Dale Earnhardt Jr
Earnhardt Jr. began his professional driving career at the age of 17, competing in the Street Stock division at Concord (N.C.) Motorsport Park. His first race car was a 1978 Monte Carlo that he co-owned with older brother Kerry. Within two seasons, the young Earnhardt had honed his driving abilities to the point of joining the Late Model Stock Car division. There, he developed an in-depth knowledge of chassis setup and car preparation, while racing against Kerry and their sister Kelley. Earnhardt Jr. won consecutive NASCAR Busch Series Championships in 1998 & 1999. With his father's guidance and his own experience on the short tracks throughout the Carolinas, he was ready to take a bold step forward.
Before his Winston Cup rookie season in 2000, many thought Earnhardt Jr. was the front-runner for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award. It didn't pan out that way, as frequent challenger Matt Kenseth outran Junior in the Daytona 500, and never let up in his run to the title. Kenseth ultimately scored a 42-point victory in the rookie race.
Junior did have a part in recreating one Winston Cup milestone in 2000 when he competed with his father and brother Kerry in the Pepsi 400 at Michigan International Speedway. That occasion was only the second time that a father had raced against two sons. Lee, Richard and Maurice Petty had previously accomplished the feat.
In 2001 Earnhardt Jr. came into the season assuming that the biggest obstacle he would face would be a sophomore slump, instead the year proved to be one of the most tumultuous and memorable seasons the young driver has experienced.
The first major event of the season occurred in the final corner of the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500--Junior's father crashed. As Junior finished second, his father died on impact with the wall. Just as his father would have done, Junior raced at Rockingham the following weekend, but crashed on the first lap and finished in 43rd-place. He didn't stay down for long, though. Junior scored three emotional victories and came back to finish eighth in points.
The first win came when the series returned to Daytona, the same track where Junior's father had died a few months earlier, for the Pepsi 400. The second victory came at Dover, Delaware, in the first race after 9/11 and the third was in the EA Sports 500 at Talladega--the site of his father's final victory. That Talladega victory earned Junior a Winston No Bull 5 $1 million bonus. The season of emotion produced nine top-fives and 15 top-10 finishes, as well as two Bud Poles.
In 2002, Junior had a roller-coaster season. He struggled after enduring a concussion at Fontana in April -- an injury he did not admit to until mid-September. In the three races following Fontana, Earnhardt Jr. finished no better than 30th. Still, Junior rallied to score two more wins at Talladega, a pair of Bud Pole Awards and an 11th-place finish in the final standings.
In 2004, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Daytona 500, 6 years to the day after his father won his only title in the "Great American Race." In July, during on off-weekend from NASCAR, Dale Jr. crashed the Corvette he was testing for an American LeMans Series race at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California. The car burst into flames with Junior still inside. He suffered second and third degree burns on his neck, chin, and legs. The burns prevented him from finishing two races where he was replaced by Martin Truex, Jr. (driver for Chance 2 Motorsports, co-owned by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his stepmother Teresa Earnhardt) and his DEI team mate (John Andretti) in the middle of the races. The burns did not affect Junior in the long run. In the fall, Junior became the first driver to sweep the weekend meet at Bristol by winning both the Busch race and Cup race in the same weekend.
He was able to qualify third for the NASCAR ten-race playoff, and his fifth Nextel Cup win of the season (a career high) was also his fifth win at Talladega (another record). However, he was penalized 25 points for use of an obscenity during the television broadcast, in violation of a NASCAR rule prohibiting participants from using obscene language. That incident, combined with two consecutive DNF's in the playoffs, eventually dropped him out of the running, and finished fifth in the 2004 Nextel Cup playoff.
Earnhardt as an owner was more proficient. Truex went on a charge late in the 2004 Busch Series season, and clinched the series championship at Darlington, with a strong finish, making Earnhardt the winner of both a driver's championship (1998 and 1999) and an owner's championship (2004) in the NASCAR Busch series.
At the close of the 2004 season it was revealed that Tony Eury, Sr. would be promoted to the team manager position for the DEI corporation, while Tony Eury, Jr. became the crew chief for the DEI #15 driven by Michael Waltrip for the 2005 season. Peter Rondeau, a Chance 2 employee who also helped Earnhardt win the Busch Series race at Bristol in August, became the crew chief for Earnhardt in 2005. Rondeau served as Earnhardt's crew chief until the Coca Cola 600 weekend when he was replaced with DEI chief engineer Steve Hmiel.
On February 20 2005, Dale fell short of winning back-to-back Daytona 500 races, placing third after struggling with an ill-handling car for much of the race. At one point he was as far back as 29th. Subsequently, Earnhardt Jr. finished fifteenth in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway, suggesting that DEI may have lost its advantage at the restrictor plate tracks to rival Hendrick Motorsports.
Earnhardt was eliminated from any possible competition for the NEXTEL Cup championship after suffering an engine failure at the California Speedway. Despite being eliminated, Earnhardt hopes to make the most out of the remaining 11 races, in the same fashion as Greg Biffle did in 2004. In addition, fellow competitor Jeff Gordon was also eliminated, fueling fears that this year's NASCAR ten-race playoff may not be able to attract as many viewers as it would have had Earnhardt and Gordon made the playoff.
Earnhardt has since reunited with cousin [[Tony Eury Jr.] As of October 3rd, 2005, Earnhardt is 18th in the standings, 209 points behind 11th place Kevin Harvick.
Dale Jr.'s looks have helped his media presence. He has expressed interest in pursuing an acting career. Dale Jr. has appeared in print advertisements for Drakkar Noir Cologne, one of the sponsors of his race car, and in the video for Sheryl Crow's song "Steve McQueen", which pays tribute to the late film star famous for his car chase scenes. He was also featured in several commercials for Wrangler jeans, one of which used the aforementioned song as its background music. Probably not coincidentally, Wrangler was the initial sponsor of his father's #3 Chevrolet from 1980 until 1987. Earnhardt has also appeared in advertisements for Budweiser, NAPA, Domino's Pizza and Enterprise Rent-A-Car.
- Earnhardt, Eury Reunion Results Give Fans Reason For Hope In 2006
- Earnhardt Share Friendship And Dream Of Winning At Indy
- Career statistics at Racing-Reference.com
- Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - Driver Information- Earnhardt, Jr. biography, stats, news, team information, and more.