Dale Earnhardt Jr. “freaking pumped” for test session, which is rare for him

Over the years, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been about as enthusiastic for test sessions as he is for road course racing.

In other words, he wouldn’t mind if neither existed.

But this week, Earnhardt found himself “freaking pumped up” to come to a NASCAR organizational test in Phoenix, where he’s turning laps in the public eye for the first time since last July.

Obviously, there’s a simple explanation: He missed racing. From being in the car to the camaraderie with his No. 88 team, Earnhardt has been craving a return to a competitive environment — and this gets him another step closer.

“When you’re racing every single week for 20 years and you’re testing, it gets kind of boring, no lie,” he said. “But you’ve really got to understand what the objectives are. … You forget and lose sight of that over time. You start getting lazy. So I’m excited and happy we’re here.”

Video: Dale Jr.’s first laps in the Phoenix test

At 42, Earnhardt is returning to the NASCAR circuit after missing half of last season with a concussion. Clearly, the prospect of racing again puts him in a great mood. He was all smiles when walking to his car on a beautiful Arizona morning, stopping to ask reporters what social media platform they were using to document his arrival.

Aside from a small brake fire in the morning session which cost him an hour of track time, Earnhardt felt his speed was competitive with the likes of Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick (who won the Phoenix races last year and are also at the test session).

But he acknowledged there’s some anxiety about racing again thanks to such a long layoff.

“I’m just a little nervous about if there will be any kind of learning curve,” he said. “Sometimes you see guys, no matter the type of the sport, who are away for awhile and have to adjust since they’ve taken time off. And other guys come back like they haven’t missed a day.

“I hope there’s no rust to shake off. I’m really anxious to get out there and have some success, go out and run well.”

Videos from testing at Phoenix Raceway

Here are a couple quick videos to start off the two-day NASCAR test session at Phoenix Raceway.

First, check out Dale Earnhardt Jr. making his first public laps since suffering a concussion in July (he tested at Darlington in December, but that was private):

Also, Phoenix Raceway held a news conference Monday to announce some major changes to the track. Here’s a short recap of that:

A NASCAR social media experiment with Instagram


Social media often asks people to CLICK HERE! or VOTE! or REPLY! It’s a call to action, whether asking a question (“What do you think about this?”) or just showing off good seats at a concert (“Check out my picture!”).

People retweet and favorite and like and share — but they’re often prompted to do so.

So what happens when content is presented without any call to action? I tried a small social media experiment last week on my Instagram account just for fun (certainly not scientific in any way).

During the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour, I took virtually the same pictures over and over again — a different driver each time, but in the same location — and posted them with a generic caption. In order to avoid a fan base trying to influence the results, I didn’t mention I planned to track the amount of “likes” for each Instagram photo.

The photos were spread out over several days, so I let them sit on the account for a week before writing down the final totals. Here they are:

  1. Kasey Kahne — 173 likes
  2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. — 168
  3. Kyle Larson — 136
  4. Clint Bowyer — 135
  5. Tony Stewart — 132
  6. Denny Hamlin — 127
  7. Brian Vickers — 125
  8. Jeff Gordon — 114
  9. Jamie McMurray — 111
  10. Brad Keselowski — 110
  11. Carl Edwards — 107
  12. Jimmie Johnson — 106
  13. Kevin Harvick — 98
  14. Ryan Newman — 94
  15. Kurt Busch — 93
  16. Joey Logano — 92
  17. Austin Dillon — 89
  18. Danica Patrick — 88
  19. Matt Kenseth — 81
  20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — 79
  21. Kyle Busch — 78
  22. Greg Biffle — 69
  23. Paul Menard — 64
  24. Michael Waltrip — 63

I’m certainly not suggesting this list reflects the current popularity of Sprint Cup Series drivers, but I was surprised to see some drivers so high on the list (check out Kyle Larson in third!) and others lower than expected (Matt Kenseth 19th?).

Any theories as to why the list shook out this way?