Much like the chicken and the egg, friendships and marriages which last that long require one of two questions: How did they meet, and how have they stayed close for so long?
If you ask Earnhardt and Stewart the first question, they’ll tell you that it was, of all things, a crash between the two drivers.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart became friends after a crash
In a 2019 episode of the Dale Jr. Download podcast, Earnhardt Jr. recalled a crash between the two in June 1998. At the time, both were young drivers trying to make a name for themselves in professional racing.
Earnhardt said he got into an altercation with Stewart’s crew chief. No punches were thrown, but Earnhardt admitted the incident involved some “pushing and shoving.”
Earnhardt recalled meeting with Stewart a week later in Milwaukee. According to Earnhardt, Stewart wanted to take the high road and avoid a lingering feud.
“Hey man, we’re going to be racing each other a long time, so let’s be friends. Let’s not run into each other anymore. Let’s not drag this out.”
Stewart was surprised Earnhardt remembered that conversation.
Earnhardt added that Stewart told him, “I have no problem with you. I’m cool. Let’s just be cool.”
The two naturally had issues while racing against one another
Take what happened at Richmond International Raceway in April 2016. The two made contact with 409 laps remaining in the Toyota Owners 400, and Stewart went spinning.
Stewart finished 41st after he couldn’t get his car going. Microphones caught Stewart saying, “F—ing Dale Jr.” when he radioed his team.
Earnhardt, whose car had a tire mark where Stewart hit him, finished 14th. Although Stewart was frustrated, the two didn’t need long to make up and proceed as normal.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart remain close friends now
The world was a far different place in 1998. When the two became friends, they raced in the Busch Grand National Series. Racing fans now know that as the Xfinity Series.
After being elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2019, Stewart had his induction ceremony in January 2020. That took place over a month before the sports world shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Earnhardt learned he would be entering The Hall last summer. Stewart tweeted his congratulations to the inductees and said Earnhardt “raised the profile of our sport to new heights.”
The Hall of Fame pushed its Class of 2021 induction ceremony back to early 2022. Earnhardt, Red Farmer, Mike Stefanik, and Landmark Award recipient Ralph Seagraves are those who will have to wait another year.