Only 33 drivers have started 500 races in their NASCAR Sprint Cup Series careers, but in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Dale Earnhardt Jr. plans to add his name to that elite list.
Fourteen years ago in May 1999, the Kannapolis, N.C., native made his series debut at his home track. The then-24-year-old driver started eighth in the No. 8 Chevrolet owned by his father, seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt – who, it so happens, also made his series debut at the 1.5-mile track. The younger Earnhardt finished the 1999 Coca-Cola 600 16th, three laps off the lead lap. Earnhardt also scored his first career pole at CMS, in 2000.
Now, with 499 races in the books, he’s compiled 19 wins, 111 top fives, 199 top 10s and 13 poles. If Earnhardt, who celebrate his 39th birthday on Thurs., Oct. 10, wins this weekend, he would become the third driver to win in their 500th start (Richard Petty in 1970; Matt Kenseth three weeks ago at New Hampshire).
Although Earnhardt remains winless on the year, this is one of his best years. He started off his 2013 campaign posting top-10 performances in the first five races and sat atop the points standings after Auto Club. It was the first time in Earnhardt’s 15-year career that he held the top spot in back-to-back seasons.
After a shaky start to the Chase where he finished 35th at Chicagoland, Earnhardt’s come on strong lately with finishes of sixth, second and eighth in the last three races.