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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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).

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick will swap crews at Stewart-Haas (UPDATED)

    Oct 22, 2014, 2:37 PM EDT

    KurtDanica Getty Images

    Crew chiefs, road crews for Nos. 10 and 41 Stewart-Haas Racing cars will swap starting at Texas.

  7. Statement from Caterham provides unclear future for team’s plans (UPDATED)

    Oct 22, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-JPN-F1 Getty Images

    More murky messaging from Leafield as Caterham’s future hangs in the balance.

  8. Drag racer Ron Capps doesn’t let hurricane stop Hawaii appearance

    Oct 22, 2014, 2:10 PM EDT

    (AP Photo/NHRA, Teresa Long) AP

    When you drive a car that produces nearly 10,000 horsepower and reaches speeds approaching 330 mph, a hurricane with wind speeds over 100 mph is nothing. That was the case Sunday for NHRA Funny Car driver Ron Capps.

  9. Ken Block, Matthew Wilson to return to WRC in Spain this weekend

    Oct 22, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

    FIA World Rally Championship Mexico - Day Two Getty Images

    Ken Block, Matthew Wilson make WRC returns for this weekend’s Rally Spain.

  10. UPDATED: Will NHRA Funny Car legend John Force reveal new sponsor and manufacturer today?

    Oct 22, 2014, 1:26 PM EDT

    (AP Photo/NHRA) AP

    Sixteen-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force is expected to make a major announcement concerning John Force Racing later Tuesday afternoon.

  11. NASCAR: Kurt Busch’s new 2015 paint scheme unveiled

    Oct 22, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT

    Crown Royal Presents The John Wayne Walding 400 - Practice Getty Images

    Kurt Busch’s 2015 paint scheme adds more red.

  12. Lotus begins deal with jewelry company called Endless

    Oct 22, 2014, 11:35 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Japan - Qualifying Getty Images

    Lotus will have a new sponsor for Austin that’s beginning, but called Endless.

  13. Dale Earnhardt Jr. featured in new concussion awareness initiative (VIDEO)

    Oct 22, 2014, 11:06 AM EDT

    DaleJrDega AP

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be featured for UPMC campaign that seeks to change the conversation about concussions.

  14. Sam Michael to leave McLaren at year’s end

    Oct 22, 2014, 10:02 AM EDT

    Sam-Michael-McL Getty Images

    Sam Michael to leave McLaren at year’s end, the team confirms.

  15. Here to stay: Keselowski vows that he won’t be run out of the sport

    Oct 21, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT

    Geico 500 Getty Images

    The championship contender talks about his reputation during a Monday night appearance at Texas Motor Speedway.

  16. NASCAR AMERICA: Pressure mounts with four races to go in Chase (VIDEO)

    Oct 21, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT

    (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Getty Images

    As NASCAR AMERICA’s Kyle Petty explains, the new Chase format has created something that NASCAR hasn’t seen before.

  17. NASCAR AMERICA: Jeff Gordon’s “Drive For Five” continues at Martinsville (VIDEO)

    Oct 21, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT

    GEICO 500 - Practice Getty Images

    A ninth Martinsville win on Sunday would put Gordon into the Championship Race at Homestead. Check out his interview with NASCAR AMERICA’s Jason Weigandt about his success at M’Ville and more.

  18. Joey Logano says he’s made peace with Danica Patrick over Charlotte wreck

    Oct 21, 2014, 5:44 PM EDT

    GEICO 500 - Qualifying Getty Images

    Logano admits he should’ve given Patrick more space on the race track two weekends ago.

  19. WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA talks with “Eliminator 8″ at 5 p.m. ET

    Oct 21, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT

    Credit: NASCAR Credit: NASCAR

    Extended interviews with Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, and Carl Edwards also coming up on today’s episode of NASCAR AMERICA.

Video from NASCAR America

Pressure mounts with 4 races remaining
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. K. Busch (1827)
  2. B. Keselowski (1492)
  3. R. Preece (1331)
  4. W. Pitkat (1247)
  5. R. Newman (1121)