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.”
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.”