CONCORD, N.C. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. has known this moment was coming all year long.
His final race behind the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet SS arrives this weekend, yet he’d been able to push down most of his emotions about it for a while.
Then he arrived at Phoenix Raceway last weekend.
“I got here and I’m like, ‘Man, it’s just a week away,’” Earnhardt said. “The retirement is definitely creeping in. The weight of all that coming in a few days is definitely speeding up fast, and my feelings are coming to the surface about it.”
He joked with the media that the finale’s impending arrival – not to mention his wife, Amy, being pregnant with their first child – has him feeling like he could “break down any minute.”
And he knows that emotion will come.
“I’m sure that Homestead is just going to be like the cork coming out of the bottle,” he explained. “I’m lucky that Amy is going to be there, I’m lucky my family will be there and my team. I will have so much support and I want to support them. It’s going to be emotional for them and our fans. I don’t know really how to describe it, but I hope that you guys don’t mind it being a little bit heavy.”
As his full-time NASCAR Cup Series career comes to a close, Earnhardt has received countless messages of support from all across the sport – partners, peers and fans alike.
“All these videos and all these things that our partners are creating, this content has just been incredible,” he said. “It makes you feel so good in your heart. The comments from fans – it is more than you can process.”
He had been able to fight off the emotion for a while, but now the moment has arrived.
“It’s starting to really sink in,” he said.
And through it all, the goal at Homestead-Miami Speedway this Sunday will be the same as it always was – race toward Victory Lane.
“I’m trying to run hard, trying to do well, trying to figure out our cars and get as good a finish as we can,” Earnhardt said. “Next week is going to have a lot of things going on. Going in there and trying to do as well as we can is at the top of the list, but there are a ton of other things happening. We will just take it one day at a time.
“It’s going to be a busy weekend.”