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These Dale Jr. Wins Are Still Being Talked About Today

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is certainly a NASCAR Hall of Fame-worthy driver/personality. While, no, he never did win a Cup Series title, he still achieved far more than most and was named one of the 75 Greatest NASCAR Drivers in 2023. Throughout his 19-year full-time NASCAR career, he has won 26 times at the Cup level, he’s a 24-time NASCAR Xfinity Series winner, he won 2 Xfinity Series Championships, and was voted NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver a staggering 15 times.

But throughout Dale Jr’s career, there are some wins more fondly remembered than others. Take, for example, his handful of wins at tracks like Richmond, Phoenix, and Atlanta. Those wins were sort of met with shoulder shrugs because, even driving in a back-marker number 8 for DEI, he was expected to win and win a lot. What we’re looking at today are the wins that meant the most to his (and sometimes his father’s) fans and/or to NASCAR as a community.

Here are 5 of the most popular and important wins in the career of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

#1: 2001 Pepsi 400 at Daytona

Heading into the 2001 NASCAR Cup Series season, “Junebug” was already an accomplished NASCAR driver. Not only was he in recent memory a back-to-back Xfinity Series champion but he also won a couple of points-paying races in the 2000 season as well as 2000 All-Star race.

After the loss of his father on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, there was a lot of focus shifted onto the shoulders of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Rather than being just another rookie, he was seen as the heir apparent to his father’s racing empire. Prior to the July race in Daytona, Junior was having a season comparable to his 2000 season, minus 2 wins, but with a few top-5s and top-10s added to make for a slightly more consistent season.

As the season went on, drivers and fans, while never forgetting the great driver that Dale Earnhardt was, started to move on. Race weekends became less dreary, and the state of initial shock faded away. Then, before we even knew it, it was mid-point of the season, NASCAR was heading back to Daytona, and that wound that was mostly healed and scabbed over was ripped open yet again.

When the race started on that smoldering July night, all eyes were naturally on Dale Jr. and his white and red Budweiser number 8 for the team his father founded, Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. Junior felt, and the fans and industry insiders did as well, that it was time to get out of the funk and live up to his name. There was never really a question mark as to could Jr. do it, but would he do it? And in 2001, on a plate track with that plate package, anything could and would happen.

Following the final caution of the night, Dale Earnhardt Jr. found himself riding in the 6th position. When the race restarted with 6-laps to go, Dale Jr. wasted little time getting to the front as he reassumed the lead within a lap. As the laps ran down and Michael Waltrip worked his way up to second in line behind Jr., the rest was history.

This was not only one of the most important wins of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s career but also a massive healing moment for the industry and fans of NASCAR.

#2: 2001 Post-9/11 Dover Win

Next on this list is another more sentimental one. After his July win in Daytona, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fell back into the same kind of consistent finishes he had earlier in the season. He finished 2nd at Pocono that summer and 3rd at Richmond in the early fall. In other races between Daytona and his second of three total wins of the 2001 season, he finished solidly in the top 15 in all races.

As alluded to, Junebug’s second win of the 2001 season came at Dover Motor Speedway in September. What makes this race so important to fans and the industry as a whole, other than it being Jr.’s lone win at the Monster Mile? It was the first race back after the 9/11 terrorist attack. What was more fitting than Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR favorite son, winning and lifting the sport up after such a horrific tragedy? Nothing! And as sweet as the icing on a cake, Jr’s victory lap while flying the star-spangled banner out of his window was a chef’s kiss.

This win was a message that you can try to break our spirits but we will not bend, we will not break. It was a truly great moment for NASCAR and the United States of America.

#3: 2010 Summer Daytona Xfinity Series Win

Between the years of 2007 and 2011, there wasn’t a whole lot for us Dale Jr. fans to cheer about. 2007 saw one of Jr.’s worst seasons to date as he had zero wins on the year while engine issues plagued his season left and right. In 2008, he made a move from the team his father built in DEI to one of the powerhouses of NASCAR–Hendrick Motorsports. He started the year off pretty strong with wins in both the Budweiser Shootout (aka, Busch Clash) and his Gatorade Duel race prior to the Daytona 500. When the points season kicked off, he ran pretty solidly as well but collapsed about mid-season. He was able to escape the 2008 season with a lone victory on fuel mileage at Michigan that year.

2009 became a new low point for Junior, and the 88 Amp Energy/National Guard team, and 2010 was more of the same, with points finishes in both seasons being outside the top 20. The only real highlight in this stretch of misery came at the summer Daytona race. But unlike his triumph in 2001, it wasn’t in the NASCAR Cup Series but the Xfinity Series, where he would make a one-off start driving an RCR #3 Wrangler-sponsored car.

Dale Jr. and his number 3 RCR Chevy were the cars to beat from the drop of the green flag. He ended up leading 34 laps (the race best) as he held off a hard-charging Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Joey Logano to win the race. It was billed as Dale Jr.’s final time driving his father’s iconic number and would be until bringing it back under the JR Motorsports banner in the CARS Tour following his retirement from full-time racing in 2017.

#4: Breaking The Streak: Dale’s Triumph at Michigan

To say that in 2009 and 2010, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was on the struggle bus might be a massive understatement. He was once considered one of the most promising drivers in NASCAR. At the time, he had 18 career wins to his credit and was now racing for arguably the best organization in the sport. But after splitting up with long-time crew chief Tony Eury Jr. in early 2009, his performance suffered a steep decline. He was paired up with Xfinity Championship-winning crew chief Lance McGrew, and, for whatever reason, they never really clicked. Dale Jr. finished 21st and 25th in the ’09 and ’10 seasons respectively.

In 2011, Dale Jr. was paired up with Jeff Gordon’s former crew chief, Steve Letarte. Throughout the 2011 season, improvement was seen, and Jr. made the post-season for the first time in two years. But there were still no wins. Throughout the 2012 season, the improvement continued. Not only was Dale Jr. and his number 88 crew competing for top-10s and top-5s again, they were also a threat to win most weeks. Between the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Dale Jr. finished 2nd a frustrating 4 times and in the top 5 several more times. It was no longer a matter of if Junebug was going to break through and nab another win but when.

That glorious day came on June 17, 2012 at Michigan International Speedway. Dale Jr. was driving a Black Knight Mountain Dew-sponsored number 88 and it’s a scheme that is well regarded to this day. Junior first took the lead on Lap 70 and went on to lead a race-high 95 of the 200 schedule laps. He absolutely dominated the competition and, in the end, took the checkered flag for the 19th time of his career.

With this win, it seemed that Jr.’s career was finally back on track.

#5: 2014 Daytona 500 Victory

Following his triumph at Michigan in 2012, Dale Jr. continued improving his performance. While he again went winless in 2013, he finished 2nd in that year’s Daytona 500 (a preview of what was to come) and even finished runner-up 5-times that year enroute to a 5th place points finish. For the first time in years, Junior Nation felt that their driver was capable of winning week in and week out.

The reason the 2014 Daytona 500 victory is so important is, well, it was Junebug’s second 500 win. But more than that, it was a statement victory which ushered in what is now considered to be his late-career resurgence. He ended up going to victory lane 4 times that year alone, winning the Daytona 500, sweeping the two Pocono races, and finally capturing his Grandfather Clock at Martinsville Speedway that fall.

In 2015, he won his final 3 races, fittingly enough, at Talladega, Daytona, and Phoenix. But it was his Daytona 500 win in 2014 that is often viewed by fans as a crowning achievement. Therefore, it earns a spot on this list.

Conclusion

What do you think, Junior Nation? What do you think are amongst Dale Jr.’s finest/most important moments in Victory Lane? What is left off this list that you think should be included? Let us know by commenting on all our social media pages. And be sure to keep checking back here at DailyDownforce.com for all the latest news, stories, and discussion topics in the world of NASCAR.

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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