RICHMOND, VA – For the first time in 10 months, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is back in a NASCAR. No, Earnhardt isn’t piloting a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ride this weekend at the Richmond Raceway but rather his No. 88 Chevrolet in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. The third generation driver told the media on his official retirement announcement that 2017 wouldn’t be the last time that we saw him behind the wheel.
While it would be the final Cup season, he had commitments made to race in the XFINITY Series in select races. Well, Richmond is one of them.
It’s been a great transition back for the former two-time series champion. Earnhardt, completed 28 laps on Friday morning with a top speed of 120.283 mph. 22 of those laps were run around the .75-mile oval in the early morning session as he turned a top lap of 120.283 mph in that first practice. In final practice, Earnhardt turned another six laps with a top lap of 116.949 mph.
That session was rain shortened.
While it could be hard to envision Earnhardt winning his first race back, he certainly could have a shot in tonight’s GoBowling 250 (7:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Out of the top seven starters for the race, just one isn’t a playoff driver.
That one is Earnhardt.
He will start on the front row in second.
Going 10 months without racing could affect your rhythm and could make anyone a little rusty. It takes even the best drivers time to get back into racing shape. For some reason though, Richmond has always been a track that Earnhardt has had a ton of success on.
In seven career NXS starts, Earnhardt Jr. has won four times, logged five top-five and six top-10 finishes, with the only blemish on that record coming in the spring of 1999 when a rear axle broke on his ACDelco Chevrolet and relegated him to a 32nd-place finish.
His first victory there came in 1998, when he led 236 of the 250 laps on the way to Victory Lane. A year later, in the fall race, he led the final eight laps for another victory, and in the fall of 2002, he and Gossamer, the Looney Tunes character who rode shotgun, led 190 of the 250 laps for a third triumph.
After a long time away from the speedway in NXS competition—nearly 14 years—Earnhardt Jr. showed that he hadn’t lost his touch. Starting third in the No. 88 Hellmann’s/Blessings in a Backpack Chevrolet Camaro, Earnhardt Jr. led 128 of the 149 laps and earned not just his fourth NXS victory at Richmond, but his first in a JR Motorsports machine.
That day – April 23, 2016 – was huge for more than the fact that he won the race. Earlier in the month, Dale Jr. had introduced, via Twitter, his favorite sandwich to the world, a creation that consisted of Hellmann’s Mayonnaise and banana on white bread as part of a promotion with his longtime partner. For a week or two, everywhere you looked, somebody was talking about Dale Jr. and the sandwich, and it turned into a huge promotion.
In the NASCAR Cup Series, Earnhardt Jr. had solid success at Richmond as well. He won his second career Cup race in 2000 at Richmond—four races after he won his first, at Texas. All three of his Cup victories at Richmond came in the spring race, in 2000, 2004 and 2006, and he had one get away—with the help of Kyle Busch—in 2008, also in the spring.