Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Talladega Superspeedway NASCAR driving career comes to a close in Sunday’s Alabama 500.
The retiring Earnhardt will make career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start No. 35 at the 2.66-mile oval. He’s compiled six wins, five runner-up finishes, 12 top fives and 16 top-10 finishes over that period. He’s No. 3 all-time on the list for laps led with 960 - trailing only his late father, Dale Earnhardt Sr. (1,377), and Buddy Baker (1,136).
Earnhardt would love to add another notch to the win column Sunday in his farewell Talladega appearance. But he's also well aware of the attention that awaits.
"I’d like to fly under the radar," he said. "I don’t want to put too much pressure on us. It messes up the way you think, the way you use strategy in the race, everything. I expect to race up front and our car to be strong, and our guys expect us to be toward the front all day."
There was a point in Earnhardt's career where he seemed to be unbeatable at Talladega. He went to Victory Lane four straight times from 2001-2003. The then-powerhouse Dale Earnhardt, Inc. team was the top restrictor-plate racing organization in the sport and "Junior" was at his zenith behind the wheel.
"They all blur together - those four wins in a row," Earnhardt said in his "Appreci88ion" Talladega social media video. "I remember the fourth win because it was the one that helped us break the record. Talladega was an important track to my dad, winning so many times there. Being able to emulate his success there and win a lot is important to me. To have any type of record at that track means a lot to me."
Earnhardt's father won 10 times at Talladega and bestowed advice to his son on how to succeed at Talladega. Based on "Junior’s" record, the acorn did not fall far from the tree.
"Watching my dad, who was one of the best, I learned a tremendous amount whereas someone else who grew up around the sport may not have focused as much on one particular driver," Earnhardt said. "All those things helped me develop into a better (restrictor) plate racecar driver than the average guy. I guess our personalities matched."
Earnhardt's last win at Talladega came in the 2015 GEICO 500 to move into a tie with Jeff Gordon for second on the track's all-time Cup Series win list. While he hopes to break that tie with victory No. 7 on Sunday, which has been proclaimed “Dale Earnhardt Jr. Day” in the state of Alabama, the Hendrick Motorsports driver still believes he has a few more opportunities before the season ends to find his way to Victory Lane in his final year as a driver.
"We need to be leading the race with 50 to go or at least be on the front row for those last few restarts," Earnhardt said. "And I think we’ll also have a chance to win at Martinsville and Texas, and some of these other tracks we go to."
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
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