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Saturday, May 28, 2022

Dale Earnhardt Jr. highlights 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame class

By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Earnhardt name is synonymous with NASCAR racing.

The addition of a second Earnhardt to the NASCAR Hall of Fame only adds to the depth of the family legacy, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be among the three drivers enshrined Friday. Earnhardt, modified racer Mike Stefanik and Alabama short-track legend Red Farmer make up the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame class.

As he joins his father among the inductees, Earnhardt that knows his family has gained elite company, as they become the fifth father-son duo in the Hall, along with Ned and Dale Jarrett, Bobby and Davey Allison, Buck and Buddy Baker and NASCAR-founding family members Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr.

“It always has mattered to me anytime I did anything that my father did — any accomplishment, any race win, winning at a certain track,” Earnhardt told FOX Sports in an interview Thursday at the Hall of Fame.

“So to get inducted into the Hall of Fame is another one of those moments where I just can’t believe that this is really happening to me.”

Earnhardt recorded 26 wins in his career, including two Daytona 500 victories. His father won a record-tying seven championships and ranks eighth all time with 76 wins.

While his on-track performance could be considered Hall of Fame-worthy (he ranks 32nd in all-time wins), Earnhardt Jr. was easily a first-ballot Hall of Famer when combining his record with what he did off the track. The face of the sport after his father’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt won 15 consecutive NASCAR Most Popular Driver awards.

He has also owned Xfinity Series teams that have won four championships, and three Cup Series champions — Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott — honed their skills with Earnhardt’s teams before making the move to Cup.

While he retired following the 2017 season after battling concussions, Earnhardt races one Xfinity race per year. He is also an analyst for NBC Sports.

Drivers are eligible for induction after three years of no longer racing full time, and Earnhardt was selected in his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot.

“I think also about what [my dad] might say or think if he were here to tell us and how he might enjoy that experience together, enjoy standing on that stage together,” Earnhardt said. “I’ll certainly be thinking about that a lot over the course of the ceremonies and going forward the rest of my life.”

Earnhardt got the chance to test one of NASCAR’s Next Gen cars last week at Daytona, but the 47-year-old said he doesn’t expect to get back in the driver’s seat of a Cup car — especially not at a high-speed track such as Daytona.

“I’m old — 47 years old,” he said after the test. “Take a guy like William Byron. He’s young. He’s a risk-taker. And I’m done taking risks.

“I’ve got two little girls that I love being around, and I’ve put my wife through a lot.”

Leading up to his Hall of Fame induction, Earnhardt wasn’t trying to predict what the ceremony will be like. The vote to elect him came 20 months ago, but NASCAR canceled the 2021 ceremony because of the pandemic. NASCAR then opted to skip voting in 2021 and instead induct the 2021 class this year.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Earnhardt said. “I hope it is a great experience for myself and Red and Mike’s family.”

It will probably be emotional for Earnhardt, whose grandfather was also a racer. Earnhardt’s race team employs many family members, and he has a nephew who is racing. 

His father was part of the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame class in 2010.

“I know he’s proud, and people tell me that, but it will always be something I’ll be curious about as far as what words would he use? What would he say?” Earnhardt said.

Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!


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