It wasn’t the finish many in Junior Nation wished for at the start of the day, but after one of the wildest Talladega races in recent memory, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finishes out his career at the track in one piece, bringing home a seventh-place finish.
Though it wasn’t a storybook finish that he would have liked to deliver for himself and his passionate fan base, Earnhardt was still appreciative that he was at least relevant for the win in his last start at Talladega.
“This has been a hell of a weekend for me, and I’m glad to be able to finish and finish well,” said Earnhardt. “That means a lot to me. I know a lot of folks came and traveled here to see us run, so I know they’re disappointed we didn’t win, but I’m glad they got to see us run the whole event, and hopefully they enjoyed it.”
After streaking to his first Talladega pole on Saturday afternoon, a near capacity crowd showed up on Sunday as they did their best to will the No. 88 to victory throughout the day. Earnhardt was as strong as he ever is on the restrictor plate tracks, but also needed a little bit of luck to be able to remain in contention all the way to the end.
On three different occasions, Earnhardt found himself in the middle of a multi-car crash, but escaped each of them without major damage that would end his day early. Though the first two caused hardly any damage at all, the last crash on lap 184, which brought out the third red flag of the day, did just enough damage to hinder him at the end and he had to just hold his own to the finish.
“Just got lucky on those wrecks,” Earnhardt added. “Just things start flying around, I don’t know, you just ‑‑ ain’t nothing I’m doing, I’m just not getting hit, you know, and not losing control of my car. Just really luck.
“But the last one knocked the right front end really bad and bent the splitter down about an inch and a half and knocked it on the racetrack, and when we got going there on that last restart, it just wouldn’t go in the corners especially, so everybody around us was just wasting their time pushing us, and they sort of figured that out after a lap or two and decided to leave us alone, and we just kind of hung on there to get a seventh.”
Earnhardt’s Talladega career ends with six wins, 12 top-five finishes, 17 top-10 finishes, one pole, 967 laps led, and an average finish of 15.4 in 35 starts, making him one of the best ever at the track and on restrictor plate tracks.
“Anytime anybody says you’re the best at anything, it’s an awesome feeling. I can’t deny that it feels awesome to hear that. People consider you good at anything, it’s a great feeling. I knew that I wasn’t going to win 200 races and seven championships and do all those great things. I just wanted to come in here and be considered talented. But to be great at anything was beyond my imagination.
“I appreciate people’s compliments on my plate driving and the success we’ve had at all the plate races.”
With his driving career at the track complete, Earnhardt noted that since Talladega has been so special to him, he wouldn’t hesitate to help them out with anything they needed in the years ahead.
“I really do owe a lot to this track and the support that we have had here from the fans, owe a lot to them. You know, it just has been a very fun place.
“A lot of great memories here, and then obviously the career in Cup here, four in a row, all those things mean a lot to me. I hope to always have a great connection here, and trust me when I say that whatever the track needs from me, anytime they want anything, I’ll be here to help promote and support this place no matter what the request is. They’ve done so much for me, and I want to remain very close.”