Aracing legend sat down with former NFL stars at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the first collaboration between the “I AM ATHLETE” podcast and NASCAR, “I AM NASCAR.” Dale Earnhardt Jr. provided information about the biggest and lowest moments of his career, as well as some of his experiences as a single man. Earnhardt also revealed that his main rival during his career was Kyle Busch.
The conversation took place as Earnhardt and the “I AM ATHLETE” hosts — Brandon Marshall, Chad Johnson, Channing Crowder, and Fred Taylor — sat at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The former NFL receiver in Marshall asked Earnhardt who he had beef with during his career, prompting a quick response. The 15-time Most Popular Driver also confirmed that this was not a friendly rivalry.
“Kyle raced for Hendrick Motorsports, and I was leaving the Bud team. I was going to leave that team, leave that car, go drive for somebody else,” Earnhardt explained. “I was a free agent, I was moving around, talking to owners to see where the interest was for me. His owner and I were talking.
“Kyle and Rick Hendrick, the owner, weren’t in a good place. Kyle can explain that better than I can. They made the decision to split, so I go into the team. I think to Kyle, it was me taking his car. Kyle was kind of pushed out into free agency, not really willingly. He ended up getting picked up by Joe Gibbs. They had an insane season. Everything worked out for Kyle.”
The rivalry went to another level after a trip to Richmond Raceway
Earnhardt explained that there were multiple factors that played into him and Busch having “beef” with each other. The split from Hendrick Motorsports was the biggest one that set the two drivers on this path to a confrontation. However, there was an on-track incident that took the rivalry to another level.
“While Kyle was having this great season, I was right on his heels in my new deal that was his deal,” Earnhardt added. “It immediately kind of pitted us against each other. He would use every opportunity he could in the media to dig, and I think we went back and forth with that.
“He wrecked me at Richmond. I’m leading the race. Denny [Hamlin] was leading then had a flat tire, so I’m leading with four laps to go. Kyle is on my inside. I feel like I’m going to win. I’m on the outside line. That’s where I wanted to be, and I think that’s what’s going to win the race. He’s down here on the bottom. He got loose or something and slid into me, spun me out, and I hit the wall. Fans, man, they went crazy. That’s really what sent Kyle into villain town.”
Earnhardt got his revenge on the next trip to Richmond. He raced behind Busch and saw the opportunity unfold, which “85% of fans wanted.” Earnhardt hit his rival and sent him into the wall. The wreck was not as hard as it could have been, but it fired up the fans.
The rivalry came to an end with a podcast heart-to-heart
Following the wreck at Richmond, Earnhardt and Busch continued to take shots at each other in the media. The two NASCAR stars flat-out disliked each other and put their feelings on full display for the media and the fans. Though the situation changed after Earnhardt started the “Dale Jr. Download” podcast.
“I said, ‘Kyle, it’s time for you to come on the show. Let’s talk about this. Let’s stop this. It’s so far in the past.’ We talk about it, and he said some things that blew me away. We sat down and talked it out, and it was great! I’m glad to not have… because I was still uncomfortable being around him. I didn’t like it. Didn’t want to be around him.
“I don’t like to use the word ‘hate’ because I didn’t hate him. I just didn’t like him, man. I wanted to fix that. I can’t live that way. I don’t like living like that. I’m glad we did. We communicate, we text, we give each other advice.”
Along with revealing his NASCAR beef, Earnhardt touched on several important topics. He compared concussion symptoms with the former NFL stars and then explained how he has to exercise to keep his brain functioning correctly. The full episode is available on the “I AM ATHLETE” YouTube channel.