FORT WORTH, TX – APRIL 2, 2000: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his crew celebrate their win in the DirecTV 500 NASCAR Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway. The win was the younger Earnhardt’s first in Cup competition.
Regardless of how he does there this weekend, Texas Motor Speedway will always be a special place for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who won both his first NASCAR Nationwide Series race there in 1998, and his first NASCAR Sprint Cup race in 2000.
In ’98, driving the ACDelco-sponsored Chevrolet Monte Carlo owned by his father, Earnhardt Jr. was trailing Joe Nemechek in the Coca-Cola 300 when the green flag came out with seven laps to go. Nemechek pulled out to a big lead, but Earnhardt Jr. quickly reeled him in.
Coming to the white flag, Earnhardt Jr. got a tremendous run and went under Nemechek, taking the lead on the final lap and holding off an onrushing Elliott Sadler to win for the first time in 16 series starts. "What a day in history!" former racer and television commentator Buddy Baker said as Junior raced to the checkered flag.
Earnhardt Jr., on the radio to his father as he took the checkered flag, yelled, "Daddy, I love you to death!"
And then, in Victory Lane, Junior added, "Man, I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t rather have anybody else on the radio than Dale Earnhardt, but he makes me nervous."
Less than two years later, in only his 12th Sprint Cup start, Earnhardt Jr. won again in Texas, again driving a Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet. When he arrived in Victory Lane, Junior’s father was the first to greet him. There, Earnhardt Jr. climbed on top of his Budweiser-sponsored No. 8 Chevy, then jumped down into his father’s waiting arms.
"I’ll tell you, he’s something else," Earnhardt said of his son, but he didn’t linger in Victory Lane, instead letting the focus go on Junior. "…This kid, he works hard."
"I’m out of breath, I’ll tell you what," said Junior, who had battled the flu all week. "That was the hardest race I ever drove."