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. Report: Vautier to replace Huertas at last-minute for Indy 500

    May 21, 2015, 11:51 PM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    In a bizarre and truly 11th hour circumstance, Tristan Vautier appears set to replace Carlos Huertas in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

  2. IndyCar driver raises concern about design of wishbone that injured James Hinchcliffe in crash

    May 21, 2015, 5:57 PM EDT

    James Hinchcliffe James Hinchcliffe

    Oriol Servia says a connecting rod was removed that might have prevented the part from piercing the tub and critically injuring driver.

  3. GP2: Rossi storms to pole position in Monaco qualifying

    May 21, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT

    © GP2 Series © GP2 Series

    American driver claims his second pole position in GP2 with a mesmerising display in Monaco on Thursday.

  4. SPM targets Monday for next driver confirmation in No. 5 car as drivers await

    May 21, 2015, 4:32 PM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    The No. 5 beyond Indy 500 could be Daly, Wilson, or A.N. Other.

  5. Formula E: Audi Sport ABT confirms unchanged line-up for season two

    May 21, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA - JANUARY 08:  Daniel Abt poses for pictures next to his car during a paddock preview at Puerto Madero Street Race Track on January 08, 2015 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Gabriel Rossi/LatinContent/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Daniel Abt confirmed to be remaining with his family team for season two of the Formula E series.

  6. IndyCar confirms Boston race for 2016

    May 21, 2015, 3:47 PM EDT

    BostonStreetTrack

    Boston confirmed for 2016 and beyond in IndyCar.

  7. Ethan Ringel scores Indy Lights pole for Freedom 100

    May 21, 2015, 3:33 PM EDT

    Photo: IMS Photography, LLC Photo: IMS Photography, LLC

    SPM takes four of the top five spots on the Indy Lights grid.

  8. Alonso: New rules proof F1 went in the wrong direction

    May 21, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT

    xxxx during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 21, 2015 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. Getty Images

    The McLaren driver lends his support to the proposed changes to F1 for 2017.

  9. Button happy with refuelling return, but remains keen to see a tire war in F1

    May 21, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT

    xxxx during previews to the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 20, 2015 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. Getty Images

    McLaren driver talks about the proposed changes for F1 ahead of this weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix.

  10. Briscoe: “I’ve been made as comfortable as I could be in this situation”

    May 21, 2015, 12:31 PM EDT

    BriscoeIMS Getty Images

    Given the circumstances, Ryan Briscoe feels comfortable heading into his fill-in role for James Hinchcliffe in the Indianapolis 500.

  11. Bottas flattered by speculation linking him to Ferrari

    May 21, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 20:  Valtteri Bottas of Finland and Williams (rear) and Kimi Raikkonen of Finland and Ferrari (front) attend the drivers press conference during previews to the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 20, 2015 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Williams driver admits that he is flattered to be linked with a drive at a top team, but remains coy when asked about a possible move away for 2016.

  12. Briscoe officially confirmed in Hinchcliffe’s car for Indy 500

    May 21, 2015, 11:19 AM EDT

    Photo: SPM IndyCar Photo: SPM IndyCar

    Briscoe replacement for James Hinchcliffe made official Thursday morning.

  13. Hamilton: No doubt I’d re-sign with Mercedes

    May 21, 2015, 11:00 AM EDT

    MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 20:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP walks in the paddock during previews to the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 20, 2015 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Defending world champion says he never contemplated leaving Mercedes for another team.

  14. The 100th Indy 500 and GP of Indy 2016 dates are released

    May 21, 2015, 10:52 AM EDT

    Photo: IMS Photo: IMS

    Logo and date for the 100th Indianapolis 500 is revealed.

  15. F1 Paddock Pass: Monaco Grand Prix (VIDEO)

    May 21, 2015, 9:53 AM EDT

    McLaren Honda's Spanish driver Fernando Alonso (C) and Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's German driver Nico Rosberg (L) drive  during the first practice session at the Monaco street circuit in Monte-Carlo on May 21, 2015, ahead of the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE DESMAZES        (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Will Buxton brings you all of the interviews and news ahead of the biggest event on the F1 calendar: the Monaco Grand Prix.

  16. Hamilton tops quiet second Monaco GP practice

    May 21, 2015, 9:31 AM EDT

    MONTE-CARLO, MONACO - MAY 21:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP drives during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 21, 2015 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Hamilton continues his good form by posting the fastest time in FP2 before the rain falls and limits running in Monaco on Thursday.

  17. WATCH LIVE: FP2 for the Monaco Grand Prix on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET

    May 21, 2015, 7:46 AM EDT

    xxxx during practice for the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 21, 2015 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. Getty Images

    Lewis Hamilton bids to double up in the second free practice session in Monaco on Thursday.

  18. Hamilton quickest in opening practice for Monaco GP

    May 21, 2015, 5:36 AM EDT

    Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team's British driver Lewis Hamilton  drives during the first practice session at the Monaco street circuit in Monte-Carlo on May 21, 2015, ahead of the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix.        (Photo credit should read BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Hamilton quickest in a busy FP1 session in Monaco as Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo spring a surprise to finish second and third respectively.

  19. WATCH LIVE: FP1 for the Monaco Grand Prix on Live Extra from 4am ET

    May 21, 2015, 3:45 AM EDT

    xxxx during previews to the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit de Monaco on May 20, 2015 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. Getty Images

    As is tradition in Monaco, practice kicks off on Thursday for the race weekend.

  20. Beekhuis offers clarity on Hinchcliffe crash, concern about what could happen in Indy 500

    May 20, 2015, 10:40 PM EDT

    (Photo courtesy Jon Beekhuis official Twitter account) (Photo courtesy Jon Beekhuis official Twitter account)

    Jon Beekhuis, veteran IndyCar pit reporter and past driver, provides some valuable insights into the type of crash James Hinchcliffe had on Monday, having been through one similarly in the past.