ThatsRacin

NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. stays busy looking for ways to feel ‘relevant’

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Sunday he still expects to race in February’s Daytona 500.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Sunday he still expects to race in February’s Daytona 500. AP

Dale Earnhardt Jr. spent Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, doing sponsorship appearances and watching the Goody’s 500 NASCAR Cup race.

There was nowhere he would rather have been.

“I’m actively seeking out these opportunities to be visible and relevant,” said Earnhardt, who is out for the season with a concussion. “Like I tell (Hendrick Motorsports owner) Rick (Hendrick) all the time, being in the car is what I’m supposed to do. When I’m not in the car, it brings a sense of guilt for not doing my responsibilities.”

As Earnhardt continues to recover from the concussion – sustained during a race in June at Michigan Speedway – so too has he gradually become more active and returned to the public eye.

NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr.talks about hoping to return to racing after concussion.

He is making more appearances now, not only at race tracks but in and around his Mooresville home. He recently attended a football game at Mooresville High, his alma mater. A few days later, he was in Martinsville helping the track announce that it was installing lights. Last week, he served as a guest commentator in the NBC Sports Network’s television booth for the race at Talladega, and he did so again Sunday.

When I’m not in the car, it brings a sense of guilt for not doing my responsibilities.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“I’ve been open and excited to book all these photo shoots and go to high school games,” said Earnhardt, who has been voted NASCAR’s most popular driver 13 consecutive years. “They’ve been real good times. Being in the booth was fun. Things like that are really good for me.”

He again said he expects to be recovered by the 2017 season-opening Daytona 500. He’s certain enough of that to feel comfortable dealing with sponsors who are already lined up for 2017.

“My intentions are to race, that’s the plan we have,” he said. “We’re booking things (with sponsors) as normal, with the anticipation of focusing on the sponsors’ marketing with me as driver of the No. 88 car. That’s on track. It’s a reasonable goal. We can’t sit and wait. We’ve got to make decisions. These types of things have to be decided quite early.”

Earnhardt watched Jeff Gordon drive his car Sunday. Alex Bowman will fill in for the remaining three races of the season.

“Obviously I want to be in the car and to be around racing,” said Earnhardt. “But until that happens, I’ve got to do things to keep busy. Being at home is not real fun.

“Being out here is not only good therapy for me, I want to be doing something around the sport and feel like an asset.”

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