NASCAR

When Did Dale Earnhardt Jr. Win His First Cup Series Race?

NASCAR fans wanting to feel old have a choice of two facts involving Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The 2021 Cup Series season marks 22 years since the younger Earnhardt raced at NASCAR’s highest level for the first time. It has also been four years since Earnhardt raced in the Cup Series as a full-time driver.

In an attempt to make you feel even more nostalgic today, let’s look back at when Earnahrdt Jr. recorded his first Cup Series victory.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a NASCAR legend

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. is among the greatest NASCAR racers to never win a Cup Series championship.

That fact on its own still sounds bizarre given Earnhardt’s reputation. Earnhardt raced for nearly 20 seasons at the Cup Series level, totaling 26 victories and 260 top-10 finishes.

But not only did he never win the Cup Series, Earnhardt never even finished higher than third.

As strange as this comparison may sound, Earnhardt’s career feels similar to that of longtime NFL quarterback Philip Rivers. Neither won a championship, or really even came close — Rivers played in one AFC championship game, one that he lost to Tom Brady in January 2008 — but were always among the best of their peers.

Some may argue that Dan Marino, who is one of the greatest quarterbacks ever and never won a Super Bowl, is a more fitting comparison. And it might be, but Earnhardt — like Rivers — will go down as a legend who was never among the top two or three drivers in his prime.

Earnhardt debuted at the Cup Series level in 1999

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Speaking of Dan Marino and Philip Rivers, the 1999 NFL season marked Marino’s final campaign with the Miami Dolphins.

Rivers, on the other hand, graduated high school later that year before he enrolled at North Carolina State University.

In the racing world, Dale Earnhardt Jr. debuted at the Cup Series level in May 1999. Racing at the Coca-Cola 600 in Concord, N.C., Earnhardt placed 16th in his first Cup Series race.

Earnhardt participated in four other Cup Series races that year and even finished 10th in the Select Batteries 400 at Richmond International Speedway (Va.) that September.

When did Dale Earnhardt Jr. win his first Cup Series race?

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. became a full-time Cup Series driver in 2000 and quickly proved that he was there to stay.

After three straight races of finishing 29th or lower, Earnhardt arrived at Texas Motor Speedway on April 2 with a desire to change his luck. That happened in a big way, as Earnhardt led for 106 of the race’s 334 laps and secured his first Cup Series victory.

Jeff Burton, a veteran racer, placed second behind Earnhardt. Dale Earnhardt Sr. finished seventh, and Tony Stewart — the younger Earnhardt’s former rival-turned-close friend — placed ninth.

That wasn’t the only race that Earnhardt Jr. won in 2000. A few weeks later, Earnhardt took down Terry Labonte and emerged victorious at the Pontiac Excitement 400 in Richmond.

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