Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrated Phoenix ’15 win like it was his last — and it might be

With only two races remaining in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Cup Series career, the odds are increasing that a rain-shortened race two years ago at Phoenix International Raceway might stand as the final win of his career.

That might seem sort of weird —  Jeff Gordon’s last win was a stirring victory at Martinsville and Tony Stewart’s final victory came after he bumped Denny Hamlin out of the way at Sonoma — and doesn’t really fit into any kind of storybook ending.

But don’t worry, Junior Nation: If that was it, your driver celebrated the victory like it was his last.

“After our dry spell (three winless seasons from 2009-11), every win after that I celebrated it and thought about it being my last win,” he said Friday. “The Talladega win (in 2015), the Daytona 500 (in 2014), the July Daytona race (in 2015), Martinsville (in 2014), here — every one of them I was thinking it might be the last.”

There have been only two rain-shortened races in Phoenix history: Earnhardt’s win two years ago and Rusty Wallace’s October 1998 victory here. So Earnhardt isn’t bummed about the circumstances of what may be his last win — he’s happy about it.

“I felt lucky we were running good enough to win the race,” he said. “Greg (Ives) had done some pit strategy that cycled us into the lead at the particular point when the rain came. And I was thinking, ‘Man, that is how it’s supposed to work.’ You know, your crew chief is supposed to have that vision and, man, he had it that day.

“I was so proud of Greg and I felt lucky. It’s great to back into (a win) every once in awhile, or luck into them every once in a while. I have been on the other end of that where you felt like you should have won the race and don’t for some odd reason. So I was feeling like, ‘Heck yeah.'”

Fortunately for Earnhardt, the Phoenix win came the week before Homestead — which he typically would spend at his house in Key West. So that meant Earnhardt “partied hard” after the victory, he said.

“We had a good time that night down at Captain Tony’s (saloon in Key West),” he said with a laugh. “That is where we went.”

5 Replies to “Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrated Phoenix ’15 win like it was his last — and it might be”

  1. I hope that no one is considering Dale Jr. for the Hall of Fame. Unless they add a “Nice Guy Award”.

    1. Only 28 people have more Cup wins that Junior in the history of NASCAR. Every one of them who is not currently active or waiting for the 5 year period after their retirement is already in the Hall of Fame.

      Only 5 people have more Daytona 500 wins than Junior.

      So cry me a river about championships, but Junior Johnson had zero as a driver and was first ballot.

      Stats don’t lie. Earnhardt’s a lock, G.K.

    2. He’s obviously contributed nothing to the sport. Two Grand National championships, Multiple Daytona wins, (two Daytona 500s), 6 wins at Talladega (4-straight), only driver to win the All-Star as a rookie, 14 (soon to be 15) straight Most Popular Driver awards, and more personality and crossover appeal than the rest of the field combined. The Dale Jr Foundation. Oh, and the fact that more than 1/4 of the current field has driven for JRM at some point.

      Yeah, he’s a nobody.

  2. Yeah, I get why a lot of folks think Dale Jr. shouldn’t be in the Hall, but consider this- He probably has had a greater effect on the sport than many peers who are champions. Dale Jr’s effects on Nascar won’t really be known for a few years, until after he’s gone, and then I think it will become clearer. Already we are talking about “who’s next”, who will get the cheers, the fan’s hearts, and be a driving force for the sport in terms of visibility and impact.

    Sure, he never won a Cup championship, but name a driver since Dale Sr. that’s had more of an impact on the sport, or has drawn more fans to the sport since 2001. There are more ways than winning the Cup playoffs, or points championship to be a “champion”. Even Jimmy Johnson is somewhat overshadowed by Dale Jr. Is that right? Probably not, but it is what it is.

  3. Similarly, Matt Kenseth remarked after one of his wins several years ago that you have to celebrate each win like it could be your last…because you never know if it will be.

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