“I think people underestimated how much I care about performance. I don’t think people realized how much winning mattered to me.” – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Over the years, people have criticized Dale Earnhardt Jr. for many reasons. Some have said that his statistics don’t equal that of his popularity. Other people have wanted him to be more like his father. One of the most famous lines is when people talk of Earnhardt is they say he’s overrated – but that’s not what bugs him when looking at the criticism.
“I never was bothered by being called ‘overrated’ because it’s such a broad term,” Earnhardt Jr. said today. “When people really pick at your determination, your drive, your hunger, that bothered me more than anything else did, because I grew up around the sport and I love it to death. I would do anything for NASCAR. I’d do anything for the health of the sport. I’d sacrifice anything for it.”
“When you don’t run good, it makes you upset, it disappoints you. If you look at how happy I was Sunday after winning that race, you’ll know how bad I want to win, you’ll know how much winning means to me, and you’ll know from now on that there’s no questioning my killer instinct or drive, whatever term you want to use.”
When Earnhardt Jr. came into the sport, the statistics were there and he came close to winning a championship, finishing third in 2003, winning six races in 2004. However, there were some years of struggle between 2007 and 2010 that saw points finishes in the 20s. That’s when the questions really picked up.
However, looking at the past two years, Earnhardt has gotten back to running up front, including a fifth place finish in points.
“To go through that, get so far away from being competitive, then to come all the way back to where we are now, I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am and thankful I am that the team didn’t give up on me, that Rick Hendrick didn’t give up on me, that they believed in me, were trying to find ways to make the chemistry work, regardless of what anybody said, regardless of what the critics were saying, when everybody was saying I was finished, whether I was going to do anything ever again,” he commented. “I’ve been pretty vindicated, but I’m in a good place now. I got my priorities in better shape. I feel, like I said, we’re embarking on a season that could be something really special for me.
“Whether we win the championship or not remains to be seen obviously. But I had one of my greatest years last year, and I think we can top that this season.”