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DALLAS  |  MORE Arrow
DALLAS Arrow

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Makes Final Pit Stop at Texas Motor Speedway

This weekend, Earnhardt Jr. makes his final appearance as a NASCAR driver at the track where it all began for him.

This weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make his final appearance as a NASCAR driver at the track where it all began for him. He earned his first win in the NASCAR Busch Series (now sponsored by Xfinity) in 1998 before his first win of a Winston Cup race (now sponsored by Monster Energy Drink) which happened in 2000. As a ticket-paying fan who was on hand for both of those wins, I remember thinking at the time that he was a pretty talented driver with prospects for a pretty good career. As of this writing, he has achieved a total of 50 wins between the two series (and I'm secretly hoping he adds one more win this weekend).


Dale Earnhardt Jr. raises his arm in celebration in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Busch Series Coca-Cola 300 on April 4, 1998 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. raises his arm in celebration in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Busch Series Coca-Cola 300 on April 4, 1998 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series (then known as Winston Cup Series) win after the DIRECTV 500 on April 2, 2000 in Fort Worth.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series (then known as Winston Cup Series) win after the DIRECTV 500 on April 2, 2000 in Fort Worth.


Dale's racing career was going to be tough enough as he existed in the shadow of his iconic father Dale Sr.; but when his father tragically died in a racing accident in February of 2001, I believe Jr.'s road to NASCAR greatness became even more difficult. He wasn't the only son that followed an iconic Hall of Fame father - there was Petty, Allison, and Jarrett before him - but he was the only one who never saw his father retire.


Dale Jr. had not yet been racing for two full seasons at NASCAR's top level when his father unfortunately passed. It takes roughly 2-3 years for talented racers to really understand how to have consistent quality finishes, but Dale had no chance to slowly develop because he was thrust overnight into a role where he was faced with assumming his father's role as the face of NASCAR and carrying all of NASCAR on his shoulders simply because of his last name ... and all the while processing the loss of his father. There is no one to blame for the new expectation placed on Dale in that trying situation because this is sometimes how real life just kind of happens. Now as we stand here today and look back on Dale's career, his winning the Most Popular Driver Award 14 straight years emphatically proves without a shadow of a doubt his importance to NASCAR and the fans even though he didn't win a championship. He indeed rose to the challenge that was placed upon him, and the fans appreciated it and recognized him for it.


Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Earnhardt embrace after Dale Jr.'s first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series (then known as Winston Cup Series) win at the 2000 DIRECTV 500.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Earnhardt embrace after Dale Jr.'s first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series (then Winston Cup Series) win at the 2000 DIRECTV 500.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. greets fans during driver introductions prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 8, 2015.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. greets fans during driver introductions prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 8, 2015.


When Dale would win a race, just about every fan at the track was happy for him because I think deep down they knew the hand he was dealt. It didn't matter who your driver was, if Dale beat your diver, people tended to be genuinely happy for him and his team. I also believe the reason Dale Jr. was always the fan favorite is that he epitomized what NASCAR was all about. He was that Saturday night dirt track racer you watched and idolized as a kid growing up. You would put his race number on your bike; and as you raced through your neighborhood, you could pretend you were him.


It's not hard envisioning a throwback Dale Jr. climbing out of his race car at North Wilkesboro Speedway kissing the flag girl, thanking his sponsors, holding up his trophy for pictures, helping his guys load the car on the trailer, and then staying at the track for another couple hours chatting with his fans because he knew it was important to them. Dale Jr. may not be remembered for winning a NASCAR championship, but he will be remembered for the roars that would come from the stands as he would pass another driver for the lead at race tracks like Daytona and Talladega. The cheers would be so loud that they could be heard over the race cars on the track. It was almost like he was a one-car race team beating the well-funded Goliath racing teams when he took the lead. The irony is that, throughout his career, he drove for two of the best-funded race teams and fans never berated him for it like they do some other drivers.


Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #3 ACDelco Chevrolet, races in the NASCAR Busch Series Coca-Cola 300 on April 4, 1998 at Fort Worth's Texas Motor Speedway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #3 ACDelco Chevrolet, races in the NASCAR Busch Series Coca-Cola 300 on April 4, 1998 at Fort Worth's Texas Motor Speedway.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. pumps his fist after winning the DIRECTV 500, his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup (then known as Winston Cup)91 win on April 2, 2000 at TMS.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. pumps his fist after winning the DIRECTV 500, his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup (then known as Winston Cup)91 win on April 2, 2000 at TMS.


He will also be remembered as the Pied Piper of restrictor plate tracks and super speedways. He got the nickname because he would lead the drivers around Daytona, Talladega, and Michigan lap after lap always making the correct move to keep the competition behind him. His dominance at those tracks was second only to his late father and Hall of Fame driver Dale Earnhardt Sr. To the frustration of many Junior Nation fans, ESPN never seemed to fully understand Dale's popularity either because he was rarely the highlighted driver for many of the races that the network covered. Then earlier this year, NASCAR Champion Kevin Harvick made some critical comments about Dale's lackluster career over the past 10 years and how it has stunted NASCAR's growth. However, Dale's 14 straight Most Popular Driver wins ranks only second to another great throwback racer Bill Elliot and his 16 awards. Those two racers combined have won the award 30 of the past 33 years.


Tony Stewart retired a few years ago, but there will soon be another up-and-coming super-talented wheelman who just might be able to win with almost anything that has a motor and wheels. Jeff Gordon retired, and NASCAR will find another driver who has a similar desire to win. Jimmy Johnson will soon retire, and there will be another driver that will make a run at his records just like he challenged the record of King Richard. But NASCAR will be hard pressed to find another driver that is as popular as Dale Earnhardt Jr. and as genuinely liked by race fans that follow NASCAR religiously or causally. When you think about it, how many drivers are known to people outside racing by one name? Racers, athletes, and iconic figures from all over the world are congratulating Dale and wishing him the best as he comes to the end of a great career because they know he is special just like many other great athletes who for whatever reason never won championships in their respected sports as well.


Dale Earnhardt Jr. raises the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Busch Series Coca-Cola 300 on April 4, 1998 for first career win in the series.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. raises the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Busch Series Coca-Cola 300 on April 4, 1998 for first career win in the series.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. hoists the winning trophy above his head in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series DIRECTV 500 on April 2, 2000 at TMS.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. hoists the winning trophy above his head in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series DIRECTV 500 on April 2, 2000 at TMS.


I will be inwardly hoping on Sunday that at some critical point Dale will pass a driver for the lead and all of the fans who came to Texas Motor Speedway to see him one last time can jump to their feet and cheer wildly once again. I will also quietly hope the Pied Piper of racing will have one last chance to lead all the other drivers to a storybook win so that NASCAR fans at the race or watching at home might end up with a sports tear in their eye knowing that even though their driver didn't win, they didn't mind losing to Junior.



There are still tickets available to see Dale one last time. See additional information below or visit:

TMS | AAA Texas 500

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #3 ACDelco Chevrolet, races in the NASCAR Busch Series Coca-Cola 300 on April 4, 1998 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #3 ACDelco Chevrolet, races in the NASCAR Busch Series Coca-Cola 300 on April 4, 1998 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.

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