The last time the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series visited Talladega Superspeedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. spent the day sitting not in a race car but in the radio and TV booths.
His widely praised turn as a commentator generated seemingly as much talk as the race itself. It was the first positive public appearance he made after months of doom and gloom over the concussion issues that forced him to miss half of last season and ultimately prompted his retirement at the end of this season.
While it is generally assumed that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is strong at Talladega Superspeedway, his stats tell a slightly different story.
When he visits the track for this weekend’s race, Earnhardt will again be the center of attention, but it will be a bittersweet return, as he has just two more races left in his career at the track where he is most beloved.
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While it is generally assumed that Earnhardt is strong at Talladega, his stats tell a slightly different story. His six wins and 12 top 5s set the pace among active drivers. But the majority of his success at the track came more than 10 years ago, including four straight wins from 2001 through 2003. His average finish at Talladega is 15.4, which makes it just his 13th-best track.
Five active drivers have average finishes better than that. Since Earnhardt joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, he has finished in the top 5 in back-to-back races at Talladega only once, when he was first and second in the 2015 races. In that same span, he has one win, five top 5s and an average finish of 16.5 in 17 races.
Those are impressive numbers, to be sure, even if they don’t match his reputation there. But there is no ambiguity about his popularity at the Alabama track. No driver is more beloved at one particular track than he is there.
The elder Earnhardt won 10 Talladega races, the most ever, and it was only natural that his namesake became a fan favorite at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.
Fans everywhere rallied around him as the sport’s favorite son after his father died in 2001, and that was even more true at Talladega. The elder Earnhardt won 10 Talladega races, the most ever, and it was only natural that his namesake became a fan favorite at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.
With the announcement of his retirement last week, combined with his absence from the fall race last year as he sat out with concussion symptoms, Earnhardt will be welcomed to this weekend’s race like returning royalty.
He has struggled this season, with just one finish better than 14th (fifth at Texas) and three races marred by crashes. But he had a strong car at Daytona, which usually bodes well for Talladega.
That’s good news for an Earnhardt Nation desperate for good on-track news, as he has often said having a strong car at restrictor-plate tracks makes all the difference because of the confidence it gives him to make bold moves.
“Watching my dad, who was one of the best, I learned a tremendous amount because I solely watched him, whereas someone else who grew up around the sport may not have focused as much on one particular driver,” he said. “All those things maybe helped me develop into maybe a better plate race-car driver than the average guy.”