Dale Earnhardt Jr. began his career at the age of 17 racing a street stock division car that he purchased for $200 using money he made by selling a go-kart that he and brother Kerry had built. He took his first to victory lane at Concord Speedway. Dale Jr. had three wins between 1994 and 1996.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. got a full time ride with AC Delco after having only 9 previous BGN starts. He ended his first full season with seven wins, three pole positions, 16 top-five finishes and 22 top-tens and the Busch Grand National Championship title. Winning the title also placed him in the record books for becoming the first ever third generation championship title holder. In September of the 1998 season, Budweiser offered Dale Jr. a ride in a Winston Cup series car for the 1999 season through 2004.
The 1999 season was a busy one for Dale Earnhardt Jr., having been signed to drive in five Winston Cup events for Budweiser and make numerous appearance. He also had to defend his BGN title. His first 1999 victory came on the 15th race of the season at Dover Downs. A July 3rd crash during a practice run at Milwaukee left Dale Jr. with a chipped shoulder bone and Ron Hornaday stepped in to quailify Jr.’s car. The next day Dale Jr. was behind the wheel and drove to a third place finish. Dale Jr. ended his 1999 season with five Winston Cup starts (one top-ten and three top-20 finishes) and six BGN wins, 18 top-five’s, 22 top-ten’s and another Busch Grand National Championship title.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran his first full Winston Cup season in 2000. He was the first rookie to ever win the Winston Select. He won two points races and was runner up for Rookie of the Year with top honors going to Matt Kenseth.
Dale Jr.’s sophomore year in the Winston Cup series began with what could have been a great day in racing. Michael Waltrip, driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc. was in the lead on the last lap followed by teammate Dale Jr. Earnhardt Sr. was in third place. Dale Earnhardt hit the wall head on in turn four and died instantly as Waltrip and Dale Jr. took the checkered flag claiming a one/two victory for Dale Earnhardt Inc. As Dale Jr. was rushing toward turn four, Waltrip was enjoying his first ever NASCAR victory waiting for Dale Earnhardt to join him in the winner’s circle. He knew there had been a crash but never suspected that the seven time champ had died just moments earlier.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. continued to race knowing it was what his father would have wanted and in July he brought home the checkered flag at Daytona, his first win of the season. But the tragedy of the 2001 season was not over. Not yet done grieving over the loss of a champion and father, the racing community and the entire country were now faced with the horrific events of September 11th. Dale Jr. won his second race of the 2001 season at the first NASCAR event held after the attacks. It was his second bitter sweet victory. He went on to win in Talladega and ended the season with three victories, nine top-five’s and 15 top-ten’s.
2002 proved to be a rough season for Dale Jr. He suffered a concussion in April at Fontana that he didn’t reveal until later in the season. His only two wins of the season came at Talladega. He placed 11th in points with two poles, 11 top-five’s and 16 top-ten’s. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had his best career finish so far in 2003 when he finished the season third in overall points. He had 13 top-five finishes including 2 wins.
Starting off the 2004 Nextel Cup series with a Daytona 500 win on the anniversary of his father’s death, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be a force to be reckoned with on the 2004 NASACAR schedule. His early season performance has gained him recognition as the 1st Quarter Driver of the year winner.