Dale Earnhardt Jr. Fans Still Love Their Driver and Express Displeasure With Others Through Special ‘1-Finger Salute’
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was impressively named NASCAR‘s Most Popular Driver 15 years in a row during his career. He retired from full-time Cup Series racing after 2017, but when he’s not putting out takes on his podcast, he’s continued to give fans an opportunity to cheer each year when he runs a one-off race in the Xfinity Series.
In 2023, the NASCAR Hall of Famer has changed it up a bit and is running two races, the second at Homestead. on Oct. 21. On the eve of that race, Xfinity driver/team co-owner Jeremy Clements talked about racing against the JR Motorsports team owner last year at Martinsville and how he discovered Earnhardt’s fans were still passionate about their driver when he spun the No. 88 car and those ardent supporters didn’t hesitate to show him what they thought about it.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. racing Xfinity Series in retirement
Dale Earnhardt Jr. competing once a year in the Xfinity Series achieves several things, including allowing him to connect with his fans and, more importantly, stay up to date with the cars, the technology, and how the current drivers think and operate on the track.
In his limited performances since 2018, Earnhardt has run well. In those first three races from 2018-20, he recorded consecutive top-5s at Richmond, Darlington, and Homestead. His last three races have featured dropoffs in performance as he finished 14th at Richmond in 2021, 11th at Martinsville last year, and 30th at Bristol last month.
While that last result at The Last Great Colosseum was his worst on paper, it was undoubtedly one of his best performances in retirement. His No. 88 car was one of the better ones on the track all night, finishing inside the top 10 in both stages, leading an impressive 47 laps, and remaining in contention late. Unfortunately, those chances at victory went up in literal smoke with 30 laps to go when a small fire developed in the cockpit and ended his night early.
Jeremy Clements reveals Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans weren’t happy with him last year
Although Earnhardt has a mission of understanding the cars and the drivers in today’s Xfinity Series so he can better communicate that to the fans on the NBC broadcast, he’s also there to have fun. Last year at Martinsville, the two-time Daytona 500 winner hung out and visited with a group of drivers, including JRM driver Noah Gragson and veteran Jeremy Clements, after the race over a few cold ones.
Clements, who, like Earnhardt, owns his team, definitely had something to talk about. During the race, the No. 51 driver found himself as the meat in a JRM sandwich, getting moved by Josh Berry and sending his car into the rear of the No. 88, which went for a spin.
During a mid-October appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, Clements visited with broadcaster Dave Moody about how he would like to win at Homestead with Earnhardt finishing right behind him, which prompted a conversation and hilarious reveal by the driver from last year’s race.
“I win the race and Dale Jr. finishes second, and that would be a great weekend,” Clements said.
“Oh, man. They’ll boo you,” Moody responded. “If Dale Jr. finishes second, you’ll be the worst guy in the world.”
“I know. Hell, I spun him out at Martinsville last year. I didn’t mean to,” the driver recounted.
“Now that you mention it, yes, you did,” the veteran broadcaster noted.
“I didn’t mean to, but the 8 car got into me, and then I was the one, the front bumper hit Junior,” Clements recalled. “I’ve never seen so many — well, I have before at dirt tracks — but like, never seen so many one-finger salutes on the front stretch.
“Hey, good memories, though. And Junior was good about it. He knew what happened. He signed the front bumper and that was cool. When you got guys like that that you race against, it’s a lot of fun.”
Clements is one of the more likable drivers in the Xfinity garage because he’s the definition of the small family team that’s managed to hang with the big boys and do so successfully for years. That’s included a couple of wins, the most recent of which came at Daytona last summer.
He wasn’t a fan favorite that night at Martinsville, but in the end, it didn’t matter because he got the opportunity to have fun on and off the track with Earnhardt and now has quite the story to tell his friends and family for the rest of his life.