Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been in the eye of the storm from the moment he slipped into a driver’s uniform. Media flocked to him, drawn in by both his famous name and his charming comments and frank honesty in assessing both his performance and his team. Fans revered him for his attitude and free spirit. He has continually walked through a world filled with people clamoring for his attention. On the track, he has earned his share of accolades, from a pair of championships in what is now the Nationwide Series to a series of wins to runs at the Sprint Cup championship. He endured a high-profile team change, has become a team owner himself and has dealt with the loss of his father, Dale Earnhardt, under the concerned and watchful public gaze. He has brought NASCAR to a new audience with his selection of publications, appearances and a book on his life. Rea White takes a closer look at Earnhardt Jr.’s top-10 career accomplishments, to date:
Earnhardt Jr., the most popular driver in NASCAR and the one most capable of creating a frenzy of publicity and fan comment with his every move, landed the IndyCar driver with the same appeal. NASCAR teams were courting Danica Patrick, but it was JR Motorsports that landed the driver and brought her to the Nationwide ranks for a limited schedule in 2010. The pairing put two of racing’s hottest superstars under the same banner – and created even more awareness and interest in the growing organization. In 2012, they are working together full time as Danica runs her first full Nationwide Series season.
Earnhardt Jr. has, from the start, seemed to have a handle on the restrictor-plate tracks. He makes his moves at the right time and generally runs at the front in some portion of every race. He has 14 career wins on these tracks. In the Cup series, he has five wins at Talladega Superspeedway and two at Daytona. In the Nationwide Series, he has one at Talladega and a stunning six at Daytona.
Earnhardt Jr. has been a threat for top performances for much of his career. In 450 career Cup starts he has earned 174 top-10 finishes, 101 of them top fives as well as 19 wins. That has netted him career Cup winnings in excess of $71 million.
How sweet it is
Earnhardt Jr. has steadily worked his way up through the ranks and now has 42 career NASCAR victories to his credit, 19 of them in the Cup series. He won seven Nationwide races in 1998 and six Cup races in 2004. He has won at least a race in nine of his 13 of his full-time Cup seasons, the last at Michigan in 2012.
In 2004, Earnhardt Jr. enjoyed some stellar performances as he won a career-best six Cup races. He opened the season by winning the prestigious Daytona 500, then struck again in the season’s fourth race, which was at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Junior went on to win at Richmond International Raceway (the season’s 11th race), Bristol Motor Speedway (24th), Talladega Superspeedway (29th) and Phoenix International Raceway (34th). He finished the season with 21 top-10 finishes, 16 of them top fives, and fifth overall in the standings.
On a roll
Earnhardt Jr. has enjoyed five top-10 career finishes during his 12 seasons of full Cup competition. His career best came in 2003, when he finished third in the series standings behind winner Matt Kenseth and runner-up Jimmie Johnson. That season, Earnhardt Jr. earned a pair of wins, with 21 top-10 finishes, 13 of them top fives. He posted an average start of 12.5 and average finish of 12.7.
He's the boss
In 1999, JR Motorsports was established as a management company for Earnhardt Jr. It has since grown into a racing operation, first fielding a Street Stock car that raced at Concord (N.C.) Motorsports Park in 2002 and then into the Nationwide Series in 2006. In July 2007, the team announced that it would merge its operation with Hendrick Motorsports for the 2008 season. JR Motorsports now fields full-time cars for Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt.
Two-time Nationwide champ
Dale Earnhardt Jr. embarked on his stellar career in what is now the Nationwide Series. He ran one race there in 1996 and eight in 1997 before moving into the series full time. In 1998, driving for his father’s Dale Earnhardt Inc. team, Earnhardt Jr. embarked on a stunning rookie season. He won seven races in 31 starts, posting 22 top-10 finishes, 16 of them top fives, to take the title. The following season the schedule expanded to 32 races and Earnhardt Jr. won six of them. He posted 22 top-10 finishes, 18 of them top fives, for an average finish of 9.9 – and his second series title.
Earnhardt Jr. won NASCAR’s most prestigious race, the Daytona 500, in 2004 – three years after the tragic loss of his father in that event. It was his fifth run in that race. Earnhardt Jr. took the lead from Tony Stewart with 19 laps to go and then began to pull away. On the final lap, he kept up the pace and Stewart never had an opening to make a move on Earnhardt Jr. in his win.
Everybody loves Junior
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is, for many fans, the face of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. That shows in any online polls or voting in which his name, his team or his potential success is involved. It is particularly evident in the annual National Motorsports Press Association Most Popular Driver award, a fan-voted honor given annually as part of Champions Week. Earnhardt Jr. has won the award nine consecutive seasons. That’s the longest streak of anyone besides Bill Elliott, who won it 16 times overall and uninterrupted from 1991 through 2000.