Dale Jr. joins father in NASCAR Hall of Fame

FILE - Dale Earnhardt, left, hugs Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Victory Lane on Friday afternoon, Feb. 18, 2000, after the elder Earnhardt won the International Race of Champions round at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. The younger Earnhardt finished fifth. As he prepares to join his late father in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Dale Earnhardt Jr. can't help but wonder what his Dad would make of the career he's built on and off the track. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)

CHARLOTTE — Dale Earnhardt Jr. was voted NASCAR’s most popular driver a record 15 times.

On Friday night, he was inducted into NASCAR’s 12th Hall of Fame class along with late-model driver Red Farmer and the late Mike Stefanik, a decorated modified driver who died in a plane crash in 2019. Ralph Seagraves was named as the recipient of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.

The group was selected in 2020, but the induction ceremony was postponed more than a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Dale Earnhardt Jr. speaks about his career during the ceremony on Friday, Jan. 21, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Matt Kelley)

The younger Earnhardt joins his late father, seven-time Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt, in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“To join Dad in the Hall of Fame is probably as good as it is ever going to get,” Earnhardt said.

Known around the pits simply as “Junior,” Earnhardt won 26 races during his Cup career, including two Daytona 500s and the 2001 Pepsi 400, which came four months after his father’s death at the same track.

Although Earnhardt never won a championship, his impact has been felt throughout the racing world building a career as NASCAR’s top ambassador while finding a crossover audience that stretched far beyond his father’s reach.

“In the time I have been involved in racing, nobody has impacted the sport more than Dale Earnhardt Jr.,” Hall of Fame driver Jeff Gordon said. “When he won, three-quarters of the grandstand stood up and cheered.”

Earnhardt began his career at family-owned Dale Earnhardt Inc., winning back-to-back Xfinity Series titles and 13 races in two full-time seasons. He won his first Cup Series race in his 12th career start. Like his father, Earnhardt was a master of the draft and thrived in restrictor-plate racing with 10 of his 26 career Cup victories coming at Daytona and Talladega, including Daytona 500 wins in 2004 and 2014.

He left DEI six years after his father’s death and joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2008 as one of the most coveted free agents in the sport.

Car owner Rick Hendrick said he’s been amazed by Earnhardt ever since.

During the recession, Earnhardt approached Hendrick and asked for $1 million to be deducted from his paycheck and distributed among the company’s employees so that “no one would have to suffer.”

When that money wasn’t redistributed right away, Earnhardt marched into the front office at Hendrick Motorsports and insisted upon it.

“He has an unbelievable heart,” Hendrick said.

“I don’t know of anybody in any sport that has represented his family any better,” Hall of Fame driver Richard Petty said.

Farmer’s exact win total during his career is unknown, but it is “somewhere north of 700” according to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

A member of the “Alabama Gang,” Farmer won NASCAR’s Modified Division championship in 1956 followed by three consecutive championships in the Late Model Sportsman Division from 1969-71. Farmer preferred racing late models but did run 36 Cup Series races with a best finish being a fourth place.

In 1998, Farmer’s was named to NASCAR’s list of its 50 greatest drivers.

Stefanik won nine all-time NASCAR championships — tied with Richie Evans for the most ever.

He won seven titles in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and two others in the Busch North Series. Stefanik holds modified series records for championships, wins, poles, and top-five and top-10 finishes. In 2003, he was named one of the tour’s 10 greatest drivers.

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