Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s impending retirement at the end of the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series season has been a talking point at every race, but this weekend in Darlington, he’ll finally take a backseat to someone else – his late father.
Saturday evening, the night before the Bojangles’ Southern 500, Darlington Raceway will host “An Evening Honoring Dale Earnhardt Sr.” to commemorate the former face of the sport. Earnhardt Sr. died in 2001 after a last-lap crash during the Daytona 500.
Three of Earnhardt Sr.’s children – Earnhardt Jr., Kelley Earnhardt Miller, and Kerry Earnhardt – will speak at the event, along with other friends of the family, including longtime team owner Richard Childress.
Earnhardt Sr. practically owned Darlington throughout his Hall of Fame career, winning nine different Cup races there. Only David Pearson, with 10 victories at the track, has more, but the elder Earnhardt also won three NASCAR Xfinity Series races at the track. The event is even being held when it is because of those victories, as it falls on the 30th anniversary of Earnhardt Sr.’s 1987 Bojangles’ Southern 500 win.
“Dale Earnhardt Sr. had a fondness for Darlington Raceway,” track president Kerry Tharp said in a release, “so it’s only fitting that one of the most intimidating tracks on the circuit would host an event recognizing The Intimidator.”
But for all the success his father had at the track Too Tough to Tame, Dale Jr. hasn’t had the same luck. He’s placed in the top five a handful of times and even finished second at the track in 2014, but he’s never been able to do what his dad did all those years ago – or at least not yet.
As of now, Earnhardt Jr. hasn’t solidified one of the 16 spots for the Cup Championship Playoffs. That all could change with a win in Darlington.
It isn’t likely that Earnhardt Jr. ends up in Victory Lane on Sunday, as he’s only had one top-five finish all season. He has the race at Darlington, which begins at 6 p.m. on Sunday, and the Sept. 9 regular-season finale at Richmond to qualify for the playoffs.
So, is Earnhardt Jr. going to finally break through at a track where victory has evaded him his entire career?
Probably not. But that won’t stop him being excited about his last race at one of his dad’s favorite tracks.
“I’m looking forward to being a part of this event to tell stories about dad,” Earnhardt Jr. said in a release. “His driving style and Darlington really had a lot of similarities; just how tough and gritty they were.”