“You Got Mugged” – 2003 Cup Champ Recalls How Dale Earnhardt Jr’s Popularity Became His Worst Nightmare Years Ago

Published 07/05/2023, 2:29 PM EDT

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The connection between fans and drivers can be something special in NASCAR. Showcasing their admiration for the drivers who try their best to deliver joy to the fans, the stands continue to cheer for them. But many times, fans can turn out to be an obstacle for popular personalities.

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Even if they are used to people flocking around them, being surrounded by media personnel, and giving out autographs, drivers do have a personal space. Surely they would like to take some steam off with some personal time with people close to them. From Dale Earnhardt Jr’s treasure of stories, comes another tale describing a peculiar situation with 2003 Cup champion Matt Kenseth that left him hiding from the fans.

Matt Kenseth Reminds Dale Earnhardt Jr of an Incident Where He Got Mugged by Fans

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In the latest episode if his Dale Jr Download Podcast, Dale Jr initiates the conversation by saying,” I remember beating him the first time. I think he had just won either a race or your championship and we were at a restaurant. You remember that?”. Well, one such particular incident could be tough to recall on demand, as Matt expresses.

“No. Gotta be more specific (laughs). Went to a lot of restaurants, lot of races but…” said the 51-year-old.

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Junior continues, “ I don’t know how many times in your career I was with you after celebrating something that happened with you.” Although Kenseth claims that he does not recollect any such instances happening, he goes back to a particular incident at Darlington that caught his eye.

 “I don’t know, I was getting ready for racetrack and you walked up and you’re like, “Hey man, I need a ride home”. I was like, ‘okay, jump in’. Remember that?” 

When Jr denies his involvement in any of that, Matt explains, “Yeah, it was at the race. I drove you all the way home. I kinda felt bad for him because might have been our first year in Cup maybe… It was at least 2002 actually and some of the cars driving and we stopped at this… I don’t remember what restaurant it was. I know you always sponsor so I’ll probably have to tell you it was about jingles or something.”

As they burst out laughing, the story continued. “It was something like that, it was a fast food restaurant, we got out, went and ordered and you got mugged by so many people who were bothering you that we had to go in a car go through the drive through. It was terrible, I was like man as much as it feels cool to be Dale Jr. This sucks. I can’t even order a sandwich.”

Quite visibly Earnhardt’s success and popularity turned out to be problematic when he was just trying to enjoy some private space with the two-time Daytona 500 winner.

A Timeline of the 2003 Cup Champion’s dominant streak

Hailing from Wisconsin, Kenseth started his career on short tracks. Having won multiple races at different raceways in Wisconsin, soon after he earned a move to the Xfinity Series in 1997. RFK Racing crew chief and car owner Robbie Reiser was the one to notice Matt’s talents on the short track, having competed with him previously. Ready to give him a chance for the injured Tim Bender, Reiser had faith in their recruit’s abilities.

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His belief did pay off as he qualified in third place in his first race for the new team. He continued to grow in the #17 Chevrolet with a positive atmosphere, winning his first Busch Series race in ’98 where he edged the legendary Tony Stewart to take a win. In the same year, he made his transition to the Cup Series as well. But his first try to race in the Cup was something he would not like to reminisce. Classified as a vehicle with not enough power to make the grid, NASCAR rejected Jack Roush’s attempt to field him as the sixth driver for Roush Racing at Talladega.

In the year 2000, he finally proved his mettle and had his first encounter with Dale Jr as he beat him in the race to the Rookie of the Year award. That year will remain one of the most memorable seasons for him, as he became the only rookie to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Finishing 14th and 13th in successive years was a good sign of improvement for Matt.

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But 2003 was when his efforts finally paid off. Dominating the points table since the start of the season, Kenseth became the last person to win the Winston Cup, which is known as the Cup Series in modern times. With 25 top-10 finishes, that season is one of the most consistent seasons produced by a driver in NASCAR. Matt amassed 1 win and 11 top 5s as well. All these performances finally culminated in a championship win with a 90-point victory over rival and legend Jimmie Johnson.

Watch This Story: Dale Earnhardt Jr Fans Slam The Nascar Drivers For Their Embarrassing Logjam Incident In Chicago

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Written by:

Ansuman Abhisek

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Ansuman Abhisek is a NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports. As an engineering graduate, he has a strong affinity for cars, and it didn't take long for him to translate that into his love for the sport. He is a big fan of Kyle Busch and believes that the Richard Childress Driver still has his best years ahead of him.
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Edited by:

Ranvijay Singh

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