Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Extra Attention Bothers Me, Not Extra Pressure

When the media gathers around Dale Earnhardt Jr. during the weekly question-and-answer sessions behind his No. 88 team's hauler, NASCAR's most popular driver occasionally fields a question about pressure.

Typically, Earnhardt Jr. shrugs it off. For the most part, he says he's not affected by outside pressure.

But on Friday at Kansas Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. revealed what does bother him: Extra attention.

"Attention bothers me, not pressure," he said, describing the sensation as "feeling like you're in a fishtank."

At the same time, Earnhardt Jr. said out of all the years in his career, this season "has maybe been the best when it comes to that."

"My own expectations and my own ambition and what I want to achieve for myself kind of correlates to what my fans want out of me and what the media wants me to do," he said. "That gets you a lot of attention when you don't do it or get close to doing it or almost do it.

"But this year's been good. We've been productive and showing some signs of life in my career a little bit. That's been a good feeling, and everything that's gone along with it this year has been really good."

Earnhardt Jr. said the extra attention was the most difficult to handle early in his career. He entered the Sprint Cup Series with heavy expectations as the son of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, and was coming off two consecutive Nationwide Series championships.

"People just wondered what we were capable of doing," he said. "That was pretty hard. Not even a year later, my dad died, and we just had a lot of people watching us, seeing what we would do there, how we would react.

"Ever since then, it's kind of eased up quite a bit. Ever since I've been running with Rick (Hendrick), it's been a more comfortable thing to deal with."

Earnhardt Jr. told reporters as an avid follower of NASCAR in addition to being a participant, he reads various stories about the sport – including some about himself.

"I don't think you guys really step over any lines or anything, and I keep a good idea throughout the year of what you all are doing, what you all are writing about, what everybody's thinking," he said. "I'm interested in the sport, so I got to read about it."

Does it bother him when he reads a negative story about himself?

"I think when I see somebody say, 'Dale Jr.'s not hot right now, not doing good,' there's a point to everybody's opinion and everybody's argument," he said. "So I kind of see both sides of it. If somebody writes something you like, a lot of times I'll reach out to the guy and tell him I appreciate that or thought he was right – not just for praising me or whatever, but because he was telling the truth. I really enjoy reading stuff like that, even if it's not about me."

While Earnhardt Jr. may not openly gripe about criticism in the NASCAR media, he recalled his famous father doing so.

"I used to hear him say it all the time," Earnhardt Jr. said as reporters chuckled knowingly. "He had some interesting relationships with several (media) individuals."

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