Dale Jr. proud of career as he reaches milestone start

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is preparing for a landmark weekend — he will make his 500th career NASCAR start when he takes the green flag for Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen International. Of those, 384 starts have come in the Sprint Cup series and 115 in the Nationwide Series.

Earnhardt Jr. has 41 career wins entering the weekend. Eighteen of those are in the Cup series, tying him for 37th on the all-time winner’s list and making him eighth among active, full-time Cup drivers. In that stretch, the two-time Nationwide Series champion has 221 top-10 finishes, 143 of them top fives, with 19 pole positions. He has led 9.911 laps. On the Cup side, he has earned 148 top-10 finishes, 90 of them top-fives.

"I didn’t realize that I was approaching 500,” Earnhardt Jr. said in a team release. “I take a lot of pride in what I’ve accomplished in these past 15 years or so. I’m proud of the two Nationwide championships, the wins in both series and having worked with a lot of talented people. I like that I’m able to do what I do for a living. I’m passionate about racing and it keeps me from having to get a real job."

Overall, he’s on track for a solid career tally. He’s NASCAR’s only third-generation champion, following his grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt’s 1956 NASCAR Sportsman title and his father, Dale Earnhardt’s, seven Cup titles. Earnhardt Jr. won the 1998 and 1999 Nationwide titles.

The driver will turn 36 on Oct. 10 and is ahead of his father and grandfather’s pace when it comes to victories. He has four more combined Cup and Nationwide wins than either had by their 36th birthdays. Earnhardt had 37 total wins — 26 in Cup and 11 in Nationwide — by his 36th birthday.

His career started on June 22, 1996, when he debuted in what is now the Nationwide Series at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Speedway. Then just 21, Earnhardt Jr. started seventh and finished 14th in the No. 31 Dale Earnhardt Inc. entry. He moved to the Cup series in May 1999, qualifying eighth at Charlotte Motor Speedway and earned the right to compete against his father in NASCAR’s elite series.

Earnhardt Jr. heads into Sunday’s race with more than just his landmark start on his mind. The Hendrick Motorsports driver is currently 14th in the standings, two positions and 129 points outside of a berth in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup championship-determining field.