If there’s one thing that’s come through loud and clear from Dale Earnhardt Jr. this week, it’s how much relationships matter to him.
And when you spend two decades in the racing business, you build a huge base of relationships — with other drivers, crewmembers, NASCAR officials, sponsors and race fans.
Those relationships have been — and will continue to be — critically important to Earnhardt as he transitions from full-time driver to whatever is ahead for him in addition to his role as co-owner of the JR Motorsports NASCAR XFINITY Series team with sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller.
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“The best thing about this job is working with your friends,” said Earnhardt during his media session Friday at Richmond International Raceway. “When we start going to the race track as a kid you take your buddies. You don’t take strangers with you.”
And that has extended into team ownership for Earnhardt.
“One of the coolest things about owning that XFINITY team was being able to get my peers like (Jamie) McMurray to drive my car at Atlanta and win it. (Tony) Stewart, drove our car several times, Robby Gordon drove it a couple of times. All those names, (Kevin) Harvick come in there and really helped us a lot as a company.”
And having those relationships has been a source of both professional pride and personal satisfaction for Earnhardt.
“The list of drivers that I’ve been able to put in that (JR Motorsports XFINITY) car I’m super proud of having the opportunity to do that,” said Earnhardt. “It’s basically about working with your buddies and having fun with your friends.”
And Earnhardt’s peers feel the same about him.
“As far as the impact, I mean, there’s a very high possibility that I wouldn’t even be sitting here right now if it wasn’t for him (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) giving me an opportunity back actually right here at Richmond in 2003,” said Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing. “He’s been a huge part of the reason I’m here.”
Kasey Kahne, Earnhardt’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, agreed.
“He has put a lot into his racing career and done a lot for a lot of us drivers and a lot of the fans and kids,” Kahne said of Earnhardt. “I’ve seen him do so much for Make-A-Wish and read the stories over the years. So, he has been a huge part of the sport and impacted it in so many ways and it is neat to see him announce his retirement and be happy about it.”
Ryan Blaney, driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford, said Earnhardt can still have a powerful influence, even outside the cockpit.
“What he (Earnhardt) says will be very important,” Blaney said. “I know he has always said great things about the sport and drivers in it and been very positive which makes him a great person and great ambassador for the sport. It means a lot to hear him say those things.”