Earnhardt determined to carry on family legacy

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Oct 18, 2017 at 6:22 PM

Jeffrey Earnhardt is determined to carry on the family legacy.

An Earnhardt has been competing regularly in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series since 1979 and the fourth-generation racer doesn’t plan for that to end anytime soon.

Over the weekend at Talladega Superspeedway, Earnhardt and Joe Falk, a team owner of Circle Sports with TMG, announced they had agreed to partner again with the No. 33 Chevrolet for the 2018 season.

“Joe has been excellent to me,” said the 28-year-old nephew of Dale Earnhardt Jr. “He has gone above and beyond what anyone has asked for. He went on a limb and believed on me. He spent his hard-earned money and then we were able to get sponsorship as the year went on. We clicked, got along and enjoyed working with each other. We continued to grow the program throughout the year and we want to continue to grow it for years to come.”

The team hasn’t had many good finishes with a best finish of 26th at the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis. Their other best efforts were a pair of 27th-place runs at the Food City 500 in Bristol and at Dover in June.

But, the performance could get better with an upgrade in equipment through an affiliation with Richard Childress Racing. Falk, who combined his operation with former Xfinity Series driver Curtis Key in January, explained that getting sponsorship late made it more difficult working with the Childress team. With everything now in place, the agreement should work better for both teams as all the Chevrolet teams switch from the SS model to Camaros.

With the team having a charter and a high-profile sponsor with Hulu, Earnhardt felt this was the best opportunity for him to grow as a driver.

“It’s a crazy world out there and rides aren’t easy to come by,” he said. “The chances of getting rides are slim and for Joe to want me to come back, that’s huge for me.”

Falk explained that Earnhardt wasn’t his only option to put behind the wheel. With former NASCAR champions Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth not announced for 2018, and other big names like Danica Patrick still without a ride, there were a lot of people interested in driving for his team next season. Falk felt that Earnhardt, who has driven for the team every race this season, other than a pair of road-racing events when Boris Said took over, was the best fit for the team.

“There is a lot of craziness going on,” Falk said. “The phones are getting burnt up. There are a lot of people with no seats right now. But, Jeffrey and I have had a decent year. He has gotten better. The equipment has gotten better and we’re looking forward to next year.”

This has been a season for Earnhardt to learn from some of the smartest in the business. He has worked with accomplished crew chiefs in Pat Tryson and Frank Stoddard before teaming up the last 14 races with Eddie Pardue. He is still lacking much experience in the Cup Series with Sunday’s race, just his 53rd in the series overall. His best seasons in NASCAR were in the K&N East Series where he had nine top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in 25 races.

“I think I still have a long way to go and learn as a driver and developing myself,” Earnhardt said back in June. “It’s only my second year in the Cup Series and I’ve been talking and working with several people throughout the garage and trying to shorten that learning curve as quick as possible. I’ve learned a lot, but I mean I know there is a ton more to be learned. I think Jimmie Johnson would probably tell you he learns something every weekend. The learning never stops in this sport. Like I said, I feel like I’m trying to do all I can to make myself a better driver to give Joe Falk the best results that I can.”

Earnhardt, who has just one top-10 finish in NASCAR’s three top series, said his last name is a double-edge sword. He understands the Earnhardt name helps get the team recognition and exposure and in drawing in partners to work with, but there are expectations that go with it.

“Dale, Jr., like I said has done so much, my grandfather has done so much, they have laid down some pretty tough tracks to follow, but like I said, I’m going to keep doing my thing,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of development to go in myself and we’ve got a long way to build our race program. I know it’s not going to happen overnight. My grandpa didn’t become a champion overnight, he busted his butt to get there and become who he became. That is kind of what I feel like I’m doing and I like it that way.”

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