Having the last name ‘Earnhardt’ puts a lot of pressure on a driver in the Sprint Cup Series, and nobody knows that better than Dale Earnhardt, Jr., but now it’s his nephew Jeffrey who will learn that fate.
Racing truly is in the blood of the Earnhardt family. The racing family is arguably most famous for Dale Earnhardt, winner of seven Cup championships and 76 races. Dale is the grandfather of Jeffrey, who will try to extend the Earnhardt name’s success in 2016.
After running two races for Archie St. Hilaire in 2015, Earnhardt will take on a heavier schedule starting with the Atlanta Motor Speedway. Earnhardt is expected to run upwards of 30 Cup races in the No. 32 Go Green Racing Ford and will compete for Rookie of the Year honors. Being the top rookie would be a lofty goal for Earnhardt as he isn’t running full-time, and doesn’t have the top notch equipment his competitors Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott have, but Earnhardt looks forward to learning a lot this season.
“I have a lot to learn,” said Earnhardt. “Going into this season it is going to be about trying to better myself, setting goals and trying to beat them and then setting them higher the next weekend and trying to keep building that up.”
Earnhardt has 78 starts between NASCAR’s top-three series, including a best of seventh in a Truck race at Daytona in 2011. In addition to those 78 starts, Earnhardt has several top-10 finishes in NASCAR’s K&N East Series, two Rolex 24 starts and two NASCAR Whelen Euro starts at Brands Hatch with a best finish of seventh coming last year. In a short career, the 26-year-old from Mooresville, NC has amassed starts in many different series, but aims to stay in the Sprint Cup Series for a long time.
“I am just trying to set goals, achieve them and keep bettering ourselves as the season goes,” said Earnhardt. “We also want to run good too. If we achieve our goals, we should be running good. I have a lot to learn, and I know that going into the season.”
A big weight was lifted off Earnhardt’s shoulder a few weeks ago when NASCAR announced its new charter system, guaranteeing his team a spot in every race this season. In Earnhardt’s two races last season at Richmond and New Hampshire, Go Green Racing struggled to get him in the field, but that won’t be an issue throughout the season.
“Not having to worry about qualifying in every weekend for this whole year is a huge stress reliever,” Earnhardt said. “That is tough when you know you aren’t locked in on race weekends. We fought it for the two races I ran last year worrying about if we would make it or not. We barely made it in both of those races.
“Going into this season knowing that is not a factor anymore is a huge stress reliever and makes it a little more easy to where you can focus more on making sure the car is handling right and making sure your guys are understanding what you are saying the car is doing and making sure that you are going to be set for the races.”
Earnhardt also acknowledged the importance of being locked in each week for his new sponsor, Can-Am. Can-Am is currently signed on to sponsor Earnhardt and Go Green Racing in 11 races but a guaranteed spot in the race and more TV time could potentially persuade them to sponsor more races.
“Can-Am coming on board has been a huge help and 90-percent of the reason I am even here. Without them I wouldn’t have this opportunity and I am very thankful of that,” said Earnhardt. “Everything they have invested in the sport and team and myself is huge to be able to know we will be there every weekend. That is always tough to tell a sponsor to give you sponsor dollars but you might not make the race. The fact we are locked in is a big help.”
Right now, Earnhardt is scheduled to run anywhere between 20 to 32 races, though it is likely to be on the higher end of that. Earnhardt has already visited a number of tracks on the schedule, so he already knows which ones to look forward to.
“I am looking forward to going to Bristol,” said Earnhardt. “I have run well there the last couple of years. Bristol is my favorite because I have run so well there.”
Earnhardt has good reason to be excited for Bristol. His last two XFINITY Series starts at the track ended in top-15 finishes. Earnhardt finished 12th with Johnny Davis’ team in the summer of 2014, and 15th with Viva Motorsports last April.
Jeffrey Earnhardt isn’t in the best equipment in the Sprint Cup Series, so if he can finish the season off with a few top-20 finishes, and stay out of trouble along the way, he can cap off a successful rookie campaign.