Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Monster Energy Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is set for his final Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway. (Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)

I knew the Dale Earnhardt Jr. phenomenon would be fun after one of his early victories at Talladega.

Those were days when winning drivers, crew chiefs and owners came to the press box for post-race news conferences. They sat, backs to the glass and looking up at the room, while fans looked in from grandstands.

As Earnhardt spoke, a young woman outside held up a sign: “I’ll sign da prenup.”

Now that NASCAR’s perennially most popular driver eyes his final race at the track where his and his late father’s names so easily melded into the “Daleadega” mishmash, gotta say, the phenomenon hasn’t disappointed.

As a bonus, it’s been fun getting to know some percentage of the guy.

He wasn’t everything fans of his racing family painted him to be. He brought his own brand of “Dale” into the mix with “Junior.”

Competitive as he was, he didn’t just ooze that killer instinct his dad brought to the track. How could he, with so much of his dad’s fandom falling upon him. He couldn’t help but walk about the scene in amazement and say, “Cool!”

Young Dale came up as a child of the social-media and video-game age. Like his dad on the track, he didn’t mind swapping a little paint in both.

I’ll remember the NASCAR star who, occasionally, spent his popularity capital. He quoted John F. Kennedy in defending our rights to peaceful protest, including kneeling for the National Anthem. In response to Charlottesville, he spoke out against “hatred, racism and bigotry,” saying it “should have no place in this great country.” He reminded us that “America is created by immigrants.”

Yeah, that Earnhardt guy. He’s retiring, and I’ll miss him at Talladega.

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.

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