On the occasion of his 42nd birthday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave a ringing endorsement to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Monday.
NASCAR’s most popular driver isn’t racing for the rest of the 2016 season as he continues to recover from concussion like symptoms. He was involved in two crashes this season, one at Michigan and the other at Daytona. Doctors believe the crash at Michigan in June caused his latest issue. Earnhardt hasn’t raced since New Hampshire in July and getting back into a racecar isn’t something he can do right now.
However Earnhardt has kept fans updated on his progress , and his life, via “The Dale Jr. Download” podcast on Dirty Mo Radio that’s posted each Monday. In the past, Earnhardt has given updates about his condition, but Monday he talked about his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson. Johnson won his first race in 24 events Sunday, winning at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The win for Johnson secures him a spot in the next round of the Chase, a round that Johnson has failed to advance too in the last two years, since the knockout format has been in effect. The win gives Johnson a chance to win another title. It’s something that Earnhardt said Monday he’s hoping will happened.
“To be honest, yes I am rooting for Jimmie to get this championship,” Earnhardt said. “I believe he does deserve it after everything he has put into the sport.”
If Johnson does win a title, it will be his seventh. Only two other drivers have accomplished that feat: Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr., Earnhardt Jr.’s father.
“I’m real excited for Jimmie,” he said. “He’s chasing that seventh championship to put him up there with Richard and my father. He wants that so badly. We’ve had a few conversations about that, and I know how much that would mean to him.”
“He is one of the greatest drivers this sport has seen,” he added. “Obviously to win five championships in a row is undeniable, and the arguments are undeniable that he is one of the greatest. He ranks right up there with the old man and anyone else you want to bring into that conversation.”
Johnson tied Earnhardt Sr.’s record of 76 wins at Atlanta in February, he broke that record three weeks later at Fontana. With his win Sunday, Johnson now has 78 career wins. Earnhardt said Monday, he didn’t think his legendary father, who died on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, would have an issue with his record getting broken.
“Knowing Jimmie Johnson and the way he operates, Dad would have loved Jimmie,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “How can you not like Jimmie? He’s just a good guy who never stepped over the line with anything he’s ever said or anything he’s ever did.”
Johnson’s success provides motivation for Earnhardt Jr., who is expected to be racing for Hendrick Motorsports again in 2017.
“I knew and said many times during the summer that I knew when the Chase came around we would rebound and be strong,” he said on Monday’s podcast. “And we have. It makes me excited to get back in the car when I do.”