The only person who may have been surprised to hear his name called Tuesday was the NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee himself.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the 2021 class. The results of the voting were revealed Tuesday evening capping a day Earnhardt said started with a trip to the dentist and a root canal. One of the qualities that made Earnhardt a 15 time Most Popular Driver is his humble nature. And that was evident when he spoke with the media shortly after his name was announced. He joins Red Farmer and Mike Stefanik.
“When that list of nominees came out, I was so honored to be on that sheet,’’ Earnhardt said. “I couldn’t believe my name was on that sheet to be honest with you. I know those guys and their body of work’’
“I was good with just being on the sheet and was going to be happy with that,’’ he added.
The son of the legendary Dale Earnhardt Sr., Earnhardt never won a Cup title, but settled for back-to-back titles in his two full seasons (1998-1999) in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, added two Daytona 500 wins (2004 and 2014). Much like his father Junior established himself as a master of restrictor plate racing seen at both Daytona International Speedway and in Talladega, Ala. He won four consecutive races at Talladega from 2001-03 – a streak that has yet to be matched.
“It’s such a great feeling that someone feels like I made an impact on the sport,’’ Earnhardt said. “And I know my numbers, the wins, the lack of a championship, I know what my numbers are. And I feel like I was chosen based on that but also based on the impact off the racetrack and being an ambassador for the sport.”
Earnhardt would score 26 NASCAR Cup Series victories in a fulltime career for two teams that spanned the 2000-2017 seasons. The JR Motorsports team he co-owns with his sister Kelley has earned three Xfinity Series titles and won 47 races. His 15 consecutive Most Popular Driver Awards is second all-time to another NASCAR Hall of Famer, Bill Elliott’s 16 wins.
“There was a point in my career where I started to think, okay I’m not going to win seven championships, I’m not maybe even going to win one championship,’’ Earnhardt said of his legacy. “I’m not going to win 100 races, might not even win 40 races. So what can I do?
“If I can’t do that, and there were a lot of people that wanted me to be Dale Earnhardt, not just be the Intimidator but they wanted me to be as successful as he [his father] was and to drive like him, aggressively, spinning people out. Whatever they thought dad was, that’s what they wanted me to emulate.
“And when I realized that I’m not going to be able to win those races, I’m not going to be able to win a championship, I started to think of what I could do outside of that. What else could I control that would help the sport and be a good ambassador for the sport.
“I wasn’t always perfect, but I started focusing in those areas and being accessible, being available, being accountable and I feel like I did a decent job at that. I don’t want to sit here and measure it, that’s up to someone else, but I’m pretty happy with that part of my career when it comes to the impact I had on the sport. I’m very happy with it considering the fact I didn’t have that success my father did but yet I was able to move the needle a little bit in the mainstream media.’’