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Due to illness, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been absent from the NBC broadcast and his Dale Jr. Download podcast throughout the beginning of October. Upon his return on the 19th of the month, he revealed that he’s still recovering from a case of pneumonia but is thankfully on the mend due to the actions taken at his local urgent care center. 

During his absence, plenty of NASCAR news broke, including one of the biggest headlines: the release of the 2024 schedule.

On his podcast, the NASCAR Hall of Famer talked about the return of the All-Star Race to a track that is special to him — North Wilkesboro. Always one to share what’s on his mind, he didn’t hesitate to address the elephant in the room. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time he’s expressed so much concern about the future of the sport with the increasingly expensive Next Gen car racing on short tracks.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. admitted concern after 2023 All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro 

After years of lobbying for its return, Dale Earnhardt Jr. walked around like a proud papa back at North Wilkesboro in May when the NASCAR Cup Series returned to race on the 0.625-mile short track for the first time since 1996. Like everyone in the stands and those watching at home, he saw Kyle Larson run away from the field. 

While he was happy Cup racing was once again taking place on the historic track, Junior, who’s known for being honest, didn’t mince words on his podcast when sharing how he felt about the overall racing product, which included a one-lane racing groove and limited passing. 

“So I hope that NASCAR and Goodyear, I know that they know what they saw. I know that they know why they saw it,” Earnhardt said. “I just hope that somehow this is a catalyst to encourage them to take some risks on what we’re doing to short tracks. It is not just the tire. The tire’s a massive, massive component because it connects the car to the road. But it’s also not just NASCAR’s Next Gen car.

“You know, there’s a combination of things that I think really played a role in the type of race we saw at North Wilkesboro and the type of race we had seen at the short tracks for the last two years.

“I’m terrified, Mike, that if we don’t get this right, if we don’t turn it around, change the direction or change the perception of everybody’s opinion of this Next Gen car going to short tracks, I’m afraid that we’re going to continue to lose opportunities at short tracks.”

Earnhardt says short tracks are ‘serious problem’

Earnhardt made those remarks five months ago. A couple of races on short tracks have taken place since. Unfortunately, the overall sentiment hasn’t changed. The 49-year-old admitted as much when discussing NASCAR’s release of the 2024 schedule and the All-Star Race’s return to North Wilkesboro.  

“The All-Star Race is back at North Wilkesboro,” Earnhardt noted. “It will be repaved. I think that the repave is great. I’m glad they tried the old asphalt. I don’t think the old asphalt is why we had such a sort of lackluster race, in terms of action and racing. And I don’t know that the repave is entirely the answer. 

“NASCAR has a serious problem with the Next Gen car at the short tracks, any short tracks. That, to me — I’m putting something on NASCAR here, man. I’m really trusting them and hoping that they’re going to fix this. They got to. 

“Like, look, man, it took forever for Wilkesboro to come back. It was a process. There was a lot of people that thought it would never happen. Now it’s here, and the product is so bad. We’ve got to fix the product. How long can North Wilkesboro hang on?”

You could hear the genuine concern in Earnhardt’s voice, similar to how he sounded when discussing the situation in May.

The 2023 schedule is almost complete. The 2024 season will be here before you know it. 

Will NASCAR get the short-track package corrected before 2024? Based on Earnhardt’s remarks, if the governing body misses, things could get ugly and, most disturbingly, spell doom for North Wilkesboro and other short tracks like it in the future.   

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