Skip to content

Talladega: Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. finally break 10-year winless streak at the track he used to dominate?

Apr 29, 2014, 9:21 PM EDT

Will crew chief Steve Letarte be able to get Dale Earnhardt Jr. back in victory lane at Talladega this Sunday for the first time in nearly 10 years? (Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Will crew chief Steve Letarte be able to get Dale Earnhardt Jr. back in victory lane at Talladega this Sunday for the first time in nearly 10 years? (Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

As hard as it may seem to believe, it’s been nearly 10 years since Dale Earnhardt Jr., last won a race at Talladega Superspeedway.

That’s 10 years at a track where Junior once dominated so much that many of his fans started calling NASCAR’s largest oval “The House that Junior Built” (even though his father won 10 times there in his own career).

The younger Earnhardt won five of his first 10 starts at the massive and sprawling 2.66-mile layout at Talladega, including four wins in a row (fall 2001 through spring 2003, as well as fall 2004).

Junior was essentially the Jimmie Johnson of his day in the way he dominated at Talladega. It wasn’t just a track, it was HIS track.

It got to the point where the majority of fans that attended every Cup race there were decked out in some kind of red-and-white Junior regalia, be it a ball cap, t-shirt, jacket or similar, all proudly touting the driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet and the team he drove for, Dale Earnhardt Inc.

While toasting him with a Budweiser, of course!

But since his last win there in 2004, it seems like good fortune has turned its back on Junior.

In the 18 races since then, Earnhardt has managed just three top-five finishes (including two runner-ups) and two other top-10 showings.

That’s it.

In the 13 other starts he finished 20th or worst eight times, including recording four of his five career DNFs there.

What’s happened to Junior? Why can’t he go back to the way he used to be at ‘Dega, without question the most dominating driver there from 2001 through 2005 and when the now-defunct DEI was the crème de la crème of restrictor plate racing.

But it wasn’t all about Junior, either, at DEI.

During that same five-year period, Michael Waltrip earned all four of his career Cup wins (in 775 career starts). Three came at Daytona (including two in the Daytona 500 – with his first coming in the tragic 2001 race in which Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed in a last-lap crash while trying to protect Waltrip’s and Junior’s 1-2 finish) and the other win occurred at Talladega.

The common denominator between Waltrip and Junior: 11 of their 12 combined wins came on plate tracks while both drove for DEI – and those 11 wins came in a span of four seasons (2001-04).

Add in the winless-yet-still-productive 2005 season and the former teammates also combined for five runner-up finishes and four third-place showings in those five seasons, for a total of 20 races between them.

All-told, Junior has eight wins on plate tracks, five at Talladega and three at Daytona.

So why has Junior struggled at plate tracks since moving from DEI to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008? How is it that he’s managed just one plate track win (this year’s season-opening Daytona 500) since 2004?

Or, looking at the glass half-full, with his win at Daytona two months ago, is Junior poised to go off on another DEI-like plate track winning run with another triumph this Sunday in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega?

If he were to do so, it would make Junior the second driver (Joey Logano did so with his second win of 2014 this past Saturday at Richmond) to cement his entry into this year’s expanded and revised Chase for the Sprint Cup.

When Junior moved to HMS, predictions and expectations were both high. He had uncanny resources and something that he never had at DEI: an organization with a history of Cup championships.

At the time Junior changed his Cup address, HMS had seven championships to its credit. Today, it has 11.

If Earnhardt were to win Sunday’s race, he may finally be able to finish what he started way back in 2001 when he won his first plate race: win again at ‘Dega and end the season with his first Cup championship, as well.

He’s long overdue for both.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

  1. pitpenguinsrulez - Apr 29, 2014 at 10:07 PM

    Juniors been in contention numerous time since then just that he hasn’t had the luck. Go Junior!!!!

  2. gbart22 - Apr 30, 2014 at 6:30 AM

    I don’t want to be harsh but this was like reading an obsessed Jr fans diary pining for the days when jr could win races on a regular basis. Look I know he’s the most popular driver and common sense says if you write Jr pieces you’ll get more hits and nbc coverage will increase but it just comes off as silly when you have nothing real to report or really talk about in regards to him.

    He’s having a good season perhaps his best in 10 years and certainly his best since joining Hendrick which if everyone was being honest has been a big let down overall. He’s only mustered 3 wins in his time at Hendrick and one of those was a fuel mileage run where he didn’t even have a car that was top 5 that day but a win is a win. Point being that he’s not shown he can win on a consistent basis since leaving DEI but if there was a time he was going to show some of that old form this would be the season. He’s been one of the most consistently fast cars week in week out at every track so time will tell. People have given him a lot of slack because of his last name, which whether his fans want to admit or not is the reason he is so popular, that other drivers wouldn’t have received and it’s time to put up and live up to all the attention he’s received.

  3. gbart22 - Apr 30, 2014 at 6:32 AM

    And on a friendly note he would be the third driver* to cement his way into the chase. Harvick did it the week before Logano.

Leave Comment

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

Video from NASCAR America

Jeff Gordon hanging on edge
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. M. Crafton (1247)
  2. D. Hamlin (1128)
  3. K. Harvick (1094)
  4. J. Logano (1009)
  5. T. Stewart (983)