Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the undisputed face of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, and for most of the past four seasons that face hasn’t had much reason to smile.
But it looks like that is about to change for the better.
First of all last week during the championship celebration in Las Vegas Earnhardt publicly introduced his girlfriend Amy Reimann to his legion of fans.
Now Reimann may be new to fans but insiders have known about her relationship with Earnhardt for more than a year.
It is evident that her presence in his life has had a positive effect.
Those who attended the Las Vegas event say the smile on Earnhardt’s 37-year old mug as he escorted Reimann around town was as wide as the Grand Canyon.
That smile bodes well for NASCAR’s most popular driver in 2012 as he tries to end his current three-season long winless streak.
A happy driver usually translates into some happy race endings.
Earnhardt’s performance in 2011 — in spite of not winning — showed a marked improvement as he returned to the Chase for the Championship for the first time since 2008.
While much of the credit goes to the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet’s new crew chief, Steve Letarte, Earnhardt’s new found happiness with life in general certainly played a big part.
In an interview with SceneDaily.com Earnhardt acknowledged that finding that personal happiness was key to his career turnaround.
“I got involved in racing to be happy, because it made me happy, but the last couple of years I wasn’t getting any happiness out of it and I was wondering how long I could go along in racing unhappy, and keep doing it,” he said. “But this year it turned all around, 180 degrees, and I’m enjoying it again and I didn’t want the season to come to an end.
“As a whole, and especially me personally, I feel much more excited about my future.”
Earnhardt said that being content and happy in his off-track life has made his on-track life a whole lot easier.
“Deep within myself, I am real happy with how we improved and I’m happy to be competing again and I feel like I’m almost where I want to be,” he said. “Personally, I am pretty happy. I feel like I’m in a better place. Personally and professionally, I feel like I’m in a better place than I was. I’m having fun and I really enjoy driving.”
As far as winning is concerned Earnhardt expressed hope the upswing in his performance this past season will lead to that much sought after trip to victory lane in 2012.
It’s not like he has forgotten the directions on how to get there.
“It bugs me because I know what winning feels like and I want to have that feeling again and I want to enjoy something like that again in victory lane,” Earnhardt said. “I want to go through all that experience; it’s fun. It’s the reason you show up and the reason you keep going, to think you might be able to do that again.
“When you win a race, you’re like, all the things that you went through that you didn’t like are worth it because of that moment and you validate everything that you worked for. It’s like a discovery — you discovered the potential that you are trying to achieve.
“I feel like I can compete like that again. I feel like I have the same tenacity and stuff to be able to put forth the effort every week and do it when it counts. I feel like I can do that.”
As for his Reimann, Earnhardt is circumspect about what the future holds, other than to say marriage is still a ways off.
He is concerned, too, that the spotlight that constantly shines on him might be too much for her to handle and that is why to took so long to bring her out in public.
“I’ve been protecting her from how tough the public can be at times,” Earnhardt said. “She is just a simple girl that I care a lot about and I want to make sure she’s protected.”