Dale Earnhardt Jr. has announced that he will retire from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series after the 2017 season. As the Hendrick Motorsports driver prepares to climb into the race car for the final time at each track — or at least likely for the last time, as he has left the door open for possible one-off races — we take a look at how he has fared over the years at each venue and what to expect in his last ride there.
Dale Jr. at Talladega Superspeedway | Oct. 15, 2017
Best finish: First (October 2001, April 2002, October 2002, April 2003, October 2004, May 2015)
Biggest highlight: Do we have to pick just one? The May 2015 win was an emotional one, after he had gone 20 starts at the track since his previous victory. It locked him in the playoffs, and it was his first win with crew chief Greg Ives. In the 2003 Talladega win, he started in the back, suffered a little damage early (the big one was on Lap 4) and pitted 17 times on his way to his fourth consecutive win at Talladega. He made a controversial pass — did he go below the yellow line? — on his way to Victory Lane.
Bonus highlight: The October 2004 win was one of the most entertaining and controversial. Earnhardt took the series points lead when he won, but that didn’t last long. He was asked what it meant to win for a fifth time at Talladega, and he replied, “It don’t mean s— right now, daddy won here 10 times.” NASCAR promptly docked him 25 points; it was the same year as Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” during the Super Bowl halftime show, and NASCAR was afraid of an FCC fine.
Worst moment: A crash during the final lap in the October 2012 race saw Earnhardt end up 20th. He suffered three impacts during the wreck, including two while he was spun while being T-boned, causing a concussion. Having suffered a concussion (undiagnosed) about six weeks earlier in a test at Kansas, Earnhardt missed the two races after that 2012 Talladega race.
Outlook for Sunday: This is Earnhardt’s last best chance to win in his final NASCAR Cup season. He won’t know if he has a car capable of winning until about midway through the race, when he will know if his car can hold off challengers in the draft. He’s off to a good start, though, earning the pole on Saturday.
Dale Jr. says: “I’m looking forward to the race to get started on Sunday — hoping we can get up there and give everybody that’s going to be pulling for us a reason to cheer, and hope they leave the track Sunday satisfied.”