Dale Jr : Time To Move On

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DARLINGTON, S.C. – In the shadow of his father’s death six months ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has already begun to move on with his life.

Now that NASCAR’s report on the investigation into Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death has been released, Junior hopes everyone else can do the same.

On Wednesday, at a press luncheon at Darlington Raceway to preview next Sunday’s Mountain Dew Southern 500, a very loose and relaxed Earnhardt Jr., who spent the better part of an hour answering questions and joking with the media, said it’s just time to get back to the business of racing.

“I don’t know if you can really say you can move on from this,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “It puts a lot of stuff behind us, a lot of questions are now answered. I’m probably way ahead of a lot of people in that department. (Tuesday) was really good for the fans. It gave the fans some answers, some knowledge about the situation.

“It was good for a lot of people within the sport that had questions about it. It helped a lot of people, and I hope it will help a lot more people move on from this and get on with their jobs and their lives. Everything they revealed was very consistent with our beliefs prior to the report. I already knew most of the stuff anyway.”

The six-month long investigation into Earnhardt Sr.’s death culminated in Tuesday’s press conference in Atlanta in which NASCAR revealed its findings surrounding his fatal crash in February in the Daytona 500. Earnhardt Jr. said he had no complaints about NASCAR’s method of handling the probe, nor with the results of it.

“I’m really satisfied with how NASCAR handled it,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I think they did a great job. They (NASCAR) were scrutinized for being very secretive about it, but I think they handled it in a really professional manner. Once everything was released, I believe everybody kinda understood why it was handled the way it was.

“Everything they have found is real consistent with my beliefs and understandings, and the family’s interest. We’re very content with everything that has been done and how everything was released and handled and what was said. There’s really nothing else. I didn’t get to watch any of the press conference (Tuesday), but I pretty much knew about everything and had figured it out myself beforehand.”

Earnhardt Jr.’s wounds of losing his father will certainly never heal completely, but the healing process has begun. Despite NASCAR’s investigation into his father’s death hanging over the sport like a dark cloud, Junior has been able to return to his normal routine.

“It’s not been a big problem,” he said. “I don’t really know how you’re supposed to grieve. Is there some sort of guidelines you follow? The press has been very good with the situation. Nobody has really come out and come at me or asked me any questions that have made me uncomfortable or asked me questions that I haven’t wanted to answer. It’s not been a problem. I’ve been able to deal with it well. You handle it however you handle it.”

There has been one faction, however, that Junior has had a beef with. He said he hasn’t at all been pleased with the Orlando Sentinel, who has been involved in lawsuits with the Earnhardt family in an attempt to view Earnhardt’s autopsy photos.

“Those people down in Florida are not really on my cool list,” he said. “They’re on the other list. But there’s nothing you can really do about it. There’s just people out there like that.”

A good portion of Tuesday’s press conference at Atlanta dealt with the seat belt issue, something Junior also addressed on Wednesday.

“I’ve changed my seat belt mountings a few times,” he said. “A lot of times, for some reason, you can mount the seat in the car the same in every car, and the seat belts will still not really feel the same on your hips and across your body.

“This past Chicago race (in July), the seat belts were kinda digging into my hips a little bit, so we changed the location of the seat belts just to get the seat belts to be more comfortable. I knew if I hit anything, I’d have shattered my hipbone because of the way the metal was digging into it. I don’t think it’s uncommon. I don’t think it’s anything I worry too much about. When we mount the seat belts, I’m always in the car with the guy.”

Bill Simpson, maker of the seat belt that separated during Earnhardt’s crash, has been heavily scrutinized since February. He’s received death threats and he’s resigned from his business.

And while Junior did not exonerate Simpson Wednesday, he said he’s not going to think twice about using Simpson products in the future.

“No, I’m not worried about the seat belts,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I’m not concerned with Simpson products. The only thing that maybe upsets me is my uniforms shrink up (joking). I can’t find a uniform to last for more than three months. So, we’re looking into changing that to see if that works out. Seat belt-wise, Simpson is the only seat belt that I know of, and it’s the only one I’ve used and have felt comfortable with them. I still feel comfortable with them.”

While he said he was satisfied with NASCAR’s findings, Junior said he did have some advice for them.

“I did sit down and talk with Mike Helton and talked about things, but I didn’t get to see what all they talked about (Tuesday). I don’t know if they talked about this or not, but I believe it would be good if they can set some standards for the manufacturers of the seat belts, such as the standards you would have in the Navy, the Air Force and such, seat belts for fighter jets and stuff like that.”

For the first time in his career, Earnhardt Jr. wore a head and neck restraint – the Hutchens Device – during last Sunday’s Pepsi 400 at Michigan International Raceway. On Wednesday, he said that piece of equipment will now be a permanent part of his racing gear.

“Yeah, I will wear it at Bristol (this weekend), and I’ll wear it until it gives me any major problems,” he said. “I was pretty set on not wearing one, and I didn’t feel any pressure to wear one, but I was approached by a few drivers who were generally concerned for me and my safety a couple of weeks back.

“Terry Labonte was the first guy to approach me, and he told me he really wanted to see me wear it and that he wanted me to be around for a long time. Terry is a guy of few words, and he doesn’t really say much of anything at all. So, when he says something like that, you tend to listen to it.

“I’ve got a friend of mine that’s a state trooper, and he said it’s kinda like wearing his bullet-proof vest. You don’t have to wear it and you can be a bad ass and walk around with it if you want to, but why not wear it if you can. So, I thought I’d try it out and see if I was comfortable with it. At Michigan, it was uncomfortable at times, but luckily we had the rain delay and we were able to adjust it to wear it was comfortable for me.”

Almost everything now is beginning to be comfortable again for Earnhardt Jr. He just wants to concentrate on winning races and a championship in the near future.

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