Top 5 scariest crashes of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s NASCAR career

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has had five massive crashes in just Talladega alone.


Top 5 scariest crashes of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s NASCAR career

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crash at the Daytona 500, 2007 (Credits: Bleacher Report)

Dale Earnhardt Jr., a revered figure in NASCAR, has left an indelible mark on the sport, not only for his racing prowess but also for his resilience in the face of adversity. The son of racing legend Dale Earnhardt, Junior emerged as a formidable force on the track, earning widespread adulation from fans. He endured a long career of 19 years and won 26 races and is one of the best drivers who have never won a championship.

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However, amidst the cheers and triumphs, his career has been punctuated by heart-stopping crashes that underscore the inherent dangers of NASCAR racing. These terrifying incidents not only showcased Earnhardt Jr.’s courage but also significantly impacted his career trajectory. Each crash brought with it physical and emotional challenges, testing his mettle and determination. In this exploration, discover five of his harrowing crashes. 

5) 2007 Daytona 500 

The 2007 Daytona 500 marked the 49th iteration of this storied race and served as the inaugural event for the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series season. The race unfolded with great anticipation, culminating in a dramatic finish that would go down in history. Notably, for the third consecutive year, the conclusion of the race was determined by a green-white-checkered finish, extending the race to 202 laps and 505 miles.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crash at the Daytona 500, 2007
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crash at the Daytona 500, 2007 (Credits: Bleacher Report)

As the laps dwindled, the intensity on the track reached its zenith. On lap 186, a pivotal moment unfolded that would significantly impact the race’s outcome. Jamie McMurray, following contact with Matt Kenseth, careened into the wall, inadvertently collecting the popular Dale Jr. in the process. This crash abruptly terminated Earnhardt Jr.’s bid for victory, disappointing the fervent fans eagerly anticipating a triumphant performance from the esteemed driver.

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The race reached its climax with Kevin Harvick securing the win by a razor-thin margin of 0.02 seconds over Mark Martin. This marked the closest finish since the inaugural Daytona race. The 2007 Daytona 500 eternally etched itself in memory for its exhilarating conclusion and the unfortunate crash that will be remembered as one of Junior’s worst crashes. 

4) 2005 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega

Talladega Superspeedway is infamous for its high-speed thrills and perilous nature. The track’s design fosters intense pack racing, often leading to spectacular, multi-car crashes known as “The Big One,” making it a notorious challenge for drivers. The Aaron’s 499 unfolded with a pulsating mix of drama, ultimately featuring a late wreck involving Junior.

Dale Jr. at the 2005 Aaron's 499
Dale Jr. at the 2005 Aaron’s 499 (Credits: Sports Illustrated)

The on-track intensity reached a crescendo as the laps ticked down. With a mere two laps remaining, the “big one” involving a multi-car wreck erupted along the backstretch, reshaping the narrative of the race. Jimmie Johnson initiated the chaos by impacting the wall after turn 2, subsequently veering down into Kevin Harvick, resulting in a collision that also entangled Dale Earnhardt Jr. The ensuing mayhem involved Martin Truex Jr., Greg Biffle, and Travis Kvapil.

The 2005 Aaron’s 499 will forever be etched in memory not just for its riveting racing dynamics but also for the dramatic crash that underscored the inherent uncertainties and split-second decision-making intrinsic to NASCAR competition. This was one of the most dangerous Junior’s crashes.

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3) 2012 Talladega Wild Ride 

The 2012 Talladega Wild Ride, or Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500, left an indelible mark with a chaotic final lap. Dale Earnhardt Jr., in his No. 88 Chevrolet, got caught in a massive wreck involving over half the field. Tony Stewart’s attempt to block Michael Waltrip led to a pileup, with Stewart’s car even overturning. Despite starting 12th and leading 18 laps, Earnhardt faced setbacks, including a pit-road penalty. Expressing disappointment post-race, he remarked on the costly chaos, stating, “It’s a little disappointing how that all went down.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. goes airborne at the 2012 Talladega wildride
Dale Earnhardt Jr. goes airborne at the 2012 Talladega wild ride (Credits: Toronto Star)

The event was marred by a massive 25-car pileup on the last lap, prompting dissatisfaction among drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., who criticized pack racing as “bloodthirsty” and unsafe. This incident wasn’t the first of its kind at Talladega, with similar occurrences in prior races at the track.

The Talladega crash had more serious repercussions for Dale Earnhardt Jr., resulting in his second concussion of the 2012 season. The accident involved multiple drivers, such as Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Dave Blaney, Terry Labonte, Regan Smith, Jeff Burton, Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard, and David Ragan. Earnhardt Jr.’s concussion forced him to consult a neurosurgeon and had to miss two races in the aftermath of the incident.

2) 2001 Dura Lube 400

The 2001 Dura Lube 400, held at North Carolina Speedway, stands as a race imbued with profound emotion and significance. The event marked the second race of the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup Series, its schedule slightly altered due to a rain delay. The poignant undertone was set by the race’s proximity to the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. during the Daytona 500.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crash at the 2001 Dura Lube
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crash at the 2001 Dura Lube (Credits: Toledo Blade)

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s participation in the race generated significant anticipation and garnered unwavering support from fans still mourning the passing of his father. However, the initial lap unfolded dramatically as Dale Jr. became entangled in a crash. Navigating turn 3, he was forcefully bumped from behind by Ron Hornaday Jr., propelling his car into the path of Kenny Wallace

The collision, transpiring at 150 mph, resulted in considerable impact, causing bruising and a noticeable limp in Dale Jr.’s leg. Although the crash did not result in severe injuries, it added another layer of heaviness to the already somber atmosphere within the racing community. The 2001 Dura Lube 400 shall be eternally etched in memory, not merely for its racing dynamics but also the poignant homage paid to the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. and the remarkable resilience displayed by his son in the face of adversity.

1) 2002 NAPA 500

The 2002 NAPA 500 left an indelible mark on NASCAR history, notably due to a significant incident involving Dale Earnhardt Jr. During the race, Kevin Harvick decelerated and unexpectedly swerved into Earnhardt Jr.’s trajectory, resulting in a harrowing collision. Earnhardt Jr.’s car collided with the outside retaining wall along the driver’s side, leading to a concussion. What made this crash particularly noteworthy was its occurrence before the installation of SAFER barriers, designed to absorb and mitigate the impact of such incidents.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s wrecked car after the 2002 NAPA Autoparts 500 crash(Credits: Reddit)
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s wrecked car after the 2002 NAPA Autoparts 500 crash(Credits: NASCAR)

The force of the collision not only bent the dashboard of Earnhardt Jr.’s car but also left him severely disoriented. This incident prompted NASCAR to institute a groundbreaking regulation mandating that drivers involved in crashes must undergo an ambulance ride to the infield care center. It was only in mid-September that Earnhardt Jr. disclosed the extent of his injury, prompting NASCAR to subsequently implement a new concussion protocol.

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The race itself was characterized by nearly 10% of its duration spent under a caution flag, with an average green flag run lasting approximately 38 laps. The 2002 NAPA Auto Parts 500 remains etched in memory not solely for its racing dynamics but also for the transformative safety changes it catalyzed within the sport. These changes underscored the ongoing commitment to enhancing driver safety in NASCAR.

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