CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For a brief moment, Dale Earnhardt Jr. stepped away from his role as NASCAR's most popular driver to put on his philosopher's cap.  

From his offseason wedding to returning to the No. 88 for Hendrick Motorsports, the two-time Daytona 500 champion was thoughtful and sincere during Wednesday's Q&A at the NASCAR Media Tour. Earnhardt also opened up about his eventual retirement from NASCAR.

"Getting married has been incredible. I wish I had figured all this out sooner," Earnhardt lamented. "I'm frustrated with myself that I took so long to grow up, because I have an amazing wife, and she's changed my life. She's really helped me as a person become better on all fronts."

When asked about his return after missing half of last season with a concussion, Earnhardt said he's a bit apprehensive about getting behind the wheel.

"I'm anxious and curious as to where we shake up early in the season, how we can do, how competitive we can be, and what, if any, learning curve there is for me," Earnhardt said.

During his time out of the car, the 14-time Most Popular Driver said he gained a new appreciation for the position he's in as part of NASCAR's top series. He hopes to not take what he has for granted, knowing it could be taken away at any time.

"You take your job for granted when you're doing it every week. As a society, we get better and better at complaining, and drivers aren't any different. We moan and complain about everything," Earnhardt said. "I got a chance to be in the garage area at Dover and watched some of the drivers come in and it was a really eye-opening experience to see. It was like an out-of-body experience to watch all of that happen and look at them and knowing that was me.

"I got to see the drivers from a different point of view and the whole sport from a different point of view," Earnhardt explained.

With the retirements of contemporaries Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Carl Edwards, Earnhardt stated that he just hopes that when the time comes, he's the one making the decision to retire.

"I got real close to not being able to complete and got real close to it being someone else's decision whether I competed or not," Earnhardt said. "I don't know when I'm gonna stop racing, but I want to be able to make that choice and not have it made for me."

Earnhardt said as long as he's having fun, he doesn't mind the nearly year-long grind that is the NASCAR schedule, saying it's up to the drivers to make the most of their opportunity.  

"You can make it really difficult, or you can enjoy it," he said. "But you can make it not any fun if you want to and sometimes as human beings we have a tendency to do that.

"I could totally see how you get wound up and burned out. But I'm certainly not feeling that way right now. I'll be much more self-aware doing down the road, to try to remember what this is and what position I'm in and not take it for granted, because it's easy to do."