If you want to know the extent to which Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a Redskins fan, just ask him which games during the NFL season are his favorite to watch in person. Hint: it's not a divisional matchup with, say, the Cowboys, or a Monday Night Football contest.
"I don't know if this will make much sense but my favorite game to go to is the third preseason game because that's when you get to see – that's where you have the best opportunity to learn about the depth of the team," he said on Friday.
Earnhardt Jr. was in Washington, D.C., with his foundation, which teamed up with the Washington Redskins Charitable Foundation to help redesign the LaSalle-Backus Education Campus with a brand new library and technology hub. Naturally, in between the building and painting and vacuuming he discussed his favorite team, continuing about why he loves a preseason game so much.
"The guys that have made the team have made the team, you know who those guys are, you watch a lot of them play the year before, you've watched them on other team before," Earnhardt said. "But really understanding who the new draft picks are, who are the guys that are the underdogs trying to get on the roster? And that carries on throughout the rest of the year. You learn the team and then when you hear their names throughout the season, you remember their story. For me, that's kind of where I geek out."
So, who would Earnhardt like to know more about when the Redskins draft at No. 13 this year?
"Defensive tackle is where I hope they go," Earnhardt said. "I hope we figure out something along those lines in the draft to get a good defensive tackle that's going to be around for a while and can help us on run defense and also alow our ends to get to the quarterback so the pressure isn't on the secondary all the time. Because those guys, no matter how talented the secondary is, they can't guard all day long. There's too much talent at wide receiver, so they need to get some pressure on the quarterback.
"Last year we had an incredible opportunity to get a player [Jonathan Allen] that was a bit of a steal at that position," he added. "That's all you hope for your team is for them to either get really lucky or look really smart, whichever way you want to look at it. If we can get a player that's a Top-10 or a Top-8 player at 13, we've made a smart decision. I think that defense is critical to winning games and I feel like we made a lot of great decision s last year particularly to improve the defense and I think there's still some areas where it could be stronger."
Earnhardt, who remembers becoming a Redskins fan around the age of eight years old, right before the team won its first Super Bowl, has remained a loyal fan through thick and thin.
"I would love to see them go to the Super Bowl," Earnhardt said. "And this is a general feeling among all the fans is that, and not that the team doesn't feel this way, we just want to be relevant. Fans always feel like this is the nation's team…we're here in D.C. We're in D.C. and we're supposed to win, and to be relevant again and to be respected in the NFL is all that any team wants."
He believes Washington is right on the cusp of that. Earnhardt cited the increased play of the offensive line and last year's addition of D.J. Swearinger as more positive steps to building a winner and is looking forward to a new era with quarterback Alex Smith under center.
"One of the things that I like about him was hearing some of the positive things his teammates said when they lost him from the Chiefs," Earnhardt said. "Talking about his personality and his character and his work ethic and he seems to be a real professional. You love when a team gets locker room guys, character guys that bring the team together and make the team feel like a family. And it seems like he will be a guy to do that.
"That's what you hope anytime they bring new players in is that they're character guys that help the locker room. The other thing is win percentage. It's not important to hi – he's even said this – about how he wins games, it's just that they do win games. You can't argue with his statistics as far as his ability to win games but he's certainly had his critics in his career and he's not coming into an environment that's going to be any different when it comes to that – the Redskins fans are waiting for success, they're waiting for wins, they're waiting for opportunities to back to the playoffs and we expect the team to deliver and he'll be under pressure to do that."
Earnhardt's wife is expecting to give birth to their first child this week, and although Earnhardt recently retired, he won't stray too far from the NASCAR track, as he will start broadcasting races for NBC soon. Really, it's just another outlet to express his Redskins fandom, which he says has never been more enjoyable.
"It's [more fun] to be a fan today because of the people, the guys, the individual players that we have," Earnhardt said. "There's a lot of great character guys that are fun to pull for and fun to watch."