Dale Earnhardt Jr. BiographyHis father, the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr., was a seven-time Winston Cup (presently the Nextel Cup) champion. His grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt, has been selected as one of NASCAR's 50 best all-time drivers. His maternal grandfather, Robert Gee, was a well known NASCAR fabricator and mechanic. It's no exaggeration to say Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was born with racing in his blood.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was born into the racing life on October 10, 1974 in Kannapolis, North Carolina. His first race car was a 1978 Monte Carlo that he and his brother Kerry bought for $200. At age 17, he competed in the Street Stock division at Concord Motorsport Park in North Carolina. Within two years, he joined the Late Model Stock Car division and raced with his brother Kerry and sister Kelley. Between 1994 and 1996, Junior earned three victories. He continued down the road to success by dominating the Busch Series. From 1998 to 1999, he won 13 races and captured two series championships. Following in the tread marks of Grandfather Ralph and father Dale Sr., he secured a place in racing history by becoming the first third-generation NASCAR champion.
When the time came in 2000 to compete in NASCAR's elite series, Junior made an immediate impact by winning in Texas in his 12th career start and at Richmond in his 16th. He also won NASCAR's all-star race at Lowe's Motor Speedway, another milestone first for a rookie driver.
"This one probably means more to me than the others because of the kind of year we had. It's one thing to have fan support when you're riding high and winning races. It's another thing to have it during the rough times." Dale Jr. upon winning his third straight Chex NMPA NASCAR Most Popular Driver award
2001 saw Dale Jr. win three races and finish in the top 5 nine times, the top 10 fifteen times. Of course that year will forever be marked by the tragic death of Dale Sr. at Daytona. In 2002, Junior suffered a concussion at Fontana in April. It affected him for most of the season. Still, he was able to win twice at Talladega, pick up two Bud Pole awards, and ended the season in 11th place.
In 2003, Dale Jr. won the Budweiser Shootout. 2003 was also the first year he won Grands! Biscuits NMPA NASCAR Most Popular Driver Award.
"It's tough to lose it but to finally get it out of the way and be able to take it lap for lap is good. I don't have to get an ulcer over the first 499 miles and wait on that last lap. Now we can just race." ~ Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the effects of winning the Daytona 500
2004 proved to be another tumultuous year. Despite an off-weekend incident that saw a Corvette he was test-driving burst into flames, leaving him with second and third degree burns of the neck, chin and legs, Dale Earnhardt Jr. amassed six victories, 13 top-three finishes, 16 top-fives, and 21 top-tens. Among his wins was his first Daytona 500 victory. It came 6 years to the day after his father captured his first Daytona 500. Dale Jr. also had two weekend-sweeps in 2004, winning both the Busch Series and Cup Series races at Daytona (Feb.) and Bristol (Aug.).
2004 was also the year of the much publicized slip of the tongue that cost him a $10,000 fine and 25 Nextel Cup points. When asked by an NBC reporter about the significance of his fifth win at Talladega, Junior replied, "It doesn't mean sh_t right now. Daddy's won here 10 times." Of course, Junior's fans thought the penalty was a lot of shit. Nevertheless, he went on to finish in the Nextel Cup top ten for the third time in four years.
"Eventually we'll do what it takes to do to get it right and win. If it starts out stumbling we'll just have to work hard to get it right. I'm prepared for that." ~ Dale Earnhardt Jr. regarding changes to the Bud Light team.
Dale Jr. struggled in 2005 winning only one race amidst a lot of buzz regarding personnel changes within his team. Regardless, he won his third straight Most Popular Driver award. Now sponsored by General Mills/Chex, the award had previously been sponsored by Grands! Biscuits. Junior finished with 1,403,544 votes. Jeff Gordon came in second with 594,434 votes.
Despite an ill-handling car and an inconsistent engine, Dale Jr. started the 2006 campaign with an 8th place finish at the Daytona 500. “It’s been a long week,” said Earnhardt, who led seven different times for a race-high 32 laps. “We’re just happy to come out of here. A lot of guys weren’t so fortunate. We’re happy with a top 10.”
Junior finished the season with one victory, 10 top-fives, and 17 top-tens, thereby qualifying for the Chase.
In May of 2007, Dale Jr. announced he will be leaving D.E.I., the Nextel Cup team his legendary father started. This will make Junior, NASCAR's most popular driver, the most coveted free agent in stock-car history. The move is the latest chapter in the long-running feud between Dale, Jr. and his stepmother Teresa Earnhardt. After the announcement, Teresa released this statement: "While we are very disappointed that Dale Jr. has chosen to leave the family business, we remain excited about our company's future. Our aggressive expansion and diversification plans have not changed. This company has continued to thrive since Dale left us in 2001, and it will thrive following today's announcement. Dale and I built this company to be a championship-contender, and those principles still apply."
Said Dale: "It is time for us to move on and seek other opportunities to drive for a new team. It is time for me to compete on a consistent basis and contend for championships now. It is important for me that my father's legacy continues. We will continue to work together on many projects that will benefit both DEI and JR Motorsports, and the legacy of my father.?"
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