Throughout Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s NASCAR career, he experienced a fair amount of success in restrictor-plate races. Earnhardt Jr.‘s mindset toward the event helped push him to earn several trips to victory lane. It also created a strong feeling of hatred about having teammates in those events.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s NASCAR career filled with restrictor-plate race success
After winning a pair of Xfinity Series championships, Earnhardt Jr. transitioned to becoming a full-time Cup Series driver.
He spent nearly the next two decades in that spot where he carved out his legacy. He didn’t match his father’s tremendous success, but he etched his name in NASCAR history.
Earnhardt Jr. won 26 Cup Series races, highlighted by a pair of Daytona 500 victories. He also placed in the top 10 in the points standings seven times with four top-five finishes. Earnhardt’s sustained success helped earn him a NASCAR Hall of Fame induction as part of the 2021 class.
His plethora of experience on the track helped him find success in several different areas. In restrictor-plate races, he’s among the all-time leaders in career wins as he sits tied for sixth with 10 victories. Meanwhile, his father holds the all-time mark with 13 wins, followed by fellow Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon at 12.
His effective driving on those tracks led him to a firm belief regarding working with teammates in those events.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. despised restrictor-plate drafting deals: ‘I hated teammates’
Although Earnhardt Jr. didn’t experience tremendous overall success, he more than held his own in restrictor-plate races.
Despite substantial success in restrictor-plate races, Earnhardt Jr. voiced during an episode of the Dale Jr. Download podcast featuring Tony Stewart that he didn’t like having teammates.
“Yeah, I hated teammates at plate tracks,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I just hated the responsibility that came with that. There are people, and Tony [Stewart] was one of them, I can’t even count them on one hand that you go out on the race track with in a plate race and see them do something and you say, ‘That’s exactly what I would have done, and that’s exactly what I want to do.’
Dale Jr.’s angst against teammates stems from them not possessing the same philosophical approach. He felt that working with another driver in that setting became burdensome with the end goal of competing to win the event.
Other drivers likely share Earnhardt Jr.’s opinion as those races required a different approach. It’s a mindset that certainly didn’t prevent him from finding great success in restrictor-plate races, though.
Jeff Gordon took the same path as teammates with Dale Jr.
Earnhardt Jr.’s approach to game-planning with teammates extended beyond restrictor-plate races.
He and Jeff Gordon didn’t exactly work well together as teammates on the track. During an interview on the Dale Jr. Download in December 2018, Gordon voiced that the difference in philosophy played a significant factor.
“The way I look at it, his philosophy was different than my philosophy,” Gordon said. “It wasn’t that I didn’t want to draft with him; it was when I think he wanted to go, he was a momentum guy. He was like, ‘I got the momentum and I got the run. I am just going to take it wherever it takes me.’
“Me, I was a little more of ‘I think right now I want to stay in this line. I don’t want to do that.’ I think it started building the appearance that we didn’t really want to work together. I think what it really was that we both were really selfish in what we wanted. We both accomplished enough success to know that this has worked for me in the past and this has worked for you in the past. Why should I change it?”
It isn’t that the two held disdain toward each other, but simply their approaches to racing conflicted. As Gordon pointed out, holding selfish goals got in the way of game-planning together.
More than anything else, driving is a sport in which it’s quite challenging to work cohesively as teammates.