CONCORD, N.C. – In his very first NASCAR All-Star Race as a rookie, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the lead from Dale Jarrett with two laps to go and won the race.
“I was sitting there in Victory Lane and just couldn’t believe that we had won,” the driver recalled. “I could not wait to see my dad – I remember passing him in that last stage, and that’s something you just dream about. He was thrilled, so that was a real special moment to spend with him.”
This Saturday night, Earnhardt will take part in his final All-Star weekend. And he’ll look to bookend his experience in the exhibition event with another trip to Victory Lane.
He has made every All-Star Race since 2000, including once by winning the fan vote in 2011 and once by winning The Open in 2012.
And the spectacle of the event has never been lost on him.
“The All-Star Race to me has always been very important,” Earnhardt said. “As a kid watching that race and watching my father run it, hearing him talk about it and explain how important it was to him, what it meant to him and how hard he tried to win it, that really cemented in my mind what it means to the sport.”
What he’ll miss the most, he said, is the entire process of the All-Star weekend, from the preparation and practice leading up to the race all the way through the build-up of the pre-race festivities.
And one part in particular that makes the weekend so fun is that the rules are often tweaked – including this season – meaning new strategies can always be employed.
“It certainly stands alone and has a special meaning,” he said. “I’m going to just miss being a competitor in that atmosphere because you get competitive in the event, but there is also a lot of pride to be in that race and to get that invitation, so to speak. I’ll miss that feeling of accomplishment.”
In his last four All-Star events, Earnhardt has earned a best finish of third and a worst finish of 10th.
And he’s ready to see what he and the No. 88 team can do under the lights this Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“It seems like all the guys on the team really enjoy the pre-race and driver intros. They really include the teams, and it’s fun for the drivers to have our guys there with us," he said.
“It should be a fun weekend."