With a NASCAR career spanning more than 15 years, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has enough stories to fill an entire volume of books, and in a recent installment of “Dale Tales” for NBC Sports, he looked fondly back on the first time he ever drove a Hendrick Motorsports car. It may not seem like an all-too memorable moment, but there’s one catch: he hadn’t even signed with the prolific racing team yet.
It all happened during a NASCAR Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway on April 15, 2017, 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 on Lap 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.