88 Days until the Daytona 500

Car number 88 has started 1,634 races and has 74 wins, 60 poles, 388 top 5s, 673 top 10s, and 432 DNFs in the NASCAR Cup Series.

 

  • From 2008-2017 Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the driver of the #88 for Hendrick Motorsports. He started 340 races and has 9 wins in the number.
2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Daytona
Dale Earnhardt Jr, 2015

Earnhardt announced on May 10, 2007, that he would leave Dale Earnhardt Inc., the company founded by his father, to drive for another team in 2008. Earnhardt expressed that his decision was based entirely on his desires to achieve his career goal of a Cup Championship, and his apparent belief that he would not be able to attain that objective while driving for DEI. He said that unless he could gain majority ownership, and therefore control, of DEI, that he was not confident in the organization’s ability to field the elite level equipment that would yield the elusive title.

Just a month earlier in April 2007, Junior was approached by Rick Hendrick for a favor in Texas. After both cars had crashed, Kyle Busch left the speedway without telling anyone. The #5 team worked to repair the car, but there was no driver to drive in once work was complete. Since Junior had also crashed out, he piloted the #5 car for the rest of the day.

 

 

On June 13, 2007, he announced at a press conference that he had signed a five-year contract with Hendrick Motorsports, replacing Kyle Busch. However, Dale was not allowed to bring his iconic #8 with him from DEI, reportedly because of Teresa Earnhardt.  Earnhardt Jr. chose #88 which, according to NASCAR archives, was also driven by Ralph Earnhardt, his paternal grandfather, in 1957.

Earnhardt Jr. found victory lane in his first year with HMS at Michigan.

 

Earnhardt was finding moderate success at Hendrick Motsports, but would not find victory lane again for 4 years until the 2012 Quicken Loans 500, again at Michigan. However, concussion effects from a hard crashes at Talladega and a Kansas test would sideline Junior for 2 race in October. During this time Regan Smith drove the #88 at Charlotte and Kansas.

2013 proved to be another mediocre season for Junior, who failed to acheive the same level of dominance as his Hendrick teammates, but that all turned around in 2014. Junior began the year capturing his 2nd win in the Daytona 500 and would sweep both races at Pocono. He entered the Chase for the Sprint Cup as a fan favorite, but would be knocked out after a crash at Talladega. He rebounded the following week with a win at Martinsville.

For 2015 the #88 welcomed their new sponsor Nationwide with wins at Talladega and the Daytona summer race. Junior again entered the chase with high hopes, but a tough start to the 2nd round put the team in a ‘win or go home’ situation. After a controversial finish, Junior was barely beaten by Joey Logano to be knocked out of The Chase. Junior would again win after being eliminated at the rain-shortened race in Pheonix.

Dale Jr. began the 2016 season behind the wheel of the #88, but after only 18 races Junior removed himself from the car to recover from concussion-like symptoms. Alex Bowman  was tapped to replace Junior for the next race at New Hampshire, and would make a total of 10 starts in the car once it was annouced that Junior would be sidelined for the remainder of the 2016 season. Jeff Gordon also piloted the #88 car in Junior’s absence, coming out of retirement to start 8 races. These are the only starts in Jeff Gordon’s Cup career in a car number other than #24.

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Alex Bowman, 2016
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Jeff Gordon, 2016

in 2017, Earnhardt Jr. started Daytona qualifying 2nd but was wrecked while leading mid-race, and finished 37th.  After a string of lackluster finishes, he managed to score a top 5 at the newly repaved Texas. On April 25, prior to the Spring race weekend at Richmond, Earnhardt Jr. announced that 2017 would be his final year driving full time.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. failed to make NASCAR’s Playoffs in his final year, posting a 13th place finish at Richmond, Va, needing a win to make it in.

In his final restrictor plate race at Talladega, Earnhardt would start on the pole and he would miss 3 big wrecks in the closing laps to finish 7th. In his final career race, Earnhardt drove a car painted to look like his old #8 Budweiser car from his early day in the NASCAR Cup Series.

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Earnhardt Jr.’s final ride, 2017

He started in 24th place and finished in 25th place. When he climbed out of the car post-race, Dale was greeted by his car owner Rick Hendrick and his crew members.  After a few hugs and interviews, he promptly opened a beer.

Despite his retirement from driving full-time, Earnhardt Jr. will not be disappearing from the the NASCAR scene. He as already made plans to attempt a handful of XFINITY Series races in 2018, in addition to remaining an car-owner in the XFINITY Series and a partner with Hendrick Motorsports.

As for car number 88, Alex Bowman will be returning to the NASCAR Cup Series for 2018, again behind the wheel of the Nationwide machine for Hendrick Motorsports.

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Earnhardt Jr. (Left) and Bowman inspect the 2018 Camaro ZL1.

 

  • Dale Jarrett has the most starts in the #88 with 380 from 1996-2006. In 1995 Robert Yates started a second team to ease his driver Ernie Irvan back into the sport after life-threatening injuries. Irvan made 3 starts in 1995 before returning to his #28 car for 1996. Dale Jarrett had been hired to drive the #28 in Irvan’s absence, but had proven to be very successful. This encouraged RYR to expand to a 2 car team full time, with Jarrett taking the wheel of the #88 for 1996.
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Ernie Irvan’s #88, 1995

Jarrett found success immediately in 1996, winning 4 races including the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400,  & the Coca-Cola 600.

 

The following season, he won a career-best seven races but lost the championship to Jeff Gordon by fourteen points. In 1998, Jarrett won three races, and finished second in the last two races of the year, ending up third in the final point standings to Jeff Gordon, despite suffering gallbladder problems, which made him miss the exhibition race in Japan.

Jarrett returned in 1999 and took the points lead after his first win of the season at the Pontiac Excitement 400, and held it for the rest of the season, when he won his first and only career Winston (MENCS) Cup title by 201 points over Bobby Labonte with four wins – Richmond, Michigan, Daytona, and Indianapolis.

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Dale Jarrett hoisting his 1999 Winston Cup.

Following his title in 1999, Jarrett won the Daytona 500 for the third time in 2000, but after only winning one other race and dropping to fourth in the standings, Ford elected to withdraw as a primary sponsor. United Parcel Service was signed as the primary sponsor for Jarrett’s car, and shortly thereafter UPS began a multi-year promotional campaign involving the company trying to convince him to drive their trademark “Big Brown Truck” in a race.

 

Jarrett won 4 races in 2001, but finished a disappointing 5th in the standings after leading for much of the early season.  Jarrett won at Pocono and Michigan in 2002 and Rockingham in 2003. An accident involving DJ at New Hampshire would cause NASCAR to change it’s policy on racing back to caution flags.

 

 

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DJ, 2004

2004 would be Jarrett’s first winless season since 1992. 2005 would see the last of Jarrett’s  28 career wins with a victory at Talladega. After struggling in 2006, Jarrett and sponsor UPS would leave RYR for Michael Waltrip Racing’s #44 car.

 

  • Ron Keselowski, uncle of current NASCAR drivers Brad and Brian Keselowski, drove the #88 car in 43 races from 1971-1973.
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Ron Keselowski, 1970
  • The DiGard Racing Team first fielded car #88 for Donnie Allison in 1973. Allison would start a total of 43 races in the car with no wins, mostly from 1973-1975 with 2 starts in 1983.
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Donnie Allison, 1984
  • Midway through the 1975 season, DiGard would release Donnie Allison in favor of Darrell Waltrip and new sponsor Gatorade for the #88 car. The team moved to a new Charlotte shop before the 1977 season and surged to the fore of NASCAR, winning the Rebel 500 and the Winston 500 in dramatic fashion. Waltrip posted six wins in 1977, four of them on superspeedways. He posted six more wins in 1978, but this time four of his wins came on short tracks.  Waltrip often fueded with the team ownership, and threatened to leave the team for Lennie Pond’s team for 1979. Ultimately, Waltrip stayed with the team and signed a long-term contract extension.

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Waltrip nearly won the 1979 championship after leading the point standings for most of the year, coming second and losing by 11 points to Richard Petty.  The impact of the loss angered Waltrip and his contract situation with the team became an issue again. Crew chief Buddy Parrott was fired at the end of 1979 but then rehired in 1980. Waltrip and Parrott won four of the 1980 season’s first sixteen races but was fired in June; Parrott finished the season with the Ranier team.

Looking to get out, Waltrip set up his own contract buyout out of his own pocket to leave DiGard, landing at Junior Johnson Racing. Waltrip started the #88 in 161 races winning 26 times.

  • Ricky Rudd would replace Waltrip for the 1981 season, as Waltrip went on to win the championship with his new team. In 31 starts, Rudd did not reach victory lane. In 2007, after a year of retirment, Rudd would return to the #88 for Robert Yates Racings. In all, Rudd made 62 starts in #88 without a win.

 

 

  • Bobby Allison, who had been recruited by the team years before, joined the team in 1982. He exploded to eight victories in 1982 and finished second to Darrell Waltrip in the points championship. During this season Allison encountered the same money problems in the team that Waltrip had witnessed; he signed a new contract with DiGard in large part thinking it would get him back payments the team had withheld during the season. For 1983 the Gatorade colors were to adorn a new Chevrolet Monte Carlo, but just before the season Miller High Life beer sponsorship joined the team and the car number was changed to #22. Allsion started 30 races in #88 with 8 wins.

 

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Bobby Allison in the #88, 1982

 

  • When DiGard moved to the #22 car in 1983, Geoff Bodine and Cliff Stewart Racing took the Gatorade sponsorship and #88 to their team. Bodine made 28 starts that year.
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Geoff Bodine’s Pontiac, 1983
  • When Bodine left to drive for Rick Hendrick in 1984, Cliff Stewart hired ASA star Rusty Wallace to drive in his first full-time NASCAR season. Wallace made 30 starts that year, winning Rookie of the Year honors. The next year, Wallace and Stewart would switch the car to the #2 ALUGARD Pontiac.
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Rusty Wallace, 1984.

 

  • In 1985 Buddy Baker founded a race team using the #88. From 1985-1988 Baker would make 54 starts in the car, but also fielded the car with other drivers during this time. Al Unser Sr., Greg Sacks, Morgan Shepher, Rick Mast, and Joe Ruttman would all make a handful of starts over the years. Jimmy Spencer, Buddy Baker’s protege, would have the most starts in the car besides Baker with 17 in the 1989 season.

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. started racing #88 in 2008, he chose to pay tribute to Baker by using the same font for the #88 on the side of his car.

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Buddy Baker, 1986

 

  • Buddy’s father Buck Baker is best remembered for his success in the #87 car, but he did start car #88 a total of 54 times from 1954-1968 including 3 wins.

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  • Other notable names in #88
    • Ralph Earnhardt, 8 starts
    • Tiny Lund, 7 starts
    • Benny Parsons, 4 starts
    • Kenny Wallace, 4 starts
    • Mike Wallace, 3 starts
    • Charlie Glotzbach, 2 starts
    • Fireball Roberts, 2 starts
    • Joe Weatherly, 1 start
    • PJ Jones, 1 start
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