be awesome to see all those things, hear all the great things. Anytime anybody says something good about him, it makes you feel great.
“It will be good. It will be a good weekend for the family. My grandmother will probably enjoy hearing all the great things that will be said, as will all of us.
“Looking forward to seeing everybody, you know, recognize his accomplishments and what kind of person he was, how he affected everybody.”
Dale Junior, however, also knows that since that Feb. 18, 2001 crash, his every move has been compared to his seven-time champion father.
He even inherited his father’s fans, now a sea of green at every NASCAR event. That kind of attention would crush most any athlete, and many are of the opinion that it has been a major factor in Junior’s failure to reach near the heights that were expected of him.
And he knows and accepts that, but he said this week that sometimes he would just like to be left alone to do his best on the track without the pressure of being his father’s son.
“Yeah, you know, I think the only thing that really concerns me is my performance on the racetrack,” Earnhardt said.
He claims that other folks’ hopes and dreams for him don’t affect the way he conducts his business.
“The only thing that affects my mood and my personality I guess is directly connected to the performance factor in the sport,” he said. “The anniversary of my father’s death, just regular wear and tear, responsibilities aren’t on my mind as much as just sheer performance, what I need to do to run well, what I need to do as a driver to give (the team) confidence in me and make them feel like I’m ready to go.”
A win at Daytona next week would certainly help ease all of those pressures he has carried for the past decade.