Dale Jr. Gets Full Short Track Experience at Florence

The two-time Daytona 500 winner ultimately contended for the win.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. got the full short track experience in his second Late Model Stock appearance of the season on Saturday in the South Carolina 400 at Florence Motor Speedway.

In review:

  • Struggled in time trials and started near the back of the field
  • Was involved in two incidents resulting in getting penalized to the rear of the field
  • Avoided two incidents by driving off into the dirt
  • Raced for the win
  • Ultimately finished ninth

It was an extremely eventful night that would have left a full-time racer flustered but Earnhardt was smiling from ear to ear after the race. It was everything he wanted in returning to his Late Model Stock roots at his original home track.

"A lot of boxes got checked for that race," Earnhardt said.

Late Model racing can be unorthodox and a little messy, considerably less polished than what Earnhardt experienced upon graduating to the national touring level, but that is much of what he wanted to experience -- it was something he didn’t enjoy as much his first time around.

And through it all, there were several points it looked as if the two-time Daytona 500 winner was going to win the race and being in the mix made the journey just as valuable as whatever the destination was going to be.

"Had plenty of race car to win," Earnhardt said. "Just didn't have my head on straight those last 20 laps. It dawned on me that we had a good shot to run second. (Mason Diaz) looked like he was going to win it. His car was super-fast, but he used a lot of it trying to get back there, but probably still had a little more car that we did.

"But I thought, 'wow, we really got a shot to run second' and then all that happened."

All of that began with Earnhardt getting into the back of Matt Cox with 13 laps to go and drawing a penalty that sent him to the rear as a result. And yet, Earnhardt drove all the way back to sixth with three laps to go when he got loose on corner entry into Turn 1 and washed up into Landon Pembelton, which resulted in another penalty.

"I thought I gave Matt Cox the room he needed," Earnhardt said. "Maybe not, and maybe I just drove into his left rear. Got into Turn 1 and spun (Pembelton) out. That was my fault. I was in over my head. It was late in the race and I was just not using my brain very well, but fun race, fast cars, saved my tires did all those things right."

Beyond the on-track element, Earnhardt simply enjoyed feeling a little bit like a weekly racer at the track he likely made his most starts in a Late Model Stock as a teenager. The track opened the grandstand a little later each afternoon, allowing Earnhardt to kind of mosey around the pit area and just mingle with his peers.

He visited some old friends too in Greg Marlowe and Edward Jordan.

"Me and Edward used to park side by side at Myrtle Beach in the 90s," Earnhardt said. "I was sponsored by Sun Drop and he had a KFC deal, so I'd bring him a case of Sun Drop and he'd bring me a rotisserie chicken.

"Things were so simple back then so it was fun to come back and have some fun."

It's the kind of fun Earnhardt hopes to do a handful of more times next year as well. He has two Xfinity Series starts scheduled and that leaves three of four other races.

One of them will be the CARS Tour race at North Wilkesboro the week before the NASCAR All Star Race and everything else is to be determined.

"For me, the track has to have a lot of abrasion, a place like here or Wilkesboro that wears tires," Earnhardt said. "I have nothing against any other type of race track but I don't want to go to a place where there isn't a lot of tire conservation, where it's qualifying laps every run. I don't know that I could cut it at a place like Dominion or South Boston, where you have to run so hard and it comes down to the cars turning and working.

"I don't think I can drive this car as well as the guys who run these series regularly. Me and Josh (Berry) were talking about how I used the brakes and everything else and he can get in the car and get that .50 we needed in qualifying in the ways I can't.

"I can't trail brake or load the car in the way he can where it turns that way in the race. But I can run a pace to save my stuff and give me a shot. I don't know if I'd be good at those tracks where you got to run hard, run hard and you don't have a lot of fall off."

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