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Earnhardt to make 600th NASCAR start in Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be making the 600th start of his NASCAR career this weekend when he lines up for Sunday’s Sprint Cup event at Martinsville Speedway. Earnhardt, driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet SS, has started 474 points-paying Sprint Cup events dating back to 1999 and 125 NASCAR Nationwide Series races going back to 1996. Looking ahead to start No. 600, Martinsville has been a kind place to Earnhardt, who has two personal bests at the shortest track on the circuit – 868 laps led and 10 top-five finishes (tied with Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway).

Here are some highlights and statistics from Earnhardt’s career so far:

CAREER STATISTICS: In his previous 599 starts, Earnhardt has recorded 42 wins, 167 top-five finishes, 267 top-10s, 21 pole positions and 10,540 laps led. With 19 Cup wins, Earnhardt is tied for 38th all-time and ranks 11th among active, full-time drivers. In 474 Cup starts, Earnhardt also has 108 top-five finishes, 187 top-10s and 11 pole positions. The 1998-1999 Nationwide Series champion earned 23 wins, which ranks ninth all-time, and also tallied 59 top-five finishes, 80 top-10s and 10 pole positions in 125 Nationwide starts.

FIRST WINS: Of those 42 combined victories, Earnhardt scored his first Cup and Nationwide series wins at Texas Motor Speedway. He claimed his first Nationwide Series win in 1998 after starting 16th and leading six laps. He went to his first Victory Lane in the Cup Series in April 2000 after starting fourth and leading 106 laps.

POINTS LEADER: By virtue of his second-place finish two weeks ago in Fontana, Calif., Earnhardt sits atop the driver standings for the first time this season. This also marks the first time in Earnhardt’s career that he has led the standings in consecutive seasons, as he most recently was ranked first following the August 2012 race at Pocono Raceway. Prior to 2012, Earnhardt claimed the top spot during his six-win season of 2004.

FIRST STARTS: Earnhardt made his first NASCAR start in the Nationwide Series on June 22, 1996, at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Speedway driving the No. 31 entry for Dale Earnhardt Inc. Then age 21, Earnhardt started the event seventh and finished 14th. He followed that up almost three years later with his Cup debut in May 1999. Then, Earnhardt qualified eighth for the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway event, circling the 1.5-mile oval faster than his father and Jeff Gordon – both Cup champions. Earnhardt crossed the finish line 16th.

BEING FIRST: A third-generation stock car champion, Earnhardt has several career firsts. Notably, he was the first driver to win four-consecutive races at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway (fall 2001 to spring 2003). He also was the first driver to sweep a weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, when he went to Victory Lane in the Nationwide and Cup events in August 2004. 

BACK-TO-BACK: In his first full season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Earnhardt captured seven wins, 16 top-five finishes and 22 top-10s en route to the 1998 Nationwide Series championship. He followed up his first championship by winning the 1999 Nationwide crown, which he did on the strength of six wins, 18 top-five finishes and 22 top-10s. 

10-TIME: In 2012, Earnhardt was named the Most Popular Driver for the 10th consecutive year. With the award, Earnhardt joined Bill Elliott as just the second driver to receive the honor for 10 straight seasons.

DAYTONA 500 CHAMPION: Earnhardt won the 2004 Daytona 500 in his fifth attempt at The Great American Race after leading 58 laps. The victory capped off a strong Speedweeks for Earnhardt, who also won his 125-mile qualifying race and the NASCAR Nationwide Series race during that February weekend. Overall, Earnhardt ranks third all-time with seven combined victories at the restrictor-plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega. He trails Gordon (12 wins) and his father (11).

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