Don’t get this return of a soon-to-be NASCAR Hall of Famer twisted, Dale Earnhardt Jr. chose his annual one-off NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Richmond International Raceway for a reason.
It’s because he wants to win.
The son of Dale Earnhardt is no slouch when it comes to the ¾-mile short track that is Richmond, and he knows it. Earnhardt Jr. has three Cup Series wins at the “Action Track” and four Xfinity Series wins, which includes his most recent NASCAR win in 2016.
It was his one and only win with his own race team — JR Motorsports. In his entire Xfinity Series career, which includes two championships, Earnhardt has only finished outside of the top 10 one time at Richmond. It was in 1999, when a rear axle broke and he was forced to retire from the event, finishing 32nd.
But what’s even more impressive is not Earnhardt’s Richmond record, but it’s his Xfinity Series stats after his retirement from full-time Cup racing in 2017.
Since his departure, Earnhardt has made the annual climb into a JRM Chevrolet cockpit three times, and each time he has finished in the top five — including his most recent start at Homestead-Miami Speedway where he finished fifth after leading four laps. If you go back even further, the last time the Mooresville-native finished outside of the top 10 in an Xfinity Series start was 2015 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he finished 12th.
While he won in 2016, Earnhardt’s most recent Xfinity start at Richmond was in 2018, where he finished fourth after leading 96 laps. With all of this success at the Virginia-based short track, it’s no wonder he wanted to return for one more hoorah.
It’s because he’s still got the passion to win, and at Richmond, he may actually do it.
“I watched a couple (Richmond) races,” Earnhardt said on his podcast, The Dale Jr. Download this week. “I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and watched probably 150 laps of one of the races. I’m just getting it in my mind. Because we’re going to go there with no practice and hit the ground running. I’m looking forward to it.”
He isn’t going to be the only veteran among the Xfinity youngsters either.
Earnhardt will be starting 30th in the 40-car field this weekend, but three positions behind him will be JRM prospect and 2022 full-time driver Josh Berry. Berry made his third career Xfinity Series start in 2015 at RIR and earned his first career top 10 there in seventh.
While 30-year-old Berry has made most of his starts in 2021 in the JRM No. 8 Chevrolet, which included a win at Martinsville Speedway, he’s making his effort this weekend at Richmond in the No. 31 Jordan Anderson Racing Chevrolet.
“I didn’t know Josh would be in the race, so that will be fun to go out there and compete with him,” Earnhardt also said on his podcast. “I’m sure he’s going to do great. He has ran there before, so he’s got a little track time.”
It’s still unclear if Earnhardt will be racing again in 2022, but regardless if he is or isn’t, the 250-lapper on Saturday (Sept. 11) afternoon will be a special one for JR Nation.
What To Watch For This Weekend
Justin Allgaier can do three-in-a-row: The last time the Xfinity Series was at Richmond was to host two races in one weekend in 2020, and Justin Allgaier won both of them. The driver of the No. 7 JRM Chevrolet has two wins so far in 2021. He is third in the driver standings. Allgaier has a real chance of capitalizing at a track where he swept one year ago and adding to his playoff points count heading into the playoffs.
It still isn’t too late for Annett: The Xfinity Series playoffs are only two weeks away, but there is still plenty of battle left around the cutoff line. The 12th-place spot is currently occupied by Stewart-Haas Racing driver Riley Herbst. The Las Vegas-native is 46 points above JRM driver Michael Annett, who was forced to miss four races because of medical reasons. With only 46 points separating he and a playoff birth and two races left, the idea of the No. 1 team making the post-season fight is still very real.
Gragson’s time to keep momentum: Last week at Darlington saw Noah Gragson win his first Xfinity Series race since Bristol Motor Speedway in 2020. The 23-year-old had been starving for a win since then, and now that he has one, he’s going to want more. With Bristol on the horizon next weekend, Gragson doesn’t have to win this weekend to keep the fire burning, he only has to finish well.
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