Earnhardt Jr. not
without worries By Marty Smith - NASCAR Online - CONCORD,
N.C., May 5, 1999
The ultra-cool 24-year-old brunette-turned-blond driver
appears fazed by absolutely nothing in the fast-paced world that is NASCAR racing. But
don't be too quick to judge him -- what you see can be deceiving.
In order to
prepare for his official NASCAR Winston Cup Series debut in the May 30 Coca-Cola 600 at
Lowe's Motor Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. joined 26 other Chevrolet and Pontiac drivers in a
mandatory General Motors test Wednesday at the 1.5-mile tri-oval.
As usual, he was
all laughs in pretest activities. But underneath the smile was a twinge of fear.
went out for practice, I was (scared), but I wouldn't let anyone see that," said
Earnhardt Jr. with a large grin on his face.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed into
the cockpit of the No. 8
"Sometimes I'm kinda scared or worried
about what might happen and if it'll all be OK. But I try not to worry about anything
until I get to it. If I didn't do that, I'd be in trouble. It's not healthy."
Earnhardt Jr. is
to be commended for his maturity at such a tender age. Growing up in the shadow of
arguably the greatest driver ever - his father Dale - takes patience and gumption, as
nearly every move is scrutinized.
Dale Earnhardt generates a lot of attention," said Steve Crisp, public relations
manager for the No. 8 team. "At first, people just sort of played him by ear. They
said, 'Oh, he'll be all right, but he won't be anything great.' Then he jumped into the
Busch (Series) car and won seven races and a championship. Then they started saying, 'Hey,
this kid must be for real.'
him getting started in Winston Cup, everybody will be paying attention from the very
start. Then you go and get a company like Budweiser as your sponsor saying we'll roll the
dice on this kid. This is one of the biggest sponsorships ever with a young kid as the
driving force. I know I was impressed. It really makes you step back and say, 'Wow.'"
E," as Earnhardt Jr. is affectionately known, has been wowing crowds since the 1998
NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division season. Despite running a full slate of events
for the first time in his young career, he drove home with the series title. After 10
races this season, he's right back on top.
our ups and downs, but all in all we're leading the points, and you have to be happy with
that," Earnhardt Jr. said. "I haven't won any races, though. We need to win
Earnhardt Jr. got
his first taste of NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing last season in Motegi, Japan, where he
piloted the No. 8 Chevy for the first time.
really cool because I was worried about being competitive," he said. "We went
over there and practiced really well, and we were really excited to get back to the track
every day. I also got to race my Dad some, and I was really excited about that too."
Along with the
Coca-Cola 600, Earnhardt Jr. will also run NASCAR Winston Cup Series events at Loudon,
N.H., Michigan, Richmond and the season finale at Atlanta.
has given us every resource we could ever need to continue the success this team has
had," Crisp said. "It gives you so much confidence. Now everyone's waiting for
"E-Day" to see if (Budweiser's) hunch is right.
"I think he's
ready. You get him on the track and he's a killer. Off the track when he's with his
buddies he's a lot of fun. I've gotten to see him develop as a person and as a driver.
Being a successful driver has made him a wiser person and vice verse. The two go hand in
"Lil' E" won't get too caught up in the limelight that comes with high profile
NASCAR Winston Cup Series competition. Why would he? He's been around it his entire life.
"Junior was around (racing) at a time when he was cognizant of what was around
him," Crisp said. "Watching what his father went through, he saw the demands on
an individual in terms of time and attention. That's one reason why he's so well collected
very intelligent and absorbs everything he sees and is very analytical. I wish I was as
together at 24 as he is."