Racing at Richmond for the first time since 2018, Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought his 3-year-old daughter Isla along with him for the day, something he said was cooler than anything he accomplished in the race car.
Earnhardt Jr., one of the fan favorites, was cheered by a healthy midday crowd at Richmond Raceway every time he passed a car, moving up from his starting position of 30th and ultimately rising to third.
A pair of late-race incidents damaged his car and ultimately led to a 14th place finish, but that won't be his main takeaway.
"I told myself I was probably gonna enjoy that more than anything today," he said of having his daughter come out with him for driver intros. "And I was right. I really had fun in the car, but nothing beats her looking at me like, what is happening? She couldn't figure it out. (laughs) It'll be fun now to go back to her and hear what she thinks and see if everything registered."
The Xfinity race was won by Noah Gragson. The track was then cleared in preparation for a 9/11 anniversary tribute and the Cup Series playoff race, which is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network.
Earnhardt, who came out of retirement for the race, said he anticipates doing something similar next year, but noted that at 46 years old, he was struggling to keep up.
"These guys are so good," he said. "I mean, I’m going to have to try again next year, and if I don't run good then I might not come back. Because it's a young man's game out there."
Earnhardt said one reason to keep doing it was to involve his family. This was Isla's first time being out on the track (she's a fan of the Cars series of movies), while Earnhardt's wife Amy and younger daughter watched from nearby.
"It sucks I only get to do this once a year for that reason," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "Man, I'd love for her to experience a lot of what I went through in the last few decades.
"So we come we come to that tunnel and through the curtain (for introductions) and she's looking all the people cheering, and I said, these are all the drivers, these are all my friends. I'm going to race with today - I was wrong about a few of them. Some of them aren’t my buddies. (laughs) But I was like, all my friends and me are going to get out there and compete. I was trying to make her think that we’re all gonna go have a great time.
"Hopefully it'll be something they appreciate when they get older."
Earnhardt's day wasn't over yet. He was scheduled to participate in the Cup race as a commentator on the NBC Sports Network broadcast.
With several legacy names in the sport, Earnhardt said it brings things full circle to his childhood to be able to share the moments with his family.
"I get it now," he said. "You know, all these years I've watched all these guys bring their kids out. And I didn’t have a problem with it, but I didn't get it. I get it now. I get it, why they want to have their kids around at intros, and out at the car. They want their kids to experience that. It’s never registered for me. Now I’m understanding why they do this."