Dale Earnhardt Jr. has spent the last few months being reminded of his impending retirement from the Cup Series on a very regular basis as tracks have showered him with various going away gifts.
But Junior said Friday that it’s just now starting to hit him that next Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway will be his last Cup Series race.
“Yeah, I feel like I almost need to apologize because I’ve got a pregnant wife, I’m retiring and I just feel like I’m going to break down any minute. I feel like every answer that I have has some sort of sad undertones and very emotional temperament, but yeah, it’s starting to really sink in,” Junior said. I hadn’t felt much. I went through Talladega, that was an emotional weekend regardless of how many races were left in the year.
“But, now, I think after Texas, I don’t know, I went hunting for a couple of days, so I didn’t really have to think about it too much, but got here and I’m like, man it’s just a week away. I am not sure that I’m like just ready to be going through all of that emotion that I will have in Homestead, but it’s coming. I hope that I can handle it well, but it’s definitely going to be interesting to see how that feels.”
Phoenix is also the site of Junior’s most recent Cup Series win. He won the rain-delayed and shortened fall race at the track in 2015 when his final pit stop was timed perfectly.
Junior missed the 2016 fall race at the track while he was recovering from his midseason concussion. His substitute driver (and replacement in 2018) Alex Bowman finished sixth after leading 194 laps. Bowman and the No. 88 team had the best car last year, though it’s a fact that can get lost amidst all the replays of Bowman’s late-race contact with Matt Kenseth.
“I felt lucky that we were running good enough to win the race,” Junior said. “[Crew chief Greg Ives] had done some pit strategy that cycled us into the lead at the particular point when the rain came. And I was thinking, ‘man, that is how it’s supposed to work’. You know, your crew chief is supposed to have that vision and man he had it that day. I was so proud of Greg and I felt lucky. It’s great to back into them (a win) every once in a while, or luck into them every once in a while.”
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