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RICHMOND, Va. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t earn the finish he wanted in his lone NASCAR Xfinity Series start of 2021, but it was the family affair with a little on-track drama to add some spice.
After starting 30th in the one-off race in the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet he owns, Earnhardt slowly made his way toward the front and reached fourth by the final stage. But a round of pit stops was costly, earning a pit-road speeding penalty upon exit, sending Earnhardt to the rear of the field for the restart.
Earnhardt was able to recover to finish 14th.
“It was a little rough. I really didn’t figure out how to get the car around the track, to be honest with you,” Earnhardt said. “… We had about a 10th-place car with me driving it. The setup and everything was pretty close to what we’ve been running in the past, so I don’t know. Maybe I just needed some more laps or to just do things differently. I tried a lot of different things to figure out how to get the car around the corner better, I just never could do it.”
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Before he had a taste of the front, he raced hard with drivers through the field, including Josh Williams, driver of the No. 92 Chevrolet.
Earnhardt made contact with Williams in the first stage, sliding into the No. 92 at the exit of Turn 2 after getting loose out of the corner. While Earnhardt admitted on the radio he was having fun but didn’t mean to get him, Williams was not impressed in the moment, saying on the radio: “I don’t care if he’s a hero or not. He keeps jacking me up. … You got plenty of room. Use it.”
When the race concluded, Williams came over to joke with Earnhardt about the ordeal, admitting he had just as much fun mixing it up with the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee.
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“I had a pretty good time beating up on them guys and they beat back on me,” Earnhardt said. “I got run into the fence a couple times late, but we ended up crossing the finish line and I got to run all the laps, so that’s all I an ask for.”
Above his time behind the steering wheel, Earnhardt cherished being able to show his eldest daughter, Isla, around the race track. His wife, Amy, and newborn daughter, Nicole, were also in attendance with him.
While Isla wasn’t the biggest fan of the pomp and circumstance that comes with driver introductions, Earnhardt was anxious to hear Isla’s response to what she thought of the race.
“I told myself that I was probably going to enjoy that more than anything today and I was right,” Earnhardt said with a laugh. “I had fun in the car, but nothing beat being able to see Isla’s face when I put this uniform on and come out the bedroom in the bus and she’s looking at me like, ‘What is happening?’ She couldn’t figure it out.”
He expressed wanting to keep doing more races because he wishes Isla would be able to see more of the life he lived for two decades in NASCAR.
“It sucks I only get to do this once a year for that reason,” Earnhardt said. “I would love for her to experience a lot of what I went through over the last two decades. These guys are so good. I’m going to have to try again next year, but if I don’t run good then, I might not come back. It’s a young man’s game out there.”
With the futures of drivers Michael Annett and Justin Allgaier at the team still not set in stone, Earnhardt indicated if he were to run again next year, it would be in a sixth JRM machine.
“We’re still up in the the air on that, but if I run again next year, probably be six cars out there,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine, but that’s what we’d do. Shows how crazy were are, I guess.”
It was also a time of reflection for Earnhardt on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. It seemed fitting Earnhardt was back in a race car on a day of remembrance after winning the first race in NASCAR’s return to the track after the tragedy in 2001, earning victory at Dover International Speedway in the No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet.
“I’m just glad we were racing and be able to do what we do … honor those people that we lost on that day and honor the ones that were affected by it today,” Earnhardt said. “It feels good to be at a race track so we can express however we want to express ourselves. It’s a tough day for the country.”
“I remember when we waited to go back to the race track in 2001 and how good it felt to go to Dover a couple weeks later and how amazing the energy was,” he added. “It’s also that same feeling in Richmond. It’s awesome to have this doubleheader. Giving these fans a great afternoon and a lot of action and hopefully they enjoyed themselves.”