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

Latest Posts
  1. Esteban Ocon enjoys ‘exceptional’ F1 test for Lotus

    Oct 24, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

    © Lotus F1 Team © Lotus F1 Team

    Sauber also complete a test in Spain with Adderly Fong and Roy Nissany.

  2. Caterham the latest team to fall foul of the Leafield ‘curse’

    Oct 24, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT

    Spanish Formula One Grand Prix: Qualifying Getty Images

    Just like Arrows and Super Aguri before it, Caterham is on its last legs. However, it is going out in far less dignified fashion.

  3. Administrator takes over running of Caterham F1 Team

    Oct 24, 2014, 7:26 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-F1-BELGIUM-SPA-PRACTICE Getty Images

    Finnbarr O’Connell is now in charge at Leafield as the team prepares for a race against time to make the United States GP in Austin next weekend.

  4. Remembering the Hendrick Motorsports airplane tragedy: 10 years later, it still seems like just yesterday

    Oct 23, 2014, 11:02 PM EDT

    (Image courtesy Hendrick Motorsports) (Image courtesy Hendrick Motorsports)

    This is a column that should never have been written, about an event that never should have happened.

  5. Kentucky native Jack Roush to be inducted into state’s Motorsports Hall of Fame

    Oct 23, 2014, 8:24 PM EDT

    (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Legendary motorsports team owner and innovator — and Kentucky native — Jack Roush will be inducted this Saturday into the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame. Roush was born in Covington, Ky.

  6. NASCAR America: Remembering the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash

    Oct 23, 2014, 7:55 PM EDT

    (Courtesy Hendrick Motorsports) (Courtesy Hendrick Motorsports)

    On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, Kyle Petty joined Dave Briggs to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash and how the team recovered from it.

  7. Talladega mystery: Did missing woman even make it to NASCAR race? Second fan to disappear in 18 months

    Oct 23, 2014, 7:37 PM EDT

    (Photo courtesy Lincoln, Ala. Police Department) (Photo courtesy Lincoln, Ala. Police Department)

    For the second time in 18 months, police in the area of Talladega Superspeedway are investigating the disappearance of a race fan who had intended to go to the Sprint Cup race at the 2.66-mile racetrack.

  8. Enrique Contreras III, nephew of Carlos Contreras, to make first NASCAR truck race start at Martinsville

    Oct 23, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT

    (Photo credit: Enrique Contreras III) (Photo credit: Enrique Contreras III)

    Enrique Contreras III, nephew of veteran Mexican racer Carlos Contreras, will make his NASCAR debut in Saturday’s Camping World Truck Race at Martinsville Speedway.

  9. PWC: GTSport to continue two-car Cayman GTS effort

    Oct 23, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT

    Photo: GTSport Racing Photo: GTSport Racing

    GTSport Racing returns with Jack Baldwin and Buz McCall.

  10. WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 5 p.m. ET for Martinsville outlook

    Oct 23, 2014, 3:37 PM EDT

    141023-nascar-america

    Martinsville preview on tap in Thursday’s NASCAR AMERICA.

  11. Caterham could miss Austin as crisis deepens at Leafield

    Oct 23, 2014, 1:12 PM EDT

    Spanish F1 Grand Prix - Qualifying Getty Images

    Fernandes claims he didn’t receive full payment for Caterham, the new owners claim they haven’t received their shares, Bernie Ecclestone says he is trying to remedy the situation – but all the while, workers are locked out of the factory, putting the team’s hopes of making Austin in doubt.

  12. South Point, Gaughan to return with RCR to NASCAR XFINITY in 2015

    Oct 23, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    Ollie's Bargain Outlet 250 - Qualifying Getty Images

    Brendan Gaughan back for another year with RCR in XFINITY.

  13. Massa, Perez, Gutierrez confirmed for COTA fan forum

    Oct 23, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT

    MasPerSochi Getty Images

    Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa and Esteban Gutierrez signed up for COTA fan forum.

  14. Keselowski: ‘I’m not (Dale Earnhardt Sr.) … I’m just trying to do things my own way’

    Oct 22, 2014, 11:35 PM EDT

    (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images) Getty Images

    Brad Keselowski is flattered people might compare him with the late Dale Earnhardt, but he’ll be the first to say he’s not the new Intimidator in NASCAR.

  15. Greatest collection of Indy 500 pace cars to be displayed soon

    Oct 22, 2014, 8:18 PM EDT

    (Photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway) (Photo courtesy Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

    Perhaps the greatest collection of original Indianapolis 500 pace cars will soon be on display at an upcoming car show in suburban Chicago.

  16. IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe being toasted for fast-selling beer

    Oct 22, 2014, 7:36 PM EDT

    (Photo courtesy Hinchtown.com) (Photo courtesy Hinchtown.com)

    For most Canadians, their homebrewed beer choice is typically Labatts or Molson. But countryman and IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe is starting to get some traction with his own beer brand, Hinchtown Hammer Down (HHD).

  17. NASCAR America: Take a spin around Martinsville Speedway

    Oct 22, 2014, 6:43 PM EDT

    NASCAR America

    On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, Parker Kligerman took a spin around Martinsville Speedway in the NBC race simulator to show why the paper-clip shaped track can be extremely difficult.

  18. NHRA stunner: Jimmy Prock out as John Force’s crew chief

    Oct 22, 2014, 4:13 PM EDT

    Jimmy Prock, now former crew chief for John Force. (Photo courtesy John Force Racing) Jimmy Prock, now former crew chief for John Force. (Photo courtesy John Force Racing)

    In a stunning move that could potentially threaten his bid for a record-extending 17th NHRA Funny Car championship, John Force announced Wednesday that veteran crew chief Jimmy Prock has resigned, effective immediately.

Video from NASCAR America

Remembering the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. K. Busch (1876)
  2. R. Preece (1710)
  3. R. Newman (1354)
  4. B. Keselowski (1290)
  5. W. Pitkat (1281)
  1. L. Cassill (1214)
  2. M. Kenseth (1202)
  3. D. Coby (1192)
  4. R. Rovelo (1080)
  5. K. Kahne (1054)