DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- In just a handful of hours, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will take the green flag at Daytona International Speedway for the final time in a Cup car.
And what's more, he'll do it from the pole position.
“We haven’t had a lot to be happy about on the racetrack this year," Earnhardt said. "We haven’t had a whole lot to celebrate. As a driver and I think as a team, you feel responsible to deliver. The fans have expectations. You have expectations of yourself and what you should be able to accomplish on the racetrack and you feel that responsibility to deliver. They come to the racetrack to see you lead."
Today, the fans will see Earnhardt lead the field to the green flag at a track where he's taken 17 checkered flags across multiple NASCAR series, two of those victories being the Daytona 500.
The veteran driver is also one of only four active NASCAR Cup Series drivers to have won both the Daytona 500 and the July race at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
"It follows you around every week," Earnhardt said of the desire to perform. "And it’s a responsibility. I’m supposed to get up there and do it. They (fans) think I can do it. I think I can do it. It feels good to give them something to cheer about."
A win today would solidify a playoff berth for Earnhardt in his final full season of Cup competition.
“It’s a great opportunity," the driver said. "I think I will look at it as just a great opportunity to go out there and get a win. I know what I need to do on the racetrack and I will try and go out there and do that this weekend and drive the race that I need to drive and hopefully that has me in position at the end of the race."
While it may be his last Cup start at the Florida track, Earnhardt said he doesn't feel any more pressure than he would in any other Daytona race.
"We always seem to be in the conversation when we show up and one of the guys that is the favorite or a contender and that has always been the case when we come here. So we have always had a little bit of that to deal with so I don’t think it makes me feel any different about it this weekend.”
In a flashback to this year's Daytona 500 in February, Earnhardt will share the front row with his teammate Chase Elliott, only this time the positions are reversed.
"Hopefully that gets them (the fans) excited and hopefully folks are tuning in and we get a great race. Hopefully we’re a part of the celebration at the end and part of the excitement at the finish.”