One week after getting bounced from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the checkered flag at Martinsville to become the first non-championship-qualifying driver to win a race in NASCAR’s playoffs this season.
The victory marked his first Martinsville triumph in 30 starts, and his first win during the Chase since November of 2004 at Phoenix. Earnhardt’s four first-place finishes this season are his most since 2004.
Despite winning one week too late, the victory was an emotional one for Earnhardt, who plans on racing for trophies the rest of the season.
“We love winning races,” Earnhardt said. “Winning races is the best thing. I’m trying to get trophies. I’ve wanted that grandfather clock ever since I was a little boy and I got it.”
The No. 88 Chevrolet driver will attempt to play spoiler again in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on ESPN). In 24 Lone Star State starts, Earnhardt has tallied one win, four top fives and 13 top 10s. In last fall’s Texas race, he finished second. His first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win came at Texas in 2000.
NASCAR’s 11-time most popular driver will pilot chassis No. 88-810 on Sunday, the same one he took to Victory Lane in both Pocono races and led with at Kansas before he hit the fence.
Another prime candidate to steal a victory from the Chase contenders is Sunoco Rookie of the Year front-runner Kyle Larson. He finished fifth at Texas in the spring and has posted six top-10 showings in his last nine starts. The 22-year-old is still hunting for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win.