Dale Earnhardt Jr. was candid when talking about his future beyond the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season during an interview at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday.
Following his first laps back in the No. 88 Chevrolet during Daytona 500 qualifying practice Saturday afternoon, Earnhardt sat down with a small group of reporters to discuss a wide variety of topics.
Among them were Earnhardt’s impending contract negotiations with Hendrick Motorsports, as 2017 is the last year of his current deal.
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After taking nearly half of last year to recover from a concussion, Earnhardt wants to take a wait-and-see approach before committing to more seasons behind the wheel.
“I told Rick (Hendrick) I would like to get a couple of months under my belt to get confidence in my health,” Earnhardt said.
Earnhardt was adamant about saying there is only one reason why he has come to that conclusion.
“When I got hurt last year, it put a strain on our relationships, our partners were worried about my future,” Earnhardt said. “Rick and everybody were worried. I don’t want to do that again.”
Of course, the thought of retirement is the last thing a driver wants to discuss. Earnhardt admitted it was something he was trying to plan out before his injury.
“I was trying over the last year to put a number on it, say, ‘This is when I’m going to retire,’ ” Earnhardt said. “But I’ve decided that maybe it’s best that I don’t. Considering my health, I can’t even think about putting a date on it because I don’t know what’s going to happen to me going forward.”
Earnhardt wants to see how his body reacts upon his return to full-time competitive racing before embarking on such an important decision.
“I don’t want to make promises that I can’t deliver,” Earnhardt added. “Once I feel like I think I’m good and I can withstand a couple more years of driving these cars, I’m ready to do it. I want to race.”
Only time will tell whether or not Earnhardt’s body can withstand the grueling demands of a Cup car. But one thing is for sure, the fire still burns for the two-time Daytona 500 champion.
“This is the last year on this deal, but I have intentions of racing for more years,” Earnhardt said. “If everything is going great and we haven’t had any issues, I’m confident to continue to race.”