The Magnificent NASCAR Career of Dale Earnhardt Jr

Published 04/21/2023, 1:04 PM EDT

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Dale Earnhardt Jr is arguably one of the best racers of his generation. Under the guidance of his father and NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Sr, he started racing at the age of 17. Before moving to the NASCAR Cup Series, he tried his hand in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and was quite successful there. His aggressive and bold style of driving made him an instant fan favorite.

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Dale Jr excelled in restrictor plate racing and found the majority of his Cup Series success at Daytona and Talladega. Post his full-time retirement from top-tier racing, he went into broadcasting and hosting his entertaining podcast “The Dale Jr. Download”. He co-owns JR Motorsports along with his sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller, L.W. Miller, and Rick Hendrick. Junior still remains massively interested in NASCAR. But after all, how did it all start with him?

How did Dale Earnhardt Jr’s NASCAR journey begin

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Dale Jr started his motorsport journey running Late Model stock cars along with his brother Kerry and sister Kelley. It was at the age of 21 that he made his debut at the NASCAR Xfinity Series. After winning two consecutive championships in 1998 & 1999, he made his Cup Series debut in May 1999. His first season saw him participate as a part-timer with Junior participating in five races.

As he finished 16th in the Coca-Cola 600 race, Dale Jr’s debut was an impressive one. The following year he completed full-time and went on to win two of his first 16 races. He also went on to become the first rookie to triumph in NASCAR’s all-star race.

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Famous driver and father Dale Earnhardt’s influence on his son

Coming from a family of drivers, Dale Jr had it in him to be a successful NASCAR racer. He registered 26 wins out of 631 starts in his NASCAR Cup Series career. While he was unlucky to not have won a title, he certainly was one of the most famous drivers in the sport having won 15 consecutive Most Popular Driver awards.

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Dale Jr didn’t have the best relationship with his father until he started racing. He and Dale Sr found some common ground once he started racing. In fact, Junior even confessed that one of the reasons why he entered the motorsport world was to get close to his father. Once he did, there was no looking back.

But it only made it harder for him when he lost his father, losing his way in a sense. Nevertheless, Dale Earnhardt Sr would have been very proud to know what his son achieved in his Cup Series career. After all, it is no joke to finish 149 times in the top five and 260 times in the top ten.

All the teams that Earnhardt Jr has driven for

In his 19 years in the NASCAR Cup Series, Dale Earnhardt Jr raced for only two teams. Starting with his father’s team Dale Earnhardt Inc, Junior raced 327 times with them. His career-best finish came in the 2003 season where he finished third, coming with DEI.

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He joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2008 and stayed with them until his full-time retirement in 2017. Interestingly, Dale Jr went on to win the Daytona 500 winner with each of his Cup Series teams. He won the Daytona with DEI in the 2004 season while he achieved the feat with HMS in the 2014 season.

As far as the NASCAR Xfinity Series is concerned, Junior has tried his hand with a number of teams including DEI, Richard Childress Racing, and JR Motorsports to name a few. He’s currently associated with a part-time driving role with his own team.

Dale Earnhardt Jr’s famous car, jacket, and jersey number

Having driven for two teams in his Cup Series career, Dale Jr was privileged to drive two different cars. His time at DEI saw him use the #8 car. The #8 car has been used by some of the great NASCAR drivers including Dale Sr, Wendell Scott and many others. In fact, using the same car he registered the memorable Daytona victory after his father’s death.

After moving to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, Junior drove the #88 car, one which was driven by his paternal grandfather Ralph Earnhardt. Having said that, the 48-year-old has used a number of different cars in the Xfinity Series and currently drives the #88 Chevrolet Camaro in his part-time role.

Some of the most unforgettable races by Dale Earnhardt Jr

First wins are always special and Dale Jr registered his first-ever Cup Series win at Texas on April 2, 2000. The win would surely stay memorable as he beat Jeff Burton by approximately six seconds. Winning the Daytona 500 is not everyone’s cup of tea, ask Dale Jr’s explosive rival Kyle Busch maybe? Amazingly, Junior has won it twice with his first coming just in his fourth full-time season.

The Daytona win came in 2004, just six years after Dale Sr. had registered his first and only win in Florida. The one that would top the list would be Dale Jr’s triumph in the 2001 Pepsi 400 race. It was both dramatic and emotional for different reasons. It was Junior’s first race after his father passed away in the 2001 Daytona 500 race.

What made it more memorable was how he did in the final six laps. He raced past six cars in that duration to emerge victorious. Dale Jr celebrated the win on the hood in front of 100,000 fans.

All the NASCAR championship titles and awards claimed by Earnhardt Jr

Dale Jr had set high standards early in his career by winning back-t0-back NASCAR Xfinity Series championships in the 1998 and 1999 seasons. He has quite an impressive record in the Xfinity Series even as an owner. Junior has won it five times, twice with DEI or rather Chance 2 Motorsports (2004 & 2005) and thrice with JR Motorsports (2014, 2017 & 2018).

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As mentioned earlier, Dale Jr has won the Daytona 500 twice. He’s only the 11th driver to have won in Florida multiple times. Of course, popularity was Junior’s USP. It helped win the Most Popular Driver award for 15 consecutive years. Only Bill Elliott has managed to win it more (16 times) in NASCAR’s history.

Beyond-the-track honors Earnhardt Jr received for his NASCAR achievements

It was only just that after having an illustrious NASCAR career, Dale Earnhardt Jr was honored in the right fashion. To recognize his contributions, he was inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame class in January 2022. Junior’s induction was delayed by a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Along with him, late-model driver Red Farmer and the late Mike Stefanik were also inducted. It was a stellar achievement for Dale Jr having, especially joining his late father in the Hall of Fame. It was certainly a very proud moment for the Earnhardt family.

Dale Earnhardt Jr’s final goodbye to the racing world

In April 2017, the NASCAR world was taken aback when Dale Earnhardt Jr announced his decision to retire from the Cup Series. It was shocking news back then given how fans expected him to continue for a longer time. The decision probably was coming given how he was frequently suffering concussions and struggling with its recovery.

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Nevertheless, it was a big blow to the sport both on and off the track given Junior’s personality. His final season didn’t go as planned as he finished 21st on the championship table with only one top-five finish and eight top-ten finishes. However, his retirement hasn’t stopped him from staying connected with NASCAR one bit.

How Earnhardt Jr stays connected to NASCAR post-retirement

Ever since retiring, Dale Jr has only become more active and stayed extremely relevant to the sport. Initially, he joined NBC’s broadcasting team as a commentator. Over time, he has become very vocal and popular with his podcast “The Dale Jr Download”. Of course, he has continued his involvement both as a part-timer and co-owner with JR Motorsports, helping the team in whichever possible.

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Dale Jr also has a book to his name. It was named “Racing To The Finish: My Story” and released in 2018. The book explains his story behind the wheel. Junior has also managed to start a venture with his wife Amy Reimann by launching a new vodka brand “High Rock Vodka”. Dale Jr has time and again come up with some or the other idea post his retirement. It wouldn’t come as shocking if we see him experiment with something else in the near future.

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Written by:

Priyank Mithani

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Priyank Mithani is a NASCAR writer at EssentiallySports with a passion for motorsports that began in his childhood. Over the years, he has been following the sport meticulously, and his insights are highly respected within the NASCAR community. Priyank is a devoted fan of Kyle Busch and has closely followed his career for years.
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Edited by:

Ranvijay Singh

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