Earnhardt Jr.: “…I never took a lap off. I ran as hard as I knew how to run but a couple of those years I was miserable. I was miserable coming to the track. I knew it was going to be another disappointment, and I had all the disappointments that I could take.”

Current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., sat down with SPEED’s Steve Byrnes for a lengthy and reflective interview whose first segments air momentarily on today’s NASCAR RaceDay on SPEED (10 a.m. - 12 p.m. ET). The two covered topics ranging from Earnhardt, Jr.’s appreciation of this championship opportunity to overcoming his anxiety in crowds and his emotions of the past three years, during which he didn’t want to be at the track due to poor performance. The sport’s most popular driver also discussed maturing and stepping outside his comfort zone.

Following are two excerpts from this interview. A full transcript will be distributed to the media later today following the conclusion of NASCAR RaceDay. Additional segments will run on NASCAR Race Hub this week (Mondays through Thursdays at 6 p.m. ET).

Byrnes: "Dale, I was reading your comments from your media availability yesterday (Friday) and it was interesting that you said the points lead is great but it’s not the championship. But it’s not about vindication its more about validation."

Earnhardt Jr.: "I am not going to sit here and tell you I knew I would get back on top or I knew I would get back to where I wanted to be, or be as competitive as I have ever been. I didn't know if I would get back to competing like I want to or I think I should. I knew if I stayed patient I had a lot of years to try and maybe the right thing would work out and fortunately enough it did. Rick put me with the right group for me and we all seem to work really good. You know we’re really consistent and we have been lucky to be consistent, you know we haven't had a lot of the bad luck the guys have had. We’re not winning as much as we want to but we’re right on the cusp of getting to win three or four races a year, but that one win was a little bit of a tease.”

Byrnes: You have been really gracious and thorough about giving Steve Letarte credit, but what I am really curious about is what has changed about you because Jeff Gordon said, “I don't know what has changed but something changed.”

Earnhardt Jr.: (Laughing) "Haha, well, hmm, yeah alot's changed… with me personally but you know I never took a lap off, I ran as hard as I knew how to run but a couple of those years I was miserable, I was miserable coming to the track, I knew it was going to be another disappointment, and I had all the disappointments that I could take… You know 1 run after the next after the next after the next and struggling and defeat and being beat down, it just seemed like everyone counted you out, and I was feeling bad for the people I was with because I couldn't make it better. You know when things weren't going right with my team, we didn't talk about it. We didn't know if anyone was blaming anybody, I didn't know if I thought I was blaming them or whatever it was … just really miserable and I hated it because nobody deserved it. You don't make excuses for failing, but you can't give up on yourself. You know I think about this weekend and just going through the motions and talking to Steve about the car and going to the team debriefs and doing the things were doing, I see a dramatic change in myself, in the ethic, the work ethic and how much time I am willing to invest and to devote to talking about the car. I have never had like this before this is the best it has ever been in my career as far as me enjoying what I am doing. I love racing, I can't imagine doing anything else but this is a much fun as I have ever had doing it."