Despite retirement announcement, pressure is still on Earnhardt

RICHMOND, VA - APRIL 28: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, stands in the garage during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 28, 2017 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

RICHMOND, Va. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. was so wound up before Tuesday’s retirement announcement that he didn’t sleep at all on Monday night.

After the press conference that made official his exit from Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing at the end of the season, Earnhardt slept for 14 hours, the driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet SS revealed during an interview on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Clearly, the decision was difficult for NASCAR’s most popular driver, and now it’s done. What that doesn’t mean, however, is that Earnhardt can afford to relax as he completes his 28-race farewell tour—at least not totally.

“The fans are going to want you to do as well as you can,” Earnhardt said on Friday at Richmond International Raceway, where he qualified 12th for Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 (on FOX at 2 p.m. ET). “They are still going to have expectations per usual. The team, the guys, they all and myself, we would love to win some races.

“I’m going to say a race, but some races would be great, going out in your last season to get some victories. We just want to go to Victory Lane one more time. Just to get that experience one more time would be awesome for me, and I think the guys would love it for sure.”

Nevertheless, making the retirement decision and announcing it lifted a heavy weight from Earnhardt’s shoulders.

“I certainly do feel a lot more relaxed now,” he said. “I don’t know whether it’s because I finally got to tell everybody and let everybody know what we are doing, get that over with, but I certainly felt real relaxed today in the garage during practice.

“I felt like there was less pressure from somewhere and a large amount (less), a lot different. We had a good practice. We weren’t exactly right when we started. And I guess that freedom of thought and freedom from the stress of whatever that I was dealing with helped us get through a good practice and find some speed.”

In Saturday morning’s first practice, Earnhardt continued to run well, posting the 10th fastest lap at 119.458 mph. On a warmer, slicker track, Earnhardt was 21st fastest in final practice but moved up the track in an attempt to find speed in the top lane.

Earnhardt’s fans, however, won’t be happy until he finds his way to the top of the chart on Sunday afternoon.

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