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Ralph Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (born October 10, 1974) is an American stock car racing driver and team owner. He is the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt, Sr. He is also the grandson of both NASCAR driver Ralph Earnhardt and stock car fabricator Robert Gee, the half-brother of former driver Kerry Earnhardt, the uncle of driver Jeffrey Earnhardt, the stepson of Earnhardt Ganassi Racing team co-owner Teresa Earnhardtand the older half-brother of Taylor Earnhardt-Putnam. Earnhardt, Jr. has won the Most Popular Driver Award ten times (consecutively from 2003-2012). He has an estimated net worth of $300 million.
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He currently drives the No. 88 Chevrolet SS in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Hendrick Motorsports and drives the No. 88 Chevrolet Camaro for his own team, JR Motorsports, in selected events in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Early life and career
Earnhardt, Jr. was raised in Kannapolis, North Carolina, the son of Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and Brenda Lorraine (née Gee; born January 2, 1952).His maternal grandfather, Robert Gee, Sr., was a NASCAR car builder.
Earnhardt, Jr. attended the high performance driving school run by Andy Hillenburg and began his racing career at the late age of 17 with his dad Dale Earnhardt, competing in the Street Stock division at Concord, North Carolina‘s Motorsport Park. His first race car was a 1979 Monte Carlo that he co-owned with his older half-brother, Kerry Earnhardt. Within two seasons, Earnhardt, Jr. had honed his driving abilities to the point of joining the Late Model Stock Car division. He competed on the North and South Carolina short tracks driving a No. 3 Chevrolet. While he did run various tracks during this time, Earnhardt, Jr. primarily focused his efforts at the Myrtle Beach Speedway in South Carolina and the East Carolina Motor Speedway in Robersonville, North Carolina, where he captured the pole for the Greenville Merchants 300 on October 28, 1994. There he developed an in-depth knowledge of chassis setup and car preparation, while racing against his older brother Kerry and his sister Kelley. He worked at his father’s dealership as a mechanic while he went to Mitchell Community College to earn an associate’s degree in automotive technology.
Earnhardt, Jr. ran nine Busch Series races between 1996 and 1997 for Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Ed Whitaker, respectively, before driving for his father’s team in the Busch Series full-time in 1998, in which he started the season with an amazing blowover after contact with Dick Trickle andBuckshot Jones at Daytona, on the same weekend that his father won his first and only Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt, Jr. won consecutive NASCAR Busch Series Championships in 1998 and 1999 barely edging Matt Kenseth. In 1998 he made his first start in the Winston Cup Series, at the exhibition race held in Motegi, Japan. Also in 1999 he drove in 5 Winston Cup races in the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt Inc., then in 2000 he went full-time in the Winston Cup series.
Earnhardt, Jr. (far right) racing at the 2000 Coca-Cola 600.
Earnhardt, Jr. competed for the Raybestos NASCAR Rookie of the Year Award in 2000. His primary competitor for the award was Matt Kenseth. Kenseth outran Earnhardt, Jr. in the season-opening Daytona 500. Earnhardt, Jr. scored his first win in the DirecTV 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, breaking the record held by his father, Earnhardt, Sr., for fewest starts by a driver to earn his first victory in NASCAR’s “Modern Era” by winning in just his 12th start, and also at Richmond International Raceway. He became the first rookie to win the All-Star exhibition race.
Earnhardt Jr. played a part in recreating one Winston Cup milestone in 2000 when he competed with his father and half-brother Kerry in the Pepsi 400at Michigan International Speedway. That occasion was only the second time that a father had raced against two sons – Lee Petty and sons Richardand Maurice had previously accomplished the feat.
In 2001, the major event of the season occurred on February 18, in the final corner of the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. As Earnhardt Jr. pushed his teammate Michael Waltrip to the finish line on the final lap, he finished second, to Waltrip; his father had crashed in turn four after Sterling Marlin made contact with his left rear bumper. Earnhardt, Sr. shot up the track into the outside wall behind Waltrip and Earnhardt, Jr. and collected Ken Schrader. Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed instantly in the crash by a basilar skull fracture.
In the aftermath, many disgruntled fans sent death threats to Sterling Marlin and his family, blaming him for the crash; Earnhardt, Jr. and Waltrip requested that fans stopped blaming anybody for Dale, Sr.’s death and both the local police and NASCAR investigations into the crash cleared Marlin of any involvement. Earnhardt, Jr. raced at Rockingham the following weekend, but finished in 43rd-place after a wreck on the first lap that looked eerily similar to his father’s wreck just one week earlier. In the later part of the season, Earnhardt, Jr. made a comeback, beginning with an emotional win at the Pepsi 400, which was also the first race held at Daytona since Earnhardt, Sr.’s death. Earnhardt, Jr. had the dominant car of the race, leading 115 of 160 laps. On the last restart, Earnhardt, Jr. managed to make a move from sixth place to first place in the span of two laps, with Michael Waltrip holding off the field as Earnhardt, Jr. took the checkered flag. He won the MBNA Cal Ripken, Jr. 400 at Dover, which was the first Cup race following the September 11th attacks as the original scheduled race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was postponed until the end of the season. After the race, he performed a Polish victory lap while holding a large American flag out the driver’s side window.
In the fall, Earnhardt, Jr. took his second restrictor plate win as he won the EA Sports 500 at Talladega as a crash unfolded on the back straightaway that caused Bobby Labonte to flip over and also collected 15 other cars. The Talladega victory earned Earnhardt, Jr. a Winston No Bull 5 $1 million bonus. He was docked 25 points, however, after his car failed post-race inspection. With this win, DEI swept three of the four restrictor plate races for 2001.
Earnhardt, Jr. finished the 2001 season eighth in the points standings, with three wins, nine top-fives, and 15 top-10 finishes, as well as two Bud Poles.
In 2002, Earnhardt, Jr. had a roller-coaster season. He struggled after enduring a concussion at the Fontana race in April — an injury he did not admit to until mid-September. In the three races following Fontana, he finished no better than 30th. However, Earnhardt, Jr. rallied to sweep both Talladegaraces (leading a dominating 133 of 188 laps in the spring race), a pair of Bud Pole Awards and an 11th-place finish in the standings with 11 top-five and 16 top-ten finishes.
In 2003, he became a true title contender, scoring a record-breaking fourth consecutive win at Talladega, after being involved in a 27 car crash on lap 4. He struggled for most of the race, and was at points a half-lap down, only catching back up to the pack through a caution. The win was controversial since with five laps to go, it appeared that Earnhardt, Jr. went below the yellow line to gain position, but NASCAR ruled that Matt Kenseth had forced Earnhardt below the line, making it a clean pass.
He later scored a victory at Phoenix in October, recording a career best 3rd place effort in the standings, with 13 top-five and 21 top-ten finishes. He also took home the NMPA Most Popular Driver award for the first time in his career.
In 2004, Earnhardt, Jr. won the Daytona 500, six years to the day after his father won his only title in the Great American Race (and 3 years after his father was killed in the 2001 race). Earnhardt, Jr. came very close to sweeping Speedweeks, as in addition to the Daytona 500, he also won his Gatorade Duel and the Busch Series race. However, he finished second in the Budweiser Shootout to Dale Jarrett.
On July 18, during an off-weekend from NASCAR, Earnhardt, Jr. crashed a Chevrolet Corvette C5-R during a practice for the American Le Mans Series Grand Prix of Sonoma at Infineon Raceway. The car slid off course and hit a concrete barrier during warm-up the day of the race, rupturing a fuel line and causing the car to burst into flames with him still inside. He suffered second and third degree burns on his neck, chin, and legs partially due to not wearing a protective balaclava with his helmet. The burns prevented him from finishing two races where he was relieved by Martin Truex Jr. (at New Hampshire) and his DEI teammateJohn Andretti (at Pocono) in the middle of the races. In the fall, Earnhardt, Jr. became the first driver to sweep a weekend at Bristol by winning both the Busch and Cup races in the same weekend.
Earnhardt Jr. was able to qualify for the NASCAR ten-race playoff, and had his fifth NEXTEL Cup win of the season (a career high) at Talladega. However, he was penalized 25 points for use of an obscenity during the television broadcast, in violation of a new NASCAR rule prohibiting participants from using obscene language (the rule had been created the week after the Daytona 500, in the wake of the Super Bowl half-time show controversy). That incident, combined with two consecutive DNF’s in the Chase, eventually dropped him out of the running, and he finished fifth in the 2004 NEXTEL Cup Chase despite a career-high 6 wins at Daytona, Atlanta, Richmond, Bristol, Talladega and defending his fall win at Phoenix (though under the non-Chase points system, Earnhardt, Jr. would have tied his third place points finish of the previous year). He closed off the 2004 season with six wins and 16 top-five and 21 top-ten finishes. He also picked up his 2nd consecutive Most Popular Driver Award.
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 forMichael Waltrip for the 2005 season. Peter Rondeau, a Chance 2 employee who also helped Dale Jr. win the Busch Series race at Bristol in August, became the crew chief for Earnhardt, Jr. 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, who helped Earnhardt Jr. score his lone win of 2005 at Chicagoland in July, when he took the lead from Matt Kenseth on the last cycle of pit stops. Dale Jr. was eliminated from any possible competition for the NEXTEL Cup championship after suffering an engine failure at the California Speedway. Dale Jr. was reunited with his cousin, Tony Eury, Jr., after the fall Richmond weekend, and results improved immediately. Earnhardt finished the season fifth in points, 139 points behind champion Kurt Busch. For the 3rd straight year, he took home the NMPA Most Popular Driver Award.
Earnhardt Jr.’s proficiency as a car owner continued. His race team outside of DEI, JR Motorsports, in 2005 fielded a car in the USAR Hooters ProCup Series, winning once and qualifying for the Four Champions playoff. Mark McFarland moved to the Busch Series in 2006, driving the No. 88 JR Motorsports US Navy Chevrolet, with Richard Childress Racing providing assistance; however, he was fired before the fall Michigan race, the Carfax 250. He was replaced by Robby Gordon and Martin Truex, Jr. for the rest of the year. Long-time short track racer Shane Huffman drove Earnhardt Jr.’s USAR Hooters ProCup car in 2006. In 2006, during the spring weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, Earnhardt Jr. and other DEI drivers drove with special black paint schemes on their cars, reminiscent of his late father’s famous No. 3 paint scheme. On Father’s Day 2006, he drove a vintage Budweiser car at Michigan International Speedway to honor both his grandfather (Ralph Earnhardt) and father, who at one point in both their careers used the number 8 car. After rain caused the race to be ended early, Dale Jr. finished 3rd with Kasey Kahne winning the race. After 17 races in the 2006 season, Dale Jr. sat 3rd in the championship standings with one win, coming at Richmond in May 2006.
During the race at New Hampshire, he experienced the second engine failure of his 2006 season, ultimately leading to a 43rd place finish. Following New Hampshire was the race at Pocono, where he was running in the middle of the pack when he crashed in turn 2. These two events catapulted him to 11th in the points standing, out of the Chase for the Cup. At Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Dale Jr. and his crew made a critical decision to stay out on the final pit stop to get a much needed top-ten finish to move him up to tenth in the points. He made the 2006 Chase for the NEXTEL Cup after finishing 17th in the Chevy Rock and Roll 400 atRichmond International Raceway on September 9, 2006. He came close to winning at Talladega, and was leading on the last lap when Brian Vickers made contact with Earnhardt’s future teammate Jimmie Johnson, sending Johnson into Earnhardt and spinning both of them out. His points position going into the Chase was 6th. He finished the season 5th in the point standings, 147 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.
Dale Jr.’s No. 8 Sharpie Busch car at the Sharpie display at the 2007 Ford Championship Weekend at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Dale Jr. began the 2007 NEXTEL Cup season by finishing 32nd at the Daytona 500 as the result of a late race crash. His first top ten came at Bristol Motor Speedway in the Food City 500 when he finished 7th. His first Top 5 came at Martinsville Speedway in the Goody’s Cool Orange 500. He led 136 laps and finished 5th. He collected his third top 10 of the season and his 8th at Talladega Superspeedway with his 7th place performance in the 2007Aaron’s 499. On May 14, he was docked 100 driver championship points, car owner Teresa Earnhardt was docked 100 owner points, and his crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., was fined $100,000 and suspended for 6 races due to the use of illegal mounting brackets used to attach the wing to his car. During the April race at Texas Motor Speedway he drove the last 10 laps in the No. 5 car of Kyle Busch owned by Rick Hendrick.
On May 27, 2007, Dale Jr. rode a camouflage No. 8 car in the Coca-Cola 600 on Memorial Day to raise money for the families of military troops. Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Mark Martin, Ward Burton, Denny Hamlin, Casey Mears, Shane Huffman and Jon Wood also changed their paint schemes for the occasion. He finished eighth, after leading with seven laps to go, but Casey Mears finished with the win.
On August 5, 2007, Dale Jr. earned his first pole position in a race since 2002 at Pocono Raceway. Although Kurt Busch won the race, Earnhardt had a dramatic comeback to finish second after spinning out and experiencing shock troubles. Earnhardt led for eight laps before Busch took over. On August 12 at Watkins Glen International, Dale Jr. was making the push into the Top 12 of the Nextel Cup standings from his No. 13 position. After being at the No. 2 position during the race, Dale Jr. had engine problems on lap 64 and had to end his race day. After the Glen, he tried furiously to reach the 12th spot in standings. However, a resurgence by Kurt Busch and a blown engine during the final race at Richmond ended his Chase hopes. That was Dale’s last chance to participate for the Championship at Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI). After the 2007 season, Dale Jr. won the NMPA Chex Most Popular Driver award for the 5th consecutive time.
Move to Hendrick Motorsports
After much speculation, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. announced on May 10, 2007, that he would leave Dale Earnhardt Inc., the company founded by his father, to drive for another team in 2008. Earnhardt expressed that his decision was based entirely on his desires to achieve his career goal of a Sprint Cup Championship, and his apparent belief that he would not be able to attain that objective while driving for DEI. He said that unless he could gain majority ownership, and therefore control, of DEI, that he was not confident in the organization’s ability to field the elite level equipment that would yield the elusive title.
On June 13, 2007, he announced at a press conference that he had signed a five-year contract with Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Kyle Busch. At the time, Hendrick consisted of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Casey Mears. One month later, on July 13, it was announced that his long-time primary sponsorBudweiser would not be with Earnhardt Jr. when he made the move to Hendrick. Other contractual agreements in place at Hendrick Motorsports are said to have prevented a relationship with Bud.
On August 15, 2007, it was announced that Dale Jr. would not be taking his familiar No. 8 with him to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. His late grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt, used that number and Dale Jr. picked it when he entered the Cup Series in 1999. His father also used No. 8 early in his career. Dale Jr. blamed his stepmother for not allowing the No. 8 to move with him to Hendrick Motorsports. Earnhardt Jr. said negotiations broke down when Teresa Earnhardt asked for part of the licensing revenue, along with wanting the number back after he retired. (The No. 8 team, after a successful season in 2008 with co-drivers Mark Martin and Aric Almirola, would end up being shut down in 2009 after DEI’s merger with Ganassi Racing.)
Earnhardt Jr. moved to the No. 88 car with Tony Eury, Jr. coming to Hendrick to remain as his crew chief. On September 19, the official announcement was made that Earnhardt Jr. would be driving the No. 88 Mountain Dew AMP/National Guard Chevrolet Impala for the 2008 season.
The No. 88, according to NASCAR archives, was driven by Ralph Earnhardt, his paternal grandfather, in 1957. His maternal grandfather, Robert Gee, was one of the first employees of All Star Racing, initially a Late Model Sportsman (now Nationwide Series) team with Gee as Hendrick’s partner, which is now Hendrick Motorsports. Hendrick said about Earnhardt and his uncles, “I can look at Robert Gee Jr., or Jimmy Gee, or Dale Jr., and all I see is Robert Gee. They’re the spitting image of him. I go back and look and pictures from when we did things together, and I have to say, I owe Robert a lot.” Starting in the 2008 season, Hendrick Motorsports merged its Nationwide Series team to Earnhardt, Jr.’s JR Motorsports, with the cars coming from Earnhardt’s shop, which employs his mother and uncles. Earnhardt, Jr. was the second Dale to drive a car with the number No. 88, as the number had previously been used by Dale Jarrett at Yates Racing.
Earnhardt started the season by winning the 2008 Budweiser Shootout a non-points paying exhibition. It was his first race for Hendrick. He led for a total of 47 of 70 laps, a Budweiser Shootout record. He followed that up five days later with a win in the Gatorade Duel. This was his third career win in the duels, however he was unable to follow it up with victory in the Daytona 500, finishing 9th. Ryan Newman was the winner of the event.
Earnhardt Jr. was docked 50 points because his rear spoiler did not meet the specified height in the Nationwide Series. His crew chief Chad Walterwas fined $35,000, suspended for 6 races and was placed on probation until December 31, 2008. Team owner Rick Hendrick was also docked 50 owner points along with Jr.
At Michigan, Dale Jr. broke his 76-race winless streak, managing to stretch his fuel mileage enough to allow him to win under a caution on the last lap of a green-white-checkered (overtime) finish. He did not find much success after the Michigan win. He then went back to Talladega Superspeedway for the AMP Energy 500 where he was en route to a possible win before being caught up in “The Big One” late in the race. He headed to Martinsville Speedway where he finished second to teammate Jimmie Johnson. He ended the season in the garage area at Homestead Miami Speedway in The Ford 400 after losing his brakes with just a few laps to go in the race. Earnhardt finished the season 12th in points, 557 points behind champion Jimmie Johnson.
In the season-opening Daytona 500, Earnhardt, Jr. began well, even leading for a lap. However multiple misfortunes, including a missed pit stop and a 1-lap penalty for pitting outside of his pit box, sent him far into the back of the running order. Earnhardt, Jr. was then directly involved in a controversial crash on lap 124, when, while fighting to return to the lead lap, he came in contact with Brian Vickers while fighting to be the first driver one lap down (who gets a free pass should the caution flag come out), causing a ten car pileup which included Denny Hamlin, Scott Speed, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Robby Gordon, Jamie McMurray, and Carl Edwards. Vickers and Kyle Busch later criticized Earnhardt who denied purposely clipping Vickers. Earnhardt, Jr. criticized Vickers for blocking him on the inside. When the race concluded early due to the rain, Earnhardt ended with a 27th place finish. After a blown engine at California and falling to 35th in the owners points, he finished 10th at Las Vegas and reached 29th place in points. He finished 8th at Martinsville. He had a string of poor finishes including 20th at Texas, and 31st at Phoenix after being spun out by Casey Mears. He gained confidence in his team with a very strong performance at Talladega, leading for 20 laps, and finishing second to his protege Brad Keselowski after Keselowski sent Carl Edwards flying into the catch fence in one of the year’s biggest upsets. However, two weeks later at Richmond, Dale Jr. finished 27th. He was again spun out late in the race at Darlington and ended the race in 27th place. He then finished 10th in the All-Star race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Dale Jr.’s poor performance continued as he finished in 40th at the Coke 600 due to an ill-handling race car.
On Thursday, May 28, 2009, Tony Eury, Jr. was let go as crew chief of the No. 88 team. Lance McGrew was named interim crew chief, and was scheduled to take over starting with the June 7, 2009 Pocono Race with team manager Brian Whitesell calling the shots at Dover the previous week. McGrew was scheduled to work with Brad Keselowski at Dover, but after a failed qualifying attempt by Keselowski, was able to take on his duties for the No. 88 team a week early. Dale Jr. managed to finish 12th at Dover for the Autism Speaks 400 with his new crew chief after contending for the lead. At Pocono Raceway, however, he again ended with a 27th-place finish. After the change in crew chiefs, Earnhardt Jr. was consistently better, finishing fifteenth atChicagoland Speedway; however, during that time he also had one DNF at Daytona International Speedway where he was taken out of the race early in a large pileup.
At the Carfax 400 at Michigan, Earnhardt charged to the front near the end of the race and managed to finish third; he also earned his second top five finish this season in the same race. One week later at Bristol, Earnhardt finished 9th in the Sharpie 500, but his bad luck continued at the Auto Club Speedway, when he was involved in a multi-car incident. After a 39th qualifying run at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, he said “I’m about to the end of my rope”. At the fall Talladega race, Earnhardt Jr. had a solid run, including leading several laps, before finishing in 11th place. Lance McGrew had the “interim” taken off of his title, and he continued working with the No. 88 team through the end of the 2010 season. Earnhardt Jr. ended 2009 winless, and finished a career low 25th in the standings.
On Saturday, February 6, 2010, Earnhardt Jr. qualified second overall for the 52nd 2010 Daytona 500 after losing the pole position to teammate Mark Martin. He started 1st in the Gatorade Duel No. 2 on Thursday, February 11, 2010. He finished 11th in the 2010 Budweiser Shootout after struggling with an ill-handling car for most of the race.
On February 13, 2010, while running in the front of the pack at the Daytona Nationwide Series race, Dale Jr. was caught up in a multi-car wreck, causing his car to flip upside down on the backstretch. He walked away from the wreck uninjured. His driver Danica Patrick was caught up in another wreck before Earnhardt flipped.
On July 2, 2010, Dale raced the No. 3 blue and yellow Wrangler Chevrolet (painted to pay tribute to his father and fans) and drove it to victory lane in the Nationwide Series Subway Jalepeño 250 at Daytona. He finished the 2010 Season on November 21, 2010, ranking 21st. On December 2, 2010 it was announced that Dale Jr. won the NMPA Most Popular Driver award for the 8th consecutive time.
|Wikinews has related news:NASCAR: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. earns 2011 Daytona 500 pole|
He began the season by drawing the pole position at the 2011 Budweiser Shootout, where he finished 19th in the race. On February 13, he earned his first pole position at Daytona International Speedway, as well as his first at a track that uses restrictor plates. Due to a practice crash, he had to start at the back of the field for both the duel race and the 500. He finished 24th in the Daytona 500 after being wrecked with 4 laps to go. Over the next seven races Earnhardt, Jr. would achieve 5 top ten finishes including a 2nd place finish at Martinsville after losing the lead to Kevin Harvick with 4 laps to go, and a 4th place finish at Talladega in a photo finish with Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick. Earnhardt, Jr. came within half a lap of snapping his then-104 race winless streak at the Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when he ran out of fuel during a green-white-checkered finish, finishing 7th. The following week at Kansas, Earnhardt finished 2nd to Brad Keselowski. He followed this up with a solid 6th place finish at Pocono. Over the course of the next three races, Jr would slide to 7th in the Championship points, finishing 21st at Michigan, 41st at Infineon, and 19th at Daytona. On September 1, 2011 Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he had signed a five-year contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports to drive the 88 until 2017. On September 19, 2011, Junior Made his first Chase for the Sprint Cup appearance since 2008 at Chicagoland. At the season finale at Homestead, he finished 11th and finished 7th in the final points standings. On December 1, 2011, it was announced that Dale Jr. won the Most Popular Driver award for the 9th consecutive time.
Earnhardt, Jr. started 8th in the Budweiser Shootout, led for several laps, and finished 20th after being caught up in a six car crash on lap 55 that also involved Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick. In the Gatorade Duel, Earnhardt, Jr. performed strong, starting on the outside pole in the first duel race. He led a few laps in the early part of the race before finishing second to Tony Stewart after his Nationwide Series teammate Danica Patricksmashed hard into the inside wall in a last lap crash on the back straightaway. In the postponed Daytona 500, he finished in second place behind Matt Kenseth, after passing Greg Biffle on the last lap. At Phoenix, Earnhardt’s car struggled most of the race and came out with a 14th place finish.
At Las Vegas, Earnhardt led 70 laps early but finished 10th based on bad pit strategy. At Bristol, Earnhardt finished 15th following a late race contact with teammate Jeff Gordon, and a speeding penalty. Earnhardt would back this up with a pair of back to back 3rd place finishes at Auto Club and Martinsville Speedway, leaving him second in the standings.
In the following weeks, Earnhardt would bring a string of top 10’s: 10th at Texas, 7th at Kansas, 2nd at Richmond, and 9th at Talladega, where he led ten laps. The following week, Earnhardt, Jr. struggled for most of the race at Darlington, and had to settle with a 17th place finish. At the All-Star Race, Earnhardt won the Sprint Showdown, leading all 40 laps to race his way into the big event. In the event, Earnhardt won the 4th segment and in the final 10 lap shootout, had to settle for a 5th place finish. The following two weeks, Earnhardt, Jr. would post of finishes of 6th at Charlotte and 4th at Dover heading into the summer months. At the newly repaved Pocono Raceway, Earnhardt led 36 laps during the race, but made a late race fuel pit stop from 3rd place with just over 20 laps to go, finishing eighth and standing 2nd in points. At the 2012 Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan, Earnhardt dominated the race, leading 95 laps, and won, snapping a 143-race winless streak, almost four years to the day after his last win on June 15, 2008. Earnhardt, Jr. would suffer a 23rd place finish at Sonoma after being wrecked in a green-white-checkered finish, but was still able to cross the finish line intact and on the lead lap, continuing his streak of being the only driver to finish all races on the lead lap. He would back this up with a fourth place finish in the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
The following week at Daytona, a last lap crash resulted in a 15th place finish for Earnhardt, Jr. but still kept his streak of being the only driver to finish every single lap in every race. Earnhardt backed up with a couple of top 5 finishes, finishing 4th at both Loudon and Indianapolis, where he gained the points lead for the first time since 2004, after points leader Matt Kenseth was taken out in a late race crash. Back at Pocono, Earnhardt Jr. was running in the 2nd position, but a break in the transmission sent the 88 to the garage, but he came back out 18 laps down and finished 32nd, due to rain that came and ended the race and a late race wreck involving Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Denny Hamlin. His streak of completing on the lead lap came to an end, but he still maintained the points lead with 5 races until the chase cutoff. At Watkins Glen, Earnhardt had a steady top 10 going in the final laps but a late race spin resulted in a 28th place finish, this would drop the 88 team from 1st to 4th in the points.
Returning to Michigan for the Pure Michigan 400, Earnhardt, Jr. had to start in 42nd place after a crash in practice forced him to move to a backup car. He led for a number of laps mid-race and finished on the lead lap in fourth place. Earnhardt, Jr., Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne also escaped engine difficulties that plagued Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. At Bristol Motor Speedway Earnhardt started 16th after a qualifying rainout; he led 13 laps in the race before pit road penalties resulted in a 12th place finish. The finish locked him into the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup, alongside Greg Biffle, and teammate Jimmie Johnson. At Atlanta Motor Speedway, Earnhardt went a lap down early but recovered to earn a 7th place finish. The following week at Richmond International Raceway, Earnhardt earned his 1st pole of the season. He would go on to lead 69 laps, but a late race pit stop resulted in the 88 team getting a 14th place finish, and being seeded 7th in the standings. In the first race of the chase at Chicagoland Speedway, Earnhardt finished eighth despite having to start at the rear of the field due to an engine change. Finishes of 13th and 11th at Loudon and Dover, left the 88 team 7th in the standings.
Sidelined by a concussion
On the morning of October 11, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Earnhardt would have to sit out the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte and the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas due to a concussion from a 23-car crash on the last lap at Talladega on October 7. That weekend Earnhardt finished 20th at Talladega when he took a hard lick in a crash after making contact with Bobby Labonte. Prior to this, Earnhardt had suffered a concussion during an August 29 test at Kansas Speedway. Regan Smith was announced to replace him at those two races. Prior to the concussion, Earnhardt, Jr. had competed in 461 consecutive races, dating back to the 1999 Atlanta event. The 2012 Bank of America 500 marked the first race since the 1979 Southern 500 that an Earnhardt had not competed in the Sprint Cup Series as Dale Earnhardt had competed in every race from that one up until his death in the 2001 Daytona 500. On October 23, Earnhardt was cleared for the Tums Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville after missing two races. He started strong in the race, but a late race spin with Carl Edwards placed for a 21st place finish. His first top ten finish after returning to the track was a seventh place finish at Texas. At Phoenix, Dale fought an ill-handling car, and finished 21st. At the season finale, at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Dale would finish 10th. This is his first top 10 finish at the 1.5-mile track, and his 20th this season. Dale closed the season 12th in the final standings. On November 29, 2012, it was announced that Dale Jr. won the NMPA Most Popular Driver Award for the 10th consecutive year. This ties Bill Elliott’s streak of 10 consecutive wins in the award.
Earnhardt, Jr. started the 2013 season with an eighth place finish in the rechristened Sprint Unlimited. He qualified 11th for the Budweiser Duel, but he blew an engine in practice, he was forced to drop to the rear of he field. After narrowly missing a three car wreck between Carl Edwards, Trevor Bayneand Regan Smith, he finished ninth. He finished fourth at the DRIVE4COPD 300 after submarining under Alex Bowman‘s car in a violent last lap wreck.
In the Sprint Cup Series, Earnhardt Jr. hit a slight resurgence, and in the first five races of the season recorded three top-five and five top-ten finishes. It began with a second place finish to teammate Jimmie Johnson at the Daytona 500, Junior’s third runner up finish in the 500 since 2010. The following week at Phoenix, he led for 47 laps, but was shuffled back in traffic during a cycle caution flag pit stops, which allowed Carl Edwards to assume the lead while Junior finished in fifth place. This was followed by two more top tens: 7th at Las Vegas and 6th at Bristol. At Fontana, Earnhardt, Jr. started mid-pack, and after a couple of mistakes including a lengthy pit stop caused by missed lug nuts on a right rear tire, came home in second place, assuming the points lead as a result of Brad Keselowski going off pace and falling back. Two weeks later in Martinsville, Earnhardt struggled throughout the race, and spun out after Danica Patrick was hit by Brian Vickers and sent into Earnhardt, Jr. and ended up finishing 24th, 2 laps down, losing the points lead to Jimmie Johnson.
At Texas, Earnhardt Jr. ran near the front until lap 187 when his battery alternator quit and he ended up finishing 29th. At Kansas Earnhardt Jr. ran near the front until a debris caution happened while he, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Carl Edwards were on pit road. Junior would go a lap down, take the wave-around, and finish 16th. At Richmond, Earnhardt, Jr. finished 10th. At Talladega, Earnhardt, Jr. went a lap down early after some banging with Joe Nemechek. However, with a caution for a crash on lap 43, he got the free pass to get back on the lead lap. He made his way back up through the field to the top five, but slipped back to 17th at the end.
The following week at Darlington, Earnhardt, Jr. raced inside the top 10 much of the night, before settling for a 9th place finish. He was one of only a few cars who were able to avoid being put a lap down by Kyle Busch.
The following week in the Sprint All-Star Race, Earnhardt battled a tight handling car much of the night, before finishing 7th. The following week for the Coca-Cola 600, Earnhardt, Jr. lost an engine and finished 39th, his first DNF since 2011. The next two weeks saw a rebound, with finishes of 10th and 3rd at Dover and Pocono. At the Quicken Loans 400, Earnhardt, Jr. led 23 laps, but suffered an engine failure, and finished 37th in what was the lowest point of the season for the Hendrick Motorsports teams as a whole (Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon had DNFs due to crashes, and Jimmie Johnson cut a tire with five laps to go). After the low of Michigan, Earnhardt, Jr. had a 12th place showing at Sonoma.
At Kentucky, Earnhardt, Jr. won the pole and set a new track qualifying speed record with lap time of 29.406 seconds and a speed of 183.636 miles per hour (295.533 km/h). Though he started on the pole, he lost the lead to Carl Edwards early. However, while Earnhardt, Jr. was leading after the restart from a competition caution (due to a rain delay), Denny Hamlin cut a tire and the carcass came up the track and was struck by Earnhardt, Jr.’s splitter and also by Jimmie Johnson‘s car, causing significant damage. Earnhardt, Jr. had to make several charges through the field to salvage a 12th place finish. He then took an eighth place finish at the Coke Zero 400. Earnhardt, Jr., Johnson, and Ryan Newman were the only three drivers to sweep the top 10 in both Daytona races.
Earnhardt Jr. then battled a struggling car at New Hampshire, where he finished 14th. After the final off week, he found some consistency with finishes of 6th and 5th at Indianapolis and Pocono, while battling loose wheels and vibrations in a span of two weeks.
The #88 team then had two bad weeks, with a 30th place finish at Watkins Glen due to a late race crash with Kasey Kahne. The next week, Earnhardt, Jr. blew a right front tire while running in the top 10. The damage was enough that he finished 26 laps down, in 36th place. This evaporated Junior’s Chase cushion, but with finishes of 10th and 8th at Bristol and Atlanta, he was able to rebuild this cushion. At Richmond, the last race of the regular season, Earnhardt, Jr. only needed to finish 32nd or better to make the Chase. A 13th place finish did this, and he entered the Chase seeded in ninth place. This was the first time in Earnhardt, Jr’s career that he had made three straight Chase appearances. In the first Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. suffered an engine failure, placing him last in Chase competition. He bounced back well at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, leading 17 laps and finishing sixth. The result was good enough to move Earnhardt Jr. up to 11th in Chase for the Sprint Cup standings with eight races left in the season.
At Dover, Earnhardt, Jr. won his second pole of the season, setting a new qualifying speed record of 161.849 mph. This was the first time since 2002 that he’d recorded more than one pole during a season. During the race, Earnhardt would lead 80 laps, but would finish 2nd to Jimmie Johnson. The following week at Kansas, he finished 8th. Leaving the 88 team 8th in points. Making his 500th Cup start at Charlotte, Dale led 19 laps early, but finished 15th while battling a tight race car. The following week at Talladega, Earnhardt showed his skills by leading 38 laps. While running 2nd to Jamie McMurray on the last lap, Earnhardt positioned himself with a run on the backstretch, but lost his chance as a caution came out with a wreck between Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr, leaving with a 2nd place finish. The following week at Martinville, Earnhardt earned an 8th place finish, in 17 caution filled race. The next week at Texas, Earnhardt had a solid night, finishing 2nd to teammate Jimmie Johnson. The next week at Phoenix, Earnhardt had a solid day, while battling a loose wheel, but managed yet another top 5, with a 4th place finish. Earnhardt remains 5th in the championship heading to the season finale at Homestead-Miami.
Earnhardt, Jr. owns Hammerhead Entertainment, a media production company that created and produces the TV show Back In the Day, which aired on SPEED. Hammerhead also produced “Shifting Gears”, a show on ESPN2 that chronicled his 2008 team switch.
He is partners with a group of investors who are building Alabama Motorsports Park, a Dale Earnhardt Jr. Speedway. The track is located near Mobile, Alabama and will feature stock car racing, kart racing and a road course. This will join with his partial ownership of Paducah International Raceway. Earnhardt has also opened a bar named Whisky River in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina in April 2008; he later opened a second Whisky River in Jacksonville, Florida.
As of 2013, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has his own signature line of eyeglass frames, partnering with NY Eye Inc.
In August 2012, Earnhardt, Jr. entered the automobile dealer business, opening Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Buick-GMC-Cadillac in Tallahassee, Florida in association with car owner Rick Hendrick.
In popular media
He was featured in the video Playboy: Celebrity Photographers (2003) where he photographed The Dahm Triplets. He appeared in the 2006 filmTalladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. In the movie, he is seen asking Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) for his autograph, and tells Ricky “don’t tell any of the other drivers.” There is also a deleted scene on the DVD where he calls Ricky a “dirty liar” and asks him for money he owed him. The No. 8 car also appeared in Herbie: Fully Loaded in the final race where Herbie overtook him. His No. 88 car also appeared in the 2011 film Transformers: Dark of the Moon as Roadbuster of the Wreckers, a trio of NASCAR stock cars equipped with armor on the front that can transform into heavy artillery tanks (the other Wreckers were based on the No. 42 and No. 48 cars driven respectively by Juan Pablo Montoya and Jimmie Johnson). The Wrecker versions of these cars circled the track during the opening pace laps of the 2011 Daytona 500 (Josh Duhamel, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley andMichael Bay were also the grand marshals for that race, in which Earnhardt crashed on lap 203 after making contact with Ryan Newman).
He hosted Back in the Day a show that took a step back in time to races in the ’60s and ’70s with trivia and information. The show debuted on theSpeed Channel on February 6, 2007. He has also appeared in an episode of the TV show Yes, Dear. He has also been on two episodes of MTV Cribs. The first episode originally aired in 2001. The second episode featuring the Western town Dale Jr. built originally aired in 2009. His production company Hammerhead Entertainment also assisted in creating a DirecTV special called “Fast Lane For Fun”, in which Earnhardt Jr.’s Whisky River was shown in one episode. He appeared in an episode of Shaq Vs., where he was racing againstShaquille O’Neal.