ATOP THE STANDINGS: Five races into the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads the driver standings after finishing second two weeks ago at Auto Club Speedway. Earnhardt is the only competitor to have finished among the top 10 in each of this season’s five races. It’s the first time the 10-time Most Popular Driver has led the standings in consecutive seasons. Earnhardt last held the points lead after the August 2012 race at Pocono Raceway. He also sat atop the driver standings in 2004.
600TH START: This weekend’s race will mark Earnhardt’s 475th start in a sanctioned Sprint Cup points-paying event and his 600th overall in NASCAR competition. He also has tallied 125 starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
CAREER STATISTICS: In those 599 starts, Earnhardt has 42 wins, 167 top-five finishes, 267 top-10s, 21 pole positions and 10,540 laps led. With 19 Cup wins, Earnhardt is tied for 38th on the all-time Sprint Cup winner’s list and ranks 11th among active, full-time drivers. In 474 Cup starts, Earnhardt also has 108 top-five finishes, 187 top-10s and 11 pole positions. In his 125 Nationwide Series starts, Earnhardt has 23 wins, 59 top-five finishes, 80 top-10s and 10 pole positions. He ranks ninth all-time with his 23 Nationwide victories.
FIRST WINS: Of those 42 combined victories, Earnhardt scored his first Cup and Nationwide series wins at Texas Motor Speedway. He claimed his first Nationwide Series win in 1998 after starting 16th and leading six laps. He went to his first Victory Lane in the Cup Series in April 2000 after starting fourth and leading 106 laps.
FIRST STARTS: Earnhardt made his first NASCAR start in the Nationwide Series on June 22, 1996, at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Speedway driving the No. 31 entry for Dale Earnhardt Inc. Then age 21, Earnhardt started the event seventh and finished 14th. He followed that up almost three years later with his Cup debut in May 1999. Then, Earnhardt qualified eighth for the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway event, circling the 1.5-mile oval faster than his father and Jeff Gordon – both Cup champions. Earnhardt crossed the finish line 16th.
AT MARTINSVILLE: In 26 Sprint Cup starts at Martinsville Speedway, Earnhardt has scored 10 top-five finishes, 14 top-10s and has led 868 laps. He recorded a career-best runner-up finish at the Virginia short track behind the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet in October 2008 and again in April 2011.
PERSONAL BESTS: Earnhardt’s 868 laps led at Martinsville are his personal best at a track. He has tallied 256 of those laps driving the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. His nine 10-five finishes at Martinsville match his personal best at a track. He also has 10 top-five finishes at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
SHORT TRACK STATS: In 80 Cup starts on short tracks, Earnhardt has recorded four wins, 26 top-five finishes and 38 top-10s. He has a 17.1 average starting position and an average finishing position of 12.8 on these racetracks.
DRIVER RATING: According to NASCAR’s loop data statistics, Earnhardt is ranked fourth in the driver rating category at Martinsville with a score of 99.8. The driver rating is a formula that combines wins, top-15 finishes, average running position while on the lead lap, average speed under green, fastest lap, most laps led and lead-lap finishes. The maximum a driver can earn in each race is 150 points. The driver rating number is used pre-race as a prediction tool and post-race as a performance evaluator.
LAPS IN THE TOP 15: Earnhardt ranks third among drivers for laps run in the top 15 during the last 16 races at Martinsville behind teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Earnhardt has spent 76.9 percent of all laps (6,179 of 8,034 laps) in the top 15 per NASCAR’s loop statistics.
CHASSIS CHOICE: Crew chief Steve Letarte will unload Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 88-789 for this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway. This is a brand new chassis that has not been raced.
HENDRICK BESTS AT MARTINSVILLE: Hendrick Motorsports has recorded its most wins, top-five finishes and top-10s at Martinsville. The organization has 19 victories there, with Johnson most recently reaching Victory Lane at the short track in October 2012. During that race, three Hendrick Motorsports drivers finished seventh or better to give the organization 104 career top-10s at Martinsville. That figure is a team-best for Hendrick and ranks as more than any other team has acquired at any Cup track in NASCAR history.
DALE EARNHARDT JR., DRIVER, NO. 88 DIET MOUNTAIN DEW CHEVROLET SS (ON HIS 600TH START.): “Is that a lot? (LAUGHS). I take a lot of pride in what I’ve accomplished over the years. I’m proud of the two (NASCAR) Nationwide championships, the wins in both series and having worked with a lot of talented people. And it’s an honor to have the fan support that I do. I like that I’m able to do what I do for a living. Hopefully there’s another 600 in there.”