Dale Earnhardt Jr. prides himself on being a student of the history of NASCAR — and a paint scheme connoisseur. He also happens to be the most marketable driver in the sport, providing the leverage to have a little fun with his weekly paint scheme (having sponsors with the marketing savvy of Anheuser Busch didn't hurt, either). With that in mind, Athlon Sports' Matt Taliaferro and Vito Pugliese complied a list 17 years in the making of Earnhardt Jr.'s 15 best NASCAR paint schemes.
If you grew up in the South you consider Budweiser, camo and NASCAR to be cool. And by gawd, you’re right. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is cool, too. Put ‘em all together as DEI did in 2007 for the Coca-damn-Cola 600 and you’ve got a can’t-miss paint scheme.
14. Mountain Dew Sprint Cup Scheme – Darlington, 2008/Phoenix, 2011
One of the most iconic paint schemes in NASCAR history was Darrell Waltrip’s No. 11 Mountain Dew Buick with which he won two championships with in 1981 and ’82. His chief rival in those years was Bobby Allison in the No. 88 DiGard Chevrolets and Buicks — which DW drove prior On two occasions — the 2008 Southern 500 and in Phoenix in 2011 — Dale Earnhardt Jr. tipped the historical cap and brought it full-circle with number and sponsor included. We chose to show the Phoenix car because it was hard looking past the Car of Tomorrow’s ungainliness.
13. Ralph Earnhardt Father’s Day Cup Scheme – Michigan, 2006
Fun fact about Dale Earnhardt Jr.? His real name is Ralph Dale Earnhardt — named after his father and grandfather. He ran this Bud scheme on Father’s Day 2006 at Michigan, paying tribute to the man whose number he ran for the first eight years of his career.
12. Budweiser "Born On Date" Cup Scheme – 2006 Daytona 500 Gatorade Duel/Bud Shootout
2005-06 brought about some of the best looking race cars that have ever hit the track. This particular piece was run in the 2005 Daytona 500, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. defended his first 500 win. The car wasn’t as fast as it was the year before, leading just two laps and finishing third, but it looked good doing it.
11. Dirty Mo’ Posse Busch Series Scheme – Daytona, 2003
How cool would it be if one of your best buddies was a NASCAR driver and said, “Hey, let’s run a paint scheme that honors ‘the gang’?” That’s basically what Junior did for his Dirty Mo’ Posse — a collection of pals that had stuck together over the years. Very un-Earnhardt-like in the color scheme, Junior went the badass route on ‘em and won the July Busch Series race at Daytona with this skin.
10. Superman Cup Scheme – Charlotte and Michigan, 2014
To his fans, Dale Earnhardt Jr. always has been Superman. In 2014, he donned the Man of Steel’s wrap at the Coca-Cola 600 and at Michigan in June. The National Guard was also still on board for one of the most solemn holidays in our country.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has always been a student of the sport’s history and loves to pay homage to heroes past. From airing old Bud Lindeman episodes of race features from the 1970s to scouring eBay for old racing memorabilia, his first few years in Cup featured a paint job that was a tip of the cap to a fellow former No. 8 driver, Joe Weatherly. “The Clown Prince of NASCAR” was a two-time champion prior to his untimely death at Riverside in 1964, and his red No. 8 with a black roof was the same layout as the car that Dale Jr. created his own identity.
8. Coca-Cola Polar Bear Cup Scheme – Suzuka, Japan, 1998
After winning his first Busch Grand National title in 1998, Dale Earnhardt Jr. got to race against his dad in Japan in 1999 as part of a Coca-Cola promotion. It is not known exactly how many of the polar-bear-themed diecasts were sold, but estimates are upwards of a butt-load.
Before he came to the Cup Series, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won a pair of championships in the Busch Grand National Series. This at a time where there were several prime-time BGN teams that could have moved up to Cup, as well as Cup interlopers like Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte. Things didn’t go so hot here for Junior at Daytona in 1998, as he became, as Maverick would say, “…inverted.”
6. Batman “Dark Knight Rises” Cup Scheme – Michigan, 2012
Not only was this black and day-glow green car the slickest thing on-track in 2012, it also was the car that ended Junior’s nearly four-year winless skid. Driver and car were beasts that day, leading a race-high 95 laps en route to a five-plus-second whoopin' of the field.
As a nod to Buddy Baker’s 1980 Daytona 500 dominating car — which today remains the fastest 500 in history — Dale Jr. ran this one at the All-Star Race in 2008. Nicknamed “The Gray Ghost,” Baker’s Oldsmobile blended into the asphalt on the high banks of Daytona during a dreary and foggy Speedweeks. Junior has made his affection for this particular scheme well known over the years.
While most of Earnhardt Nation wished Dale Jr. had inherited the No. 3 after his father’s passing in 2001, it was a move he had resisted. In his mind, it wasn’t his number to run; it was his Nationwide number that he put to rest at Daytona in 2011. Running the Wrangler scheme that his father established the “One Tough Customer” persona with, Junior did everyone proud in what was a decidedly lean period, performance-wise, for him.
3. Budweiser “Intimidator” Cup Scheme – Talladega 2006
If there were one place this paint scheme should've run, it was Talladega. And so it did. The fans about tore the grandstand down every time it went by that weekend, but after a Sunday rainout the race was run on a Monday. Earnhardt had an accident early on but the car was still fairly fast and on the track until he blew an engine and spun again with less than 50 laps to go. While the outcome sucked, the car looked badass in the familiar black and silver colors that his father drove to victory for his final win at Talladega in 2000.
2. Budweiser MLB All-Star Game Cup Scheme – Daytona, 2001
Returning to the scene of the darkest moment for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Michael Waltrip, DEI, RCR and a legion of fans, Junior and Waltrip helped to make things right again at the July Daytona race in 2001. It was his first win of the season, and to this day stands as the most memorable in the minds of many NASCAR fans.
The standard clean, black and white on red Budweiser scheme run, with some subtle tweaks, from 2003-07. This was the paint job that Junior drove from his heyday with DEI until his parting; winning 11 races and notching three top-5 points finishes. The hideous Car of Tomorrow would be ushered in on a full-time basis the following season, coinciding with Earnhardt’s departure to Hendrick Motorsports and an AMP Energy paint scheme that was equally offensive. Face it, there’ll never be another sight like that big red “BUD” hood leading the pack through the tri-oval at Talladega.
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