Throwback: When Dale Earnhardt Jr. Ran an Inspired Race in Honor of His Father at Daytona

Published 08/28/2020, 11:27 AM EDT


For the final race, before the playoffs begin, NASCAR returns to the iconic Daytona International Speedway. A win at Daytona is considered a key milestone for drivers in their careers. The track has seen numerous memorable as well as heartbreaking incidents over the years. We take you back to one such memorable and emotional incident almost 20 years ago, which is still fresh in the minds of many, with Dale Earnhardt at the center of it all.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. came into the Pepsi 400 race at Daytona in 2001, amid an emotional and difficult time, both personally and professionally. The sport in itself was rocked in the aftermath of a crash in the closing lap at the same venue, in the Daytona 500 race, which led to the death of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s father.

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Earnhardt Jr. runs an inspired race at Daytona

There was a lot of anxiety and a wide range of emotions before the Cup Series race at Daytona later that season. The then 26-year-old Dale Earnhardt Jr. went into the race without a win in 39 races. It was just his second full-time season in NASCAR. He had an inconsistent season. Earnhardt Jr. was still reeling under the effects of his father’s unfortunate death.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. started the race in 13th place. Riding on his emotions and determination, sped to the front after taking some time to get his feet in. From then on, he drove like a man on a mission. Earnhardt Jr. led for 116 laps in the 160-lap race. But in the closing stages, Earnhardt Jr produced an inspired run. He went from 6th place to 1st, held off teammate Michael Waltrip to win by just 0.123 seconds.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. pays tribute to his father

“Using lessons learned from his father to go from 6th to 1st and score the victory in the Pepsi 400!” the commentary said just as Earnhardt Jr crossed the finish line. He had a tight embrace with his team members and the celebrations showed the importance of the race for them.

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“He (Earnhardt) was with me tonight. I don’t know how I did it. He was there and Michael helped me. I guess we’re even now,” Earnhardt Jr. said on his father, after the race.

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Aayush Majumdar

1006 articles

Aayush Majumdar is a NASCAR content strategist, a Tennis Writer, and a sports analyst at EssentiallySports. He is well-tenured as a tennis and NASCAR writer, with over 900 articles across both sports. After pursuing a Post Graduate program in Sports Management, Aayush explored various roles in Sports Media, including a Sports Reporting role at a leading English daily.

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