If you’re a member of Junior Nation who has found Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s string of bad results in his final season to be deflating, you’re not alone.
Earnhardt’s sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller said this season has been “pretty depressing and disappointing,” and aches to see her brother have better results.
“It seems like just some luck things that happen here and there, and things that are beyond his control,” she said Friday at Darlington Raceway, where the track unveiled the naming of the Earnhardt Tower suites honoring her brother and father. “It’s certainly not how he wanted this last season to be and it’s not a lot to write home about lately.”
Earnhardt Jr. has just four top-10 finishes this year after having four straight seasons of at least 20 top-10s before his injury-shortened 2016 campaign. He currently ranks 22nd in points, which is on pace to be his worst year since 2009.
Earnhardt Miller said she’s frustrated for her brother because”I know he wants so much more than that” and has seen how he responds when he’s contending for wins.
“When he’s really running well, he has that connection with all the people around him and his fans and really holds his head high when he’s performing well,” she said. “So I’d love to see that for him in this last year.”
That said, Earnhardt Miller has no regrets about seeing Earnhardt Jr. come back to race one more season. She’s glad he has gotten to run this final season on his own terms and not have to cut his career short because of an injury, she said.
In terms of support, Earnhardt Miller said she just shoots Earnhardt Jr. a text here and there to keep his head up. She’d do more than that but said Earnhardt Jr. “doesn’t like anything mushy, so I try not to get too mushy.”
“He says I’m always mushy and I’m always the one that cries at everything,” said Earnhardt Miller, who acknowledged she’ll cry a lot at Homestead in November. “So I try to just keep it on the surface and not get too deep, but let him know that we’re thinking about him. I think that’s the most important thing for him.”
Even now, after all the fame he’s experienced throughout his career, Earnhardt Jr. still doesn’t seem to grasp how big of a star he is at times.
“We’ve sat in a lot of meetings this year where I have to remind Dale he’s a pretty special athlete,” Earnhardt Miller said. “He’s so humble and down to earth. He’s like, ‘Why would anybody want to do that (tribute)?’ I’m like, ‘Dude, this is the last year of your career on the track and you are a really special human being. You rank up there with a lot of top-notch athletes.'”
Earnhardt Miller just wants him to have some happy days on the track to go with it.