"We got a brand new car this year. I think it's doing really well. I think the fans are accepting it and excited about it," Dale Earnhardt Jr., the stock car race driver, team owner and most popular driver in NASCAR, told "Off the Cuff". He was referring to NASCAR's "Gen-6" stock car, which was unveiled earlier this year.
"But people are starting to ask questions on how can we make it better, you know? What's the next thing we can do? And I think sometimes you don't need to make any knee jerk reactions. You just need to let things happen naturally," he continued.
At the top of his bucket list is "winning a championship," he said. "I don't really know that there's anything more important than that for me." Earnhardt is currently ranked sixth in the points standings.
When he's racing, he's superstitious about some things, not about others. "There's an old wives' tale about eating peanuts around race cars. I don't believe in that kind of stuff. But I think the number thirteen's unlucky. So I really don't like to be 13th in qualifying order, or qualifying 13th, or anything like that - start 13th, or the 13th pit," he said.
Earnhardt has won NASCAR's "Most Popular Driver Award" ten years consecutively from 2003 to 2012. He attributes his popularity to that of his late father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., the NASCAR Hall of Famer who was killed in a crash in 2001.
"My father was a seven-time champion. I gained a ton of his fans just by starting our engine in a race car for the first time," he said. "We got a lot of fans who wanted to see us do well."
"I like to think that me, and everybody that I've been working with, have made some right decisions to keep that fan base, and to grow it," he said.
"You know, we're always trying to be innovative. The way you market and the way you way you reach out and connect to the fans is always changing. And we like to stay on the front of that," he said.
Sports Illustrated's annual Fortunate 50 lists Earnhardt at number 49 this year, with total earnings of more than $18 million – more than $12 million in endorsements and almost $6 million in salary. That's down from 2012, when he ranked eighth. Still, he's the highest-earning driver in the sport. The magazine speculated that the drop reflects a reduction in sponsorship dollars for NASCAR.
"I think being involved in the business side really does help you. I think you start to understand what everybody else is trying to accomplish," Earnhardt said.
"When I was younger and I was naïve to everything else going on, what was important to me was what I needed at that moment, what was convenient for me. When you start to understand all the other things happening around you and all the other people trying to do their job, you really calm down, and stop pulling on people, and stop tugging on people. They're all trying to help you win a race or trying to help you succeed," he said.
Earnhardt's other business interests include two nightclubs. "Those kind of things are high-risk. They tend not to work out in most cases. But we've been real fortunate," he said.
When he's not working, his interests include playing video games. He plays "Madden" the football video game, in a league with friends. "It takes up all my free time," he laughed.
From time to time, he plays a NASCAR video game. The NASCAR star doesn't play as himself in the game. "I think you just kind of make up a fictitious guy. And I like to [be an] underdog. So I start from the bottom. I like to come up from nowhere and build it up to be a champion," he said.
Watch Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s interview with "Off the Cuff" for more on NASCAR, how he protects his brand, and his early years as a driver.