No matter what happens from here on out, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has already enjoyed a tremendous season — one of the best of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career.
But a win in Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at world-famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway? That would be some major icing atop a terrific 2014 campaign that has witnessed the sport’s most popular driver capture the sport’s biggest race — the Daytona 500 — for the second time, and then score his first Pocono win in June, all while running up front and battling for victories on a consistent basis.
Indy, though, as Earnhardt Jr. and many others are quick to point out, is anything but just another race.
"This place just has so much history," said Earnhardt Jr., who in 14 starts at the fabled 2.5-mile facility has recorded four top-10s, including a career-best fourth-place finish in 2012.
"The story of how this track came about and how it almost ended up being history in itself during the war. It’s just amazing what’s gone on here. I would love to win here, and hope to be able to accomplish that at some point in my career."
Although drivers after often discussed in terms of the number of "big" wins they collect in a given year, Earnhardt Jr. said his triumph in February’s Daytona 500 doesn’t give him any more or less incentive for wanting to score his first Brickyard victory this weekend.
"I’d love to win here," said Earnhardt Jr., who qualified 23rd for Sunday’s race. "This is such a historic racetrack regardless of whether we won Daytona or not. I really wouldn’t pair the two together as an accomplishment. But I wouldn’t think about it, I guess, like that. But just winning here — alone — would be tremendous."
Despite his great appreciation for the Brickyard, don’t expect Earnhardt Jr. to become the next person — as Kurt Busch was in May — to join the short list of drivers who have attempted the Indy 500/Coke 600 double on Memorial Day weekend.
"It’s a lot of preparation, and I think that it takes a certain mentality, certain style of person," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I think that Kurt has that mentality, has that ability to really get down and want to take on something like that. He’s sort of in a situation in his career where he can sort of juggle all those things. We’ve got so much going on, and I really never aspired to drive open wheel cars. I do follow the series and have some drivers I pull for, but I was always a stock-car guy and just always wanted to race short tracks and bang on fenders."
While Earnhardt Jr. has no plans to try the double, he supports any of his NASCAR companions who do, and was particularly pleased to see the ripple effect of Busch’s stellar sixth-place finish at this year’s Indianapolis 500.
"I do have a lot of respect for what he did, and it was a great joy to cheer him on and support him," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We all, everyone in the garage, wanted him to do well, and to see him do well and accomplish what he did was a great thing, I think, for both series. So definitely it drew a lot of attention to both series.
"I enjoyed that, and I like seeing drivers do that, but I’m going to turn 40 next year, or this year actually, so I think I’ve got so much going on that I’d rather not pile that on to my plate."