HOMESTEAD, Fla. – There were times when Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t think he’d make it here.
Through the grueling rehabilitation to come back from a concussion, and even when he was back behind the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet, Homestead-Miami Speedway was not a given.
“When I started in Daytona, I didn’t know whether I would finish, you know, feeling delicate and feeling compromised and knowing how easily that could happen again,” Earnhardt acknowledged. “I confided in my friends and family and my wife that I was worried that I could get another concussion and how disappointing that would be.”
But Earnhardt did make it to Homestead, and he’s ready to take in everything that comes with the final start of his NASCAR Cup Series career.
“With everything we’ve been through, with the concussion and trying to come back, the emotion was, ‘Man, I’m so glad I get to run this last year,’” he said. “So, I’m sitting here healthy. And I’m going to run this last race. And I got all the way through the year, so I feel blessed. I feel really good with it.”
The driver admitted last week that he wasn’t positive he was ready to face head on all of the emotion that would surely come flooding out, “like the cork coming out of the bottle.”
But now that the final weekend has arrived, he’s embracing every single bit of it.
“I’m not dreading any of it,” he said. “I can’t wait to get into the hauler to see (No. 88 team crew chief) Greg (Ives) and get the car and see all my guys. And I can’t wait to go practice with them and work, and do what we’ve been doing all of these years.”
That, after all, remains the goal – to work together to finish as high as possible.
But this weekend in particular, the most important word there is simply “finish.”
“I’d like to finish the race in one piece, whatever that is,” Earnhardt said. “Obviously, you want to do as well as you can. But no matter where we finish, (I’d just like) to be able to pull down pit road, stop the car, and get out. And then, see my guys and do all that.”
Earnhardt noted that he has always enjoyed coming to Homestead-Miami Speedway, and he’s seen some success at the venue, even if he has yet to find Victory Lane.
He has one top-five and two top-10 finishes at Homestead, though he has finished inside the top 15 in four of his last five trips to the track, including a career-best third-place finish in the 2013 event.
“I like the track and I’m glad we are ending on one that I like,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting on the track and get our car handling, and see if we can make the thing get around there pretty good so we can have some fun on Sunday.”