Dale Earnhardt Jr., who came into the 2001 season thinking the
biggest obstacle he would face would be a sophomore slump, endured
the loss of the his father in the Daytona 500 and went on to establish
himself as one of the sport's superstars. Earnhardt finished second in
the Daytona 500, but faltered with a first lap crash and 43rd-place
finish the next weekend at Rockingham. He didn't stay down for long,

Junior scored three emotional victories and came back to finish eighth
in points. The first victory came when the NASCAR Winston Cup Series
returned to Daytona for the Pepsi 400. The second came at Dover,
Del., in the first race after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Earnhardt
also won at Talladega in the EA Sports 500 -- the site of his father's
final victory. That Talladega victory earned Junior a Winston No Bull 5
$1 million bonus that pushed him to a season winnings total of
$5,827,542. That was bolstered by nine top-fives and 15 top-10
finishes, as well as two Bud Poles. 

Before the 2000 season, many thought Earnhardt was the front-runner
for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year Award. It didn't pan out that way
frequent challenger Matt Kenseth outran Junior in the Daytona 500,
and never let up in his run to the title. Kenseth ultimately scored a
42-point victory in the rookie race. 

Earnhardt's close relationship with his cousin, car chief Tony Eury Jr.,
crew chief Tony Eury and his crew, was both a blessing and a curse.
The continuation of his Busch Series success into Winston Cup created
an atmosphere that was too distracting and disruptive for the
operation's success to continue. 

Junior did have a part in recreating one Winston Cup milestone in
2000 when he competed with his father and older half brother, Kerry
Earnhardt, in the Pepsi 400 at Michigan International Speedway. That
occasion was only the second time that a father had raced against two
sons. Lee, Richard and Maurice Petty had previously accomplished the

Junior started 2001 with vivid dreams of a Daytona 500 victory in his
No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet. Despite the idiosyncrasies of his rookie
year, Earnhardt has proven beyond any doubt that his name isn't the
only key to success. 

Earnhardt began his professional driving career at the age of 17,
competing in the Street Stock division at Concord (N.C.) Motorsport
Park. His first race car was a 1978 Monte Carlo that he co-owned with
Kerry. Within two seasons, the young Earnhardt had honed his driving
abilities to the point of joining the Late Model Stock Car division.
There, he developed an in-depth knowledge of chassis setup and car
preparation, while racing against Kerry and their sister Kelley. With his
father's guidance and his own experience on the short tracks
throughout the Carolinas, he was ready to take a bold step forward.

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