When the Daytona 500 kicks off the 2018 NASCAR season next month, it will be a bittersweet day for racing fans.
Sure, the season will begin, and the 2018 season has the potential to be one of the best in recent years, but it will also be the first season-opening Daytona 500 without Dale Earnhardt Jr. since 2000.
Earnhardt will be the Grand Marshal for the race, but he already admitted on Facebook Live he will miss racing at Daytona.
“I’m sure that’ll eventually go away, and I’ll get used to where I am and what this new chapter’s all like and what it’s about,” Earnhardt said via USA Today. “You’ll always miss it. You’ll always miss driving, and especially at Daytona.”
Earnhardt said driving in the Daytona 500 is a rewarding moment — especially at the very beginning of the race when the cars leave pit road. He said he isn’t particularly looking forward to the race for that reason.
“Now I’m going to be the Grand Marshal of the race – which should be a lot of fun – and that’s going to keep me occupied, and I’ll enjoy that for sure,” he said. “But when the cars roll off pit road, that’s a fun moment. That’s a really proud moment for a driver to have gotten through Speedweeks (the week leading up to the race, which includes qualifying) and positioned himself in the starting grid.
“It’s a great accomplishment to make that race and be in that race and be starting in it, so I’ll miss that. Rolling off those pace laps is such an emotional feeling for the Daytona 500, and to know that I won’t do that again is going to be a little difficult in that moment I’m sure.”
Earnhardt undoubtedly misses racing, and that desire to return to the track will only get worse after he’s at Daytona but not racing.
When NBC picks up the NASCAR coverage for the second half of the season, it could help Dale Jr. out since he’ll be more involved each week. But it might take a while before he’s used to retirement.