Dale Earnhardt Jr. gunning to win his last Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race
By Ben White
Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, considers Bristol Motor Speedway to be his all-time favorite short track in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition.
WATCH DALE JR. BATTLE BACK FOR 2ND PLACE IN THE 2016 FOOD CITY 500
Earnhardt Jr. began his own Cup career in 1999 and set his sights on getting a BMS trophy or two of his own. Through the April 24th Food City 500, the future NASCAR Hall of Famer has 26-career Cup victories to his credit, including the XFINITY Series and Cup Series events in August of 2004.
Now with the 2017 season designated as his last as a Cup series driver, he has his sights set on adding another Cup victory to the list. Nothing would make him happier than for one of many wins to come in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race scheduled for August 19, 2017.
Earnhardt's legion of loyal fans would cherish the sight of their beloved driver rolling into victory lane one last time in his final Cup Series start on the storied concrete oval.
"We're excited about how good our cars are," Earnhardt Jr. said on the Hendrick Motorsports website. "(Crew chief) Greg (Ives) is doing an awesome job, and so is the whole team. They are putting some great cars on the racetrack. I love racing at Bristol. I always look forward to racing there. There's just no other track like it."
In the track known affectionately as The Last Great Colosseum, Earnhardt Jr. agrees every seat in the house offers the best view of the most exciting battles for track position anywhere on the 36-race Cup series circuit.
So where does Bristol Motor Speedway rank among his favorite places to race or watch a race?
"Bristol fights for that top spot," Earnhardt Jr. said in an interview with Athlon Sports in 2015. "I always loved going there as a kid. It's one of the more exciting racetracks to be at as a fan. I used to go watch my father race (and) being able to run around the pits and garage area all weekend long. When they were preparing to race and then sit down and watch the race, there's not a bad seat in the house at Bristol. And it's as much fun to race there as it was to see. It's very special to me and my heart. It's a tough race to win, but it's a great feeling when you do."
All told, Earnhardt Jr. enjoys a record of 15 top-fives, 26
When asked what he loved about the track in victory lane that night, Earnhardt Jr. coined the phrase; "It's Bristol, Baby!" Fans still describe it the same way today.
"When we swept in '04, that was a great, great weekend to be able to win the Nationwide (XFINITY) race and the Cup race," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We lapped all the way up to sixth place in the Cup race. We had this long, uncharacteristic green-flag run where we had to pit under green. We ended up lapping a lot of cars. Our car was just the class of the field that night."
When Cup series teams get to Bristol Motor Speedway to race under the lights, drivers will be looking to win their way into NASCAR's 10-race playoff system set to begin Sept. 17
"I can say right now, (the goal for 2017 is) winning races," Earnhardt said at his retirement announcement April 25th. "We feel very confident that's not out of the question. Greg (Ives) and I have had more communication this year than ever. We started this offseason sort of admitting to each other that we both could put more into this relationship. And for us to be successful or more successful, we've both
"Obviously, if we win a few races, we make the playoffs and get a chance to run for the championship. One thing leads to another."
A Cup series victory in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race would certainly be the perfect way for Earnhardt Jr. to go out in style. Plenty of fans will be on hand to experience what they hope will be his final win at the track.
Be sure to reserve your seat now for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race so you can witness Earnhardt Jr.'s last race at The World's Fastest Half-Mile by calling 423-BRISTOL or visiting BristolTix.com.
Ben White has covered NASCAR for the Lexington N.C. Dispatch for 34 years. He has also written for a variety of motorsports publications and authored many books about NASCAR.