BY JOE MARUSAK
Seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty thinks driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. should preserve his health by not returning to racing this year.
“I was a little disappointed that he did,” Petty told FS1’s NASCAR Race Hub show of Earnhardt Jr.’s decision to get back behind the wheel of a race car. Earnhardt was medically cleared to race this season after missing half of the 2016 season because of a concussion.
Petty told Race Hub that Earnhardt has “lived half his life, and he don’t need to be messed up going to the next (half).”
“I just feel like he got through with it two or three times, and he had some pretty big knocks in the head,” Petty told the show. “I’ve had them, too, I think I still live in one of them, but hitting mine was never that bad.”
“He’s got a lot of career, opportunities in front of him,” Petty said. “He could make another career, and racing would be a minor thing for him.”
Earnhardt, 42, has 26 career victories, the most recent coming in Phoenix’s fall race in 2015.
Voted NASCAR’s most-popular driver in 14 consecutive years, Earnhardt told a news conference in late January that he’s not putting any pressure on himself to win again soon. His first race back will be the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 26.
“My fans want me to win and to go out and have a great year and win the championship,” Earnhardt told reporters via audio provided by NASCAR, after testing his No. 88 Chevy for several laps at Phoenix International Raceway. “I don’t know if I feel like I have something to prove, but there is that expectation to compete and go do well.
“But I’ve said 100 times: I’ve done more than what I set out to do. I’ve accomplished more than what I thought I would accomplish. I never thought this would happen. I look at my trophies and I can’t believe they’re mine. I’m pretty happy with what I did. I’m blown away how fortunate I’ve been.”
For complete details about the Daytona 500, visit Daytonainternationalspeedway.com.