End Of The Ride: A Salute To Dale Earnhardt Jr.

On Sunday, November 19, 2017, emotions will be running high at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Not only will this year’s running of the Ford EcoBoost 400 mark the end of another Nascar season and the crowning of a new Monster Energy Cup Series champion, but it will also signify the end of the career of arguably the most beloved driver in the modern era of the sport–Dale Earnhardt Jr.

For his many loyal fans–known collectively as “Junior Nation”–the day will most certainly be bittersweet, marking the end of a career that began at the age of 17 competing at the Street Stock level before graduating to Late Model racing, and eventually to racing full time in what is now known as the Nascar Xfinity Series where he won back-to-back championships in 1998 and 1999 before making his full-time Cup Series debut in the year 2000. Without question the highlight of his Cup Series debut was scoring two victories (Texas and Richmond) and finishing the season 16th in the standings and runner-up to Matt Kenseth for Rookie Of The Year honors.

Undoubtedly, a major turning point in Dale’s career was the tragic death of his legendary father, Dale Sr., on the final lap of the 2001 running of the Daytona 500. Not only would he be next in line to carry the legacy of the Earnhardt name, but he would be carrying the “Dale” Earnhardt name, with the addition of the “Jr.” suffix. Expectations from his fans and fans of the sport in its entirety ran high, with the greater majority of his father’s fan base jumping on board to form what would later become known as “Junior Nation.” He would subsequently go on to win the sport’s Most Popular Driver award for 14 seasons, with the likelihood of ending his career with a 15th honor before passing the torch to the next group of hopefuls.

While his chances at securing a championship at Nascar’s top level have alluded him, his numerous other accomplishments nonetheless comprise a most impressive career record. These include a total of 26 victories (as of this writing, with one race remaining), notable among them two Daytona 500 victories and  six victories at the legendary “Terrible Talladega,” five short track victories, four seasons finishing top five in the standings, and a rookie season victory in the All-Star race. He is also credited with over 8,000 career laps led, 260 finishes inside the top ten and 149 inside the top five, 15 starts from the pole position and 11 seasons of winning at least one race. When all is said and done, that’s quite a resume to cap off a driver’s career.

So what’s next for the 42 year old driver from Kannapolis, NC, once the checkers fall at Homestead this weekend? His fans will still be able to see him in the broadcast booth in 2018, as the newest member of the NBC commentator team. In addition, he and wife Amy will be launching a show on the DIY television network, focusing on property that the couple own in Key West, Florida. And last but certainly not least, the happy couple recently announced that they are expecting their first child, a daughter, due in May.

As his fans and all of Nascar Nation prepare to bid farewell to the driver whose career they have followed for so many years, may they do so treasuring the memories of his greatest accomplishments while at the same time sharing his excitement for the new chapter that lies ahead. We can’t wait to see what is going to unfold.

Thanks for taking all of us along for the ride, Dale. We salute you.

–Lisa Ballantyne, Totally Nascar Talk
All views herein are my own. Readers’ comments are always welcome.

 

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