NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver – 39 going on 500By Kala Perkins
With six races to go in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a lot to celebrate this weekend in Charlotte, NC.
NASCAR’s ten time most popular driver celebrated his 39th birthday Thursday, and will be making his 500th Sprint Cup Series start under the lights Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Making his 500th Cup Series start at Charlotte is poetic. Charlotte Motor Speedway is where he made his Sprint Cup Series debut in 1999 and is also the home of his first career pole award in 2000.
In twenty-seven Cup starts at Charlotte, Earnhardt has earned one pole position, five top-5’s and eleven top-10 finishes.
“It doesn’t seem like I’ve been around that long to be honest with you.” Earnhardt Jr. said regarding his 500th start. “It just doesn’t. We race a lot of races, though. We run a lot more races during the season than they did in year’s past. It’s been a pleasure being a part of the Series and seeing the changes and the growth. I hope to be around and witness a lot more. It’s just been a dream to be able to succeed and make a living in this sport so I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.”
Should Earnhardt end up in victory lane this weekend, he would join only two other drivers who won their 500th career start. Richard Petty won his 500th career start in 1970 and Matt Kenseth earned the honor three weeks ago at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
In 499 Sprint Cup starts, Earnhardt Jr. is tied for 12th among full-time drivers with 19 victories, posting 111 top-5 finishes, 199 top-10’s, and 13 pole positions. He has led a total of 7,377 laps.
Earnhardt, still looking for his first win this season, currently sits eighth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, trailing leader Matt Kenseth by 54 points.
Watch the green flag fall Saturday in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway as Earnhardt, driving the Time Warner Cable Chevrolet SS, attempts to join the elite group of 500th start winners and close the gap on the Chase points leaders as he celebrates his 39th birthday going on 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts.