Dale Jr.'s Top 12 Career Moments
The Return to Daytona
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s winless streak was at 107 and counting after he finished a disappointing 21st at Michigan on June 19. While Junior Nation waits for him to end the skid, here's a rundown of his top 12 career moments. Less than five months after Dale Earnhardt Sr. died in a crash during the Daytona 500, Junior won the Pepsi 400 in NASCAR's return to Daytona International Speedway. Junior led 116 of the 160 laps, taking the lead for good four laps from the end. Afterward, an emotional Junior said of his father, "He was with me tonight."
Winning the Daytona 500
With President George W. Bush in attendance, Junior won NASCAR's biggest race six years to the day after his father picked up his lone Daytona 500 victory. Junior held off a pass attempt by Tony Stewart midway through the final lap, and then pulled away through turns 3 and 4 for a comfortable margin of victory.
Winning his 2nd Daytona 500
NASCAR's most popular driver had to wait out a rain delay of more than six hours, then a chaotic close to end a 55-race drought dating back to 2012. His breakthrough win came at Daytona International Speedway, where he'd finished second in three of the previous four 500s and won "The Great American Race" a decade ago.
Becoming Mr. Popular
Junior Nation officially took over NASCAR at the end of the 2003 season when Junior won the Most Popular Driver Award for the first time. He has held the honor every season since -- eight years and counting -- and will probably maintain a stranglehold on the award until he retires. Despite his struggles in recent years, Junior continues to be by far the driving force in NASCAR.
Winning the All-Star Race
Junior became the first NASCAR Cup rookie to win the annual All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, passing defending series champion Dale Jarrett with two laps to go. His father joined him in Victory Lane for a raucous celebration. In 2009, fans voted Junior's All-Star victory as one of the 12 greatest moments in the 50-year history of Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Putting No. 3 Back in Victory Lane
Junior paid tribute to his father at the 2010 Nationwide Series race at Daytona with a car that was adorned in the blue-and-yellow Wrangler paint scheme that the elder Earnhardt used in the early 1980s, complete with the familiar No. 3 on the side. He honored his father's memory the best way possible, by winning the race. Said Junior afterward, "With that number and that car, nothing but a win would have been good enough."
Taking his Talents to Hendrick Motorsports
In what had to be a difficult decision, Junior parted ways with the race team his father founded, Dale Earnhardt Inc., to join the mighty Hendrick Motorsports operation beginning in 2008. He started off well with Hendrick, winning the preseason Bud Shootout and a Daytona 500 qualifying race, but managed only one victory in a points race that season before going winless in both 2009 and 2010.
The First Victory
Junior won his first NASCAR Cup race in only the seventh start of his rookie season, and he did so in dominating fashion. Junior led 106 of 334 laps at Texas Motor Speedway and beat runner-up Jeff Burton to the finish line by nearly six seconds. He picked up his second career victory a month later at Richmond International Raceway.
A Four-peat at Talladega
Talladega Superspeedway was transformed into Dale-adega during a four-race span from 2001-03. Junior became the first driver to win four consecutive Cup races at Talladega, and only the second driver to win as many as three in a row at the track. He nearly made it five straight in September but finished second to DEI teammate Michael Waltrip.
Junior burst onto the NASCAR scene in the late 1990s by winning consecutive championships in the Busch Series (now known as the Nationwide Series). He won seven times in 1998 and nipped Matt Kenseth by 48 points for the title. He followed that up with six victories in 1999 and a 280-point margin over second-place Jeff Green in the final standings.
A Bristol Sweep
Only two of Junior's first 12 Cup victories occurred on tracks of less than 1 mile in distance, and he was not considered to be a great short-track racer. But in 2004 he became the first driver in NASCAR history to have a weekend sweep of the Busch/Nationwide and Cup races at the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway. Following the Cup victory Junior declared, "This is one of the biggest wins of my career."
Winning After 9/11
Like most of the sports world, NASCAR postponed its events that were scheduled for the weekend after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. When racing resumed the following week at Dover International Speedway, Junior thrilled the crowd with his second victory of the season. He held an American flag out the window of his car while taking a victory lap around the track.