Dale Jr. Returns to NASCAR Competition at Richmond

Ron Lemasters | 9/6/2018

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hellmann's News Richmond XFINITY Series

The countdown is on to Dale Jr.'s return to racing as he'll climb behind the wheel of the No. 88 Hellmann's Chevrolet at Richmond Raceway on September 21st.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 6, 2018) – The last time we saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a NASCAR-sanctioned race was Nov. 19, 2017, which was 304 days ago. He had finished 25th in the season-ending NASCAR Cup Series event at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and last we saw, he was sharing a cold adult beverage with his crew on pit road.

Click back a few months to Sept. 8, 2017 - 376 days ago, if you’re counting - and you’ll have the last time we saw Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Degree Deodorant Chevrolet at Richmond Raceway, the last NASCAR Xfinity Series race the 43-year-old driver competed in.

Both those streaks end on Sept. 21, 2018, ironically enough at the same .75-mile Richmond oval where he’s had so much success.

Just for the record, Earnhardt Jr. is not coming back to motorsports full-time, at least as a driver. He’s having fun being a full-time NASCAR broadcaster for NBC Sports, doing the stuff that makes him and wife Amy happy and getting to know a certain young lady that came into his life earlier this year: daughter Isla Rose. He’s also got his role to play at JR Motorsports, which has three NXS cars already qualified for the Playoffs and hopes to have one more by the time Richmond rolls around.

It isn’t like his return wasn’t a settled fact before he ever took the gloves off at Homestead.

“Right now I just have the fall @RichmondRaceway race on my schedule,” he tweeted back in January. “Want to do more. Offering sponsorship packages that include one event with me in addition to 8-10 events with our 4 other cars.”

The one-off at Richmond was already scheduled when the third-generation driver chose to announce his retirement back in April 2017, part of an agreement with longtime partner Hellmann’s. Adding to the points of congruence in his return to the cockpit, the last time that Earnhardt Jr. suited up at Richmond with the familiar yellow, white and blue colors of Hellmann’s, he won the spring 2016 race. Leading 129 of the 149 laps, Earnhardt Jr. also scored his first career victory in a JRM-owned Chevrolet.

What will it be like to be back in the cockpit, racing again, after a layoff of nearly a year?

Luckily, Earnhardt Jr. has a number of levers to pull in that regard. First, JRM’s Late Model team, with drivers Josh Berry and Sam Mayer, has equipment available for a quick spin to sharpen up the old reflexes. Second, it’s not like you forget how to drive after spending 17 seasons at the top level of NASCAR and nearly three-quarters of your life involved at a granular level in NASCAR racing.

Earlier this summer, Earnhardt Jr. said he misses the driving part of being a NASCAR superstar, the concentration and the edge that it requires.

“As a driver, you can never lose that edge,’ Earnhardt Jr. said during an episode of his eponymous Dirty Mo Radio podcast, the Dale Jr. Download. “You can’t ever get rid of that chip on your shoulder – whatever that chip’s there for. That (chip) was always like 50 percent – it affected your personality so much. And it went everywhere you went.”

When he stepped out of the car, that percentage diminished somewhat, given all that he was doing and all that was going on in a life once entirely devoted to maintaining that chip, that edge.

“Once you finally retire or whatever it is that gets you free of that, you finally get out from under it,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, it’s just the way life is if you’re going to drive race cars. You got to mentally be in there 100 percent.”

It took a while, but the edge is coming back as his next opportunity to be a driver looms.

“I miss driving,” he said. “I didn’t really feel that way at the start of the season … I was happy to be out of the car. But the longer the season goes…seeing the guys racing and having fun. I know they’re having fun even though they’re...just gouging and grinding for every little piece of grip and asphalt they can get. I know they’re enjoying it deep, deep down inside, they’re getting what they want out of it. So there’s moments in the race when I think I miss that right there.”

He’ll get the opportunity to grow that chip back a little when he takes to the track on Friday night, Sept. 21 at Richmond Raceway.

“I was so concerned about...I ain’t been in a car forever, so what’s that going to feel like?,” Earnhardt Jr. said Wednesday on Sirius XM’s The Morning Drive. “I went over to Hickory and drove one of our late models...it was hot as heck so we had to shut it down at noon, but I got some laps and felt great, made me even more excited about Richmond.

“We’re going to go over there, get out there and ride around and race hard, have fun,” he continued. “I’m not going to get to race that much going forward, maybe once or twice a year if I’m lucky, so I’m going to hopefully make all the laps and get everything out of it that I can in terms of enjoyment and fun.

“I just want to run all the laps, have fun out there and enjoy driving the car.”

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XFINITY Series Schedule

  • September 21 07:30 PM ET
    GoBowling 250*Richmond Raceway
  • September 29 03:00 PM ET
    Drive for the Cure 200*Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval
  • October 6 03:00 PM ET
    Dover 200*Dover International Speedway
  • October 20 03:00 PM ET
    Kansas Lottery 300*Kansas Speedway
  • November 3 04:30 PM ET
    O’Reilly Auto Parts 300*Texas Motor Speedway

XFINITY Series Standings

After DC Solar 300

Las Vegas Motor Speedway | 9/15/2018
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Justin Allgaier20390
2Christopher Bell #2032-7
3Elliott Sadler2011-28
4Cole Custer2011-28
5Tyler Reddick #2010-29
6Ross Chastain2010-29
7Daniel Hemric2010-29
13Michael Annett496-1543