Months after his retirement from racing, it’s still so hard to think about not having Dale Earnhardt Jr. competing in the upcoming Daytona 500. It just doesn’t seem like a race without him.
Since he announced his planned retirement late last year, fans have been preparing themselves for the upcoming race, which would be the first time an Earnhardt has not been in the game in 40 years.
But it turns out, that’s not going to be the case!
A new Earnhardt face is stepping in: Jeffrey Earnhardt, nephew of Junior and grandson of Dale Sr. The 28-year old will be jumping behind the wheel for the most iconic race in the NASCAR season.
We knew Dale Jr. would serve as the Grand Marshal of the Daytona 500 this year, but that’s not exactly the same thing as driving in the actual race, so this is super exciting news.
Jeffrey, son of Jr.’s older brother Kerry, landed a ride a few weeks ago with StarCom Racing and the opportunity to compete in Florida on Feb. 18.
And his Uncle Junior couldn’t be happier.
“It would have been a little disappointing [with no Earnhardt in the 500],” Dale Jr. told ESPN. “I was glad he got an opportunity to compete. I want to see him continue to compete because I know he loves to drive, and I know he’s not settled [with his career] … I think for the diehard Earnhardt fans, it matters.”
Oh, it absolutely matters.
Jeffrey still has some work to do. But he’s pushing forward.
“I keep telling everybody that I’d hate to be the reason to break the streak of consecutive years an Earnhardt has been in the 500,” he said to ESPN. “It was definitely stressful when the whole deal happened. One door closed for a better one to open. I feel pretty good with the situation I’m in now.”
The Earnhardt legacy means that much to him.
“One of the biggest things for me in my career is to be able to continue that legacy my grandfather built,” he said in the interview. “I know how much that meant to him, and I definitely want to try to keep that going as long as possible … I’ve been through a lot of rough deals and had a lot of uncertainties, I guess.”
We hope that when Jeffrey races on Sunday, he feels how proud his late grandfather—and his uncle—are of him.
The Earnhardt legacy lives on!
We wish all the drivers a very safe run when the Daytona 500 cranks up Sunday, Feb. 18 beginning at 1:30 p.m. on FOX.