Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series has been a forgettable one. In a season defined by DNFs and pedestrian results, the sport’s most popular driver has seen his final races at iconic venues result in disappointment: He failed to finish either the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona or the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, and his final start at Bristol Motor Speedway resulted in a lackluster 23rd-place finish.
After the Cup Series’ week off to end the month of August, Earnhardt will make his final start at another one of the sport’s most iconic venues in Darlington Raceway. While Earnhardt has never visited Victory Lane in Darlington – His best finish was a second-place run in the 2014 Southern 500 – A win in the oldest of the Cup Series’ marquee events would be quite appropriate for the Kannapolis, North Carolina driver.
The Southern 500’s new designation as NASCAR’s official throwback weekend fits Earnhardt like a glove, as he is vocally fond of the sport’s history. Earnhardt himself will be partaking in the festivities, as he will run the same paint scheme that he drove to back-to-back Busch Series championships in 1998 and 1999.
In addition, Earnhardt’s ACDelco colors were with him when he came the closest to winning at Darlington. In the 1998 Dura-Lube 200, Earnhardt was pitted in a late-race battle against Dick Trickle. Earnhardt was in hot pursuit of the Wisconsin-born veteran in the closing laps, when the caution came out to set up a finish under yellow. As racing back to the start-finish line was still practiced in that era, Earnhardt made one final charge off of turn four, pulling alongside of Trickle only to fall inches short of making the winning pass.
Long out of range to make the playoffs on points, Dale Earnhardt Jr. only has two opportunities left to win a race and set up his pursuit of a championship in his final season. With three-straight Top 10s at Darlington and one of his classic paint schemes in tow, Driver 88 could very well make noise in the Southern 500.