Dale Earnhardt Jr. will make his IndyCar debut this weekend--albeit virtually--in the iRacing Challenge at Michigan International Speedway.
Earnhardt, who has 417 iRacing starts, has posted two podium finishes in the first three events in the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series.
The 45-year-old driver turned broadcaster for NBC Sports, posted his invitation to race in Saturday’s event on Twitter Wednesday morning with the following comment, “Invite received. I better get to work figuring this car out.”
Earnhardt could lean on former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson for help. Johnson, who hopes to make his actual IndyCar debut this season—or next after he retires from full-time NASCAR competition—has competed in the first two IndyCar races, at Watkins Glen and Barber Motorsports Park. Sage Karam won the first race at the Glen. Australian V8 SuperCars champion Scott McLaughlin won Saturday’s Virtual Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Johnson finished 12th, picking up four positions from his IndyCar iRacing Challenge debut.
With eNASCAR racing on hiatus this week for Easter, Earnhardt should have plenty of time to get up to speed by Saturday at virtual Michigan International Speedway. In 26 Cup starts, Earnhardt won twice at the two-mile track. He also scored two Xfinity Series wins in five starts.
On Wednesday night, Earnhardt’s attention will turn to the NBC eSports Short Track iRacing Challenge, where he'll compete against Matt DiBenedetto, Landon Cassill, Timmy Hill, Ryan Preece and Myatt Snider at virtual Myrtle Beach Speedway at 7 p.m. The top drivers will advance to the championship round at virtual Martinsville Speedway on Thursday.
Earnhardt was one of 10 Modern-Era nominees announced for the 2021 NASCAR Hall of Fame Class on Tuesday.
Earnhardt, who was voted NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver 15 times, amassed 26 Cup wins and two titles in what is now the Xfinity Series.. He joins drivers Carl Edwards and Jeff Burton as new additions to the Modern Era Ballot.
“I felt that in my heart immediately,” Earnhardt said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Morning Drive. “I really think if you have reasonable or moderate success, you start to think about the ‘what-ifs,’ and getting any kind of credit or acknowledgement for anything you do in your professional life is such a great feeling.
“I have certainly let myself wonder about what that might feel like—going into the Hall of Fame or being even nominated to the Hall of Fame—and I missed the mark of what that would feel like. It was much more touching and emotional just to be thought of and considered. That was the initial feeling right out of the gate.”
Since 2003, Earnhardt has fielded a variety of different Busch, Nationwide, Xfinity and Late Model racing teams. From Chance2 Motorsports to the evolution of JR Motorsports, as a team owner Earnhardt has won titles with Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott and William Byron. When Earnhardt eventually retired from the full-time competition after the 2017 Cup season, he transitioned flawlessly into the TV booth.
The third-generation racer has always remained cognizant of the sport’s history. His reflection on his recent honor is no different.
“I think about how great it felt to be in the group I was in,” Earnhardt said. “Look at the guys on that list. These are people that were my heroes, and I was lucky to share the track with a couple of those guys. And when I did share the track with them, it was always such an honor. I remember that feeling when I pulled out on pit road and would see guys like Terry Labonte or Jeff Burton and go, ‘Man, I can’t believe that I’m here and they’re right there. We’re going to go out there and race together.'
“I was just honored by that, and it’s the same feeling all over again to be sitting here looking at that list and your face is right there alongside all of those other guys. It’s something I really enjoyed. I’m pretty proud of what we did as far as being an owner and a driver and everything in-between—the broadcasting and all that. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve been able to do in the sport. I’ve tried to do it right, and it just feels really nice to have someone appreciate it.”