Dale Earnhardt Jr. retires at the age of 42, but his legend will never end. Junior has had quite the career. Having been around NASCAR his whole life, he came from a family with big shoes to fill. Dale Jr. followed his father Dale Earnhardt Sr., also known as “The Intimidator” and one of the greatest of NASCAR. Though the pressure and path of following his father cast a big light on his life, Dale Earnhardt Jr. created his own legacy. With 603 starts and 26 wins, Junior successfully can retire with his own defining moments.
First Cup Series win at Texas Motor Speedway in his 12th start
In 2000, Dale Earnhardt Jr. collected his first win with only 12 starts under his belt. In the DirecTV 500, Dale broke the record, formerly held by his own father, for fewest starts by a driver to earn a first victory.
First rookie to win the Winston All-Star Race (2000)
Passing his dad and Dale Jarrett in this race, Dale Jr. became the first ever rookie to win the Winston All-Star Race. What made this a defining moment for Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the fact that as soon as the race ended, Dale Sr. got out of his car and ran to victory lane to take part in his son’s victory and record-breaking race.
2001 Talladega Success
Talladega brought many successful victories to Dale Earnhardt Jr. In 2001, Dale Jr. passed Bobby Labonte in the final lap to win his first Talladega race, EA Sports 500. Also, in 2002 Dale won both in spring and fall. The victory streak wasn’t ready to be over and in the record-breaking race in 2003, a historical 27 hours wrecked, but Dale made it out and claimed the title for the race. However, not without controversy. Earnhardt Jr. was called out for making what seemed like an illegal pass over the yellow line, but it was later ruled clean and Dale was rewarded the Cup victory.
2001 Rolex 24 at Daytona
Rolex 24 allowed Dale Sr. and Dale Jr. to co-drive together with two other racers. Because there were 24 hours of nonstop driving, the two Earnhardts and Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins teamed up and began the long haul race. The team of four walked away with a second place finish, with the memorable moment of Dale Sr. saying, “Second sucks, don’t it, son?”
2001 Pepsi 400
Five months after the passing of his dad, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Pepsi 400 in Daytona. It was an emotional win for everyone. The race had multiple lap leader shifts, but draft assistance from Michael Waltrip helped Earnhardt reclaim the lead and win. When the race was over, Waltrip embraced Earnhardt on the hood of the cars. It was an important win for Junior. He raced in honor of his father and he dominated the tracks for 116 of 160 laps.
2004 Daytona 500 win
After 3 years since his father’s death, Junior won his first Daytona. The race was intense as Dale Jr. gained the lead with only 19 laps left. This was his first Daytona win of his career cranking up his season points to 1243.
2010 XFINITY series in Daytona
Driving the Wrangler #3, Dale Jr. won the first ever XFinity Series, formerly known as the Busch series. Just barely clenching the victory, Junior held off Ty Dillion by .266 seconds. Although he won the cup series, he said he would never drive the Wrangler #3 in a race again.
2012 Michigan Race
This cup series feature the infamous batman-themed car driven by Dale Jr. Although, he currently had been on a losing streak of 143- winless races at Michigan International Speedway and it had been four years since his last cup victory. However, things turned around for Junior and he clenched the 2012 Cup Series in Michigan.
2014 Daytona 500 win
The race featured the longest rain delay in race history but it didn’t effect Dale Jr. He had been 55 races long with no wins but his streak was broken by the 2014 Daytona 500. Every fan was on the edge of their seat watching the race have 42 lead changes among 19 different drivers. No one knew how this race would end. Junior pulled through and finally landed his second Daytona 500 win, the last being in 2004.
Most Popular Driver
Needless to say, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was popular at all race tracks nationwide and handled himself in a respectful manner. He was loved by all and to prove it, he won the Most Popular Driver Award from 2003 to 2017- 14 years of popularity. This is the most won by any NASCAR driver.
Junior was successful, skillful and powerful in the world of NASCAR and beyond. He looked up to his father, but created his own success and now many drivers look up to him and the career he had. He may be retiring, but he carved a new path in NASCAR and Dale Earnhardt Jr’s career in NASCAR will live on forever, as legends never die.