Dale Earnhardt Jr. is far and away NASCAR’s most popular driver, a status that can be traced back to his 2001 Pepsi 400 win.
The July race was NASCAR’s first trip to Daytona International Speedway since Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death just four months earlier, and it would have been easy for the second-generation to let his emotions get the better of him. Instead, “Dale Jr.” drove his No. 8 all the way to victory lane, cementing himself as one of the faces of the sport for years to come.
NASCAR.com recently posted its second video from the series, “Legacy: Dale Earnhardt Jr.,” that explains how that 400-mile contest highlights why fans of all ages have gravitated toward the Hendrick Motorsports driver. And a quote in the short film from Earnhardt himself sums it up perfectly.
“The fan support that I received straight out of the gate was in large part because of my famous last name,” Earnhardt said. “But throughout the ups and downs, it occurred to me that the fans that stuck it out — and the new ones that joined us — they were there because of the person I was, and not who they wanted me to be.”
The death of Dale Sr. understandably impacted everybody who was watching the 2001 Daytona 500. As a result, it’s not surprising that Dale Jr.’s perseverance in the aftermath not only helped shape who he is as a person, but also how he’s been received by the NASCAR community as a whole.