Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he’s always kept a potential return to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in the back of his mind but admitted it would take a unique set of circumstances to make it a reality.
The two-time Daytona 500 winner, who retired from top-level NASCAR competition in 2017, made two starts in the race, first alongside his late father with Corvette Racing in 2001, and three years later in a Howard Boss Motorsports-entered Crawford Chevrolet DP.
Earnhardt, who is on site as a member of NBC Sports broadcast of the event, said he remains a big fan of the race and has had chances to come back to the Rolex 24 in previous years, but said any potential return would hinge on assembling the right group of co-drivers.
“I’ve had some opportunities to come back and run, but at this particular time in my life if I was to do it it would be with a particular group of people, a particular group of drivers,” said Earnhardt.
“I’d have to see if Ron Fellows and Boris Said, guys like that, would be interested in getting together. It wouldn’t even be about performance because the two times I came down here I put so much pressure on myself.
“I didn’t understand what I was getting myself involved in. I didn’t understand how incredible the event was. I wish I had known how to take it in a little bit better, taken more time to take it all in regardless of how we were running.
“Just to go through the process of testing and all the things that you do are so different than anything you do in NASCAR.”
Earnhardt said his inexperience sharing cars with a co-driver made for an interesting dilemma during his foray into sports car racing.
“One of the things that was tough for me was to drive and have to hand the car to someone else in great shape,” he said. “In NASCAR, if you crash it, you’re the guy that has to deal with that.
“You don’t have to worry about other drivers on your team being upset with you because you tore up their car.
“That was a weird dilemma for me to have that responsibility to bring the car back in the same shape you picked up in. That’s a lot of pressure and it’s really unique to this sport.”
Huge Presence for NBC Sports in IMSA Debut
NBC Sports has a strong presence on site at Daytona with 17 broadcasters set to shuttle through 25 hours of continuous coverage.
The network, which begins the first of its six-year commitment this weekend, has 100 hours of IMSA-specific coverage planned for the year and more than 1,500 hours of motorsports coverage across multiple properties.
The new lead booth of Leigh Diffey, Calvin Fish, and AJ Allmendinger made their debut with two hours of live qualification coverage on Thursday.
NBCSN’s broadcast window begins with pre-race coverage starting at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday with the green flag set to fly at 2:35 p.m.