As the Nascar Sprint Cup season kicks off Feb. 13 at Daytona International Speedway, we’ll all be watching for one very special reason: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Sr. has become a racing legend in his own right, earning acclaim both on and off the track. Throughout his career, he’s enjoyed such great success at Daytona that he’s even been hailed as the “Pied Piper.” Now, as he looks to capture his third Daytona 500 trophy, he has momentum from the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season where he tallied three wins, as well as 16 top-five and 22 top-10 finishes.
After making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the eighth time, Dale Jr., 41, finished twelfth overall and boasted an average finish of 11.3 for the 2015 season. His average finish at superspeedways was 1.75, including wins at Talladega in May and Daytona in July. Over the past two seasons, he has enjoyed seven wins – something that has given his fans reason to cheer and creates even more anticipation as the 2016 season gets underway.
“The season has its ups and downs,” he said during the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January. “Looking at the statistics, the way we’ve run and the way the cars have performed, we’ve just gotten a little bit better over the past five or six years. I’m just hoping we can continue that progress.
Dale Jr.’s appeal to fans goes far beyond his mastery on the track. In December, the National Motorsports Press Association announced that his enthusiastic legion of fans had voted him Most Popular Driver for the thirteenth consecutive year.
His ever-increasing popularity is evidenced by his massive following on social media, which now exceeds more than four million combined fans on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Those fans follow his every move, and when he announced that he was revealing a new paint scheme for his No. 88 Nationwide Chevy SS, they got in on the action.
Ten lucky fans who followed the Nationwide 88 on Facebook and Twitter were invited to visit Hendrick Motorsports — home to the No. 88 — for a tour of the facilities. But Nationwide and Dale Jr. had much more in store. As the fans were retelling their favorite Dale Jr. stories to the camera, the superstar driver appeared to meet the overwhelmed and often speechless fans. After receiving the tour they’d been promised, Dale Jr. had one more treat for them –an invite to help him pull the cover from the newly painted 2016 No. 88 Nationwide Chevy SS and share the moment as he saw the new paint scheme for the first time.
The new paint scheme, which borrows inspiration from the Gray Ghost design popularized by NASCAR great Buddy Baker in the 1980 Daytona 500, will be seen by the rest of Dale Jr.’s fans when he hits the track in the car on Sunday, Feb. 21, at the Daytona 500.
Right on track
Of course, the newly designed car won’t be the only new thing fans see at Daytona. The world’s first motorsports stadium has been completely reinvented and renovated to create a better experience for fans. That means wider seats, upgraded amenities and better sightlines for fans to enjoy the action.
And, on Feb. 21, the action of the Daytona 500 returns for its 58th run. As the premier event for racing fans, this sold-out race is bringing together more than 100,000 fans to share an unparalleled track experience. And for so many, it will be a chance to cheer on No. 88 for what could be Dale Jr.’s third Daytona 500 trophy.
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