After retiring in November from NASCAR’s Cup Series, Dale Earnhardt Jr. pulled a stunner over the weekend and announced plans to drive in an Xfinity series race at Richmond (Va.) Raceway in the fall.
“Right now I just have the fall @RichmondRaceway race on my schedule,” Earnhardt tweeted. “Want to do more. Offering sponsorship packages that include one event with me in addition to 8-10 events with our 4 other cars.”
When Earnhardt spoke before his final Cup Series race at Homestead in November, he said he didn’t need to reconsider his decision to retire and that he felt “really good with” stepping away. Two of the main reasons Earnhardt said he chose to retire when he did was because of the concussions he suffered during the 2016 season (which robbed him of half the season), and because of his desire to start a family. He and his wife Amy are expecting their first child, a girl, later this year.
It also wasn’t like Earnhardt was going to disappear from race tracks anytime soon. He is signed with NBC as an analyst, and while he’ll debut at the Super Bowl on Sunday and in South Korea for the Winter Olympics later in February, racing will be his primary beat.
The question now is whether Earnhardt, whose final Cup season was one of the worst of his career, still has what it takes to race competitively even in the Xfinity Series.
Richmond Raceway “has been a great place” for Earnhardt Jr. to race, tweeted JR Motorsports, his Mooresville-based motorsports team. “And his last NASCAR Xfinity Series victory came on the .75-mile oval in 2016. It was also the first for the team owner in one of his own cars, and it was quite the sensation.”
That 2016 Richmond win was also Earnhardt’s last victory at any NASCAR level.
In that race, Earnhardt carried “Blessings in a Backpack,” one of the charities that his Dale Jr. Foundation supports, on his No. 88 Chevrolet. The result was a donation of more than $150,000, according to JR Motorsports.
“Prior to that, Earnhardt Jr. essentially owned the NXS races he competed in at Richmond,” JR Motorsports said in a statement. “In seven career starts, Earnhardt Jr. has won four times, amassed five top-five and six top-10 finishes. His average finish is a stellar 6.7, and his average start is even better at 5.4.”
In his NXS championship seasons of 1998 and 1999, Earnhardt Jr. was a standout at the Richmond track. He led 171 of the 250 laps in his first race there in spring 1998, finishing second. In the fall, he led 236 of the 250 laps for his first win.
In the 1999 spring race, he broke a rear axle with 49 laps to go and finished 32nd, his only finish outside the top 10. In the fall race, he led the final seven laps to beat former JRM driver Mark Martin.
In 2002, Earnhardt Jr. led 190 of the 250 laps to win for the third time at the track.
After 14 seasons away from the series at Richmond, Earnhardt Jr. won again in 2016, and last fall finished ninth.
Fans on Twitter have been ecstatic with his decision to race at Richmond.
A fan from England said her son was beside himself, as he happened to buy tickets to only two races this year: Charlotte and Richmond.
“He’s over the moon he’ll see @DaleJr race again,” wrote Jackie from England. “... worth the long flight from England just for that.”