BACK ON TRACK
This is an article from the July 2, 2012 issue
DALE EARNHARDT JR.
The driver of the number 88 car ended a 143-race winless streak at the Quicken Loans 400 in Michigan on June 17 and ranks third in the Sprint Cup points standings.
DAN PATRICK:Do you expect to win the Sprint Cup title this year?
DALE EARNHARDT JR.: I think we can be part of the story line. You've got to look at the defending champion, Tony Stewart, and Jimmie Johnson, with all his trophies. But I think we can be part of the mix. Last year we finished well, but we weren't in the battle for the title.
DP:After winning at Michigan, did you forget how to celebrate?
DP:It'd been a while.
DE:[Laughs.] I thought you saw my celebration and didn't like it.
DP:No, not at all. Explain what you do to celebrate.
DE: We do the burnout for the fans in front of the grandstand and go to Victory Lane and do the hat dance—put on all the [sponsors'] hats and take pictures. After all that, we went home with family and friends and talked about it all night.
DP:How many hats do you have to put on in Victory Lane?
DE: Probably two dozen.
DP:At what point did you think, I'm going to win the race?
DE: I started thinking about that specifically with about 60 laps to go. I was looking in the mirror thinking, Someone's about to come up here and challenge us or steal it away. Somebody's going to get faster. But it just never happened. With about 60 laps to go I said, Maybe I'm the guy with the dominant car. That's when I started to get a little nervous.
DP:Was it more special to win on Father's Day?
DE: I hadn't even thought about it. I had a lot of people tell me it was a great Father's Day gift.
DP:If you have a son, will you want him to be a race car driver?
DE: Of course. I have a niece, and she races now, and I can't wait to spend all my money on her.
DP:Do you want her to race in NASCAR someday?
DE: She's racing these little cars at a go-kart track. I hope she wants to keep digging and have fun with it. She's pretty good.
DP:What would you have done if you weren't a race car driver?
DE: I was going to be a mechanic in a dealership, changing your oil.
DP:Did you have to become a race car driver?
DE: It was kind of a dream, and I didn't think it was a choice. I really didn't know if it was going to work out. My mind-set [was]: I'm the son of the seven-time champion, this great figure in the sport; if I become some old guy working at the dealership down the road, that's just going to be the way it is. And I was going to have to live with that somehow.
DP:Would that have been easier in a way because you wouldn't be constantly compared with your father?
DE: I don't know. Nothing against working at the dealership—that was [one of the most fun] times in my life. I would have felt I fell pretty short of my goals in life if that happened. I dreamed of being bigger than that.
DP:Were you any good at changing oil?
DE: One of the best.
GUEST SHOTS SAY WHAT?
Metta World Peace isn't losing sleep over not knowing if the Lakers will bring him back next season. "I don't want to plan that far ahead," World Peace told me. "I try to enjoy my summers." ... I asked Warriors coach Mark Jackson what advice he'd give to the Thunder's Russell Westbrook about how to play his position. "Do you," Jackson said. "Disregard what everyone else is saying. It would be criminal of me to ask Derrick Rose to be Steve Nash or Russell Westbrook to be Chris Paul. That's not his game." ... Even though Rays reliever Joel Peralta was suspended eight games for having pine tar in his glove, MLB Network's Mitch Williams doesn't think the substance really helps a pitcher: "You can affect the ball much more by being able to go to your mouth on the mound than [by using] pine tar." ... Miami Herald columnist Dan Le Batard told me that if he were in LeBron James's shoes, he'd struggle to maintain his composure around his many critics now that he's finally won an NBA title: "I'm going to have a hard time not putting that [championship] ring on my middle finger."