Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s nearly 20-year stint in the NASCAR Cup Series can be divided into two eras: the Dale Earnhardt, Inc. years and the Hendrick Motorsports years. After spending eight full-time seasons with DEI from 2000-2007, Junior made the move over to Hendrick, where he stayed until the end of his career in 2018. Just as he did while racing for his later father's team, Dale Jr. reached several important milestones during his tenure Hendrick, including a Daytona 500 win in 2014 and 10 Most Popular Driver award wins.
Now, the first time he raced in a Hendrick Motorsports car may not seem like a milestone worth mentioning, but there is actually an important caveat behind that fact: it came months before he officially signed with Hendrick. During an installment of "Dale Tales" for NBC Sports in 2018, Dale Jr. recalled the strange circumstances that led to that first Hendrick ride.
It all happened during a NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway on April 15, 2007, when Junior was still driving the No. 8 Chevrolet for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. After Tony Stewart had a mid-race spinout coming out of Turn 4, Dale and Kyle Busch ended up colliding during the ensuing smokescreen.
While both cars were in need of serious repairs, Junior was able to get back out onto the race track before his engine finally gave out onlLap 288. But, when he returned to the garage where Rowdy's No. 5 Chevrolet was being repaired, he saw the car, but no Rowdy. That's when the 15-time Most Popular Driver saw his opportunity.
"So there was this interesting perfect timing for me pulling and their car's ready to go," Earnhardt said. "I've talked to Kyle since this and his version of the events is he didn't think the car was going to get fixed and he felt he got cleared to leave. So a buddy of a mine, one of my drinking buddies that was on the 5 car that I hung out with during the week, he comes over and is like, 'Hey man, can you drive out car? We're in a points situation, we need to get a couple more points here and go out and run.'"
"I'm like, 'This is awesome. I've always wondered what the Hendrick cars felt like. What the motors felt like. This is a crashed car but maybe I can at least feel the power compared to my car and what I've been driving.'"
Dale Jr. would go on to drive the No. 88 Chevrolet race car for Hendrick Motorsports in 2008 (he would later race that car for JR Motorsports), but his first time behind the wheel of a Hendrick car makes for one hell of a story.
MORE: Kyle Busch's Run-In With Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2018 Wouldn't Be the Last Time He Bumped a Pace Car
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