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Dale Earnhardt Jr. prepares for 600th Cup Series start

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 - Practice

HAMPTON, GA - MARCH 04: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, stands in the garage area during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 4, 2017 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

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In the history of NASCAR, there have been 2, 537 drivers who have made at least one start in the Cup Series.

Only 24 drivers have made 600 or more starts.

On Sunday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will join their ranks.

Eighteen years into his full-time Cup career, Earnhardt will take the green flag for the 600th time in the Auto Club 400.

It will make Earnhardt just the second active driver to reach 600 starts. Matt Kenseth is the other with 618 starts.

Earnhardt’s first Cup start occurred in the 1999 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the first of five starts in 1999. A year later, Earnhardt won his first Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in only his 12th start.

In his 599 starts so far, the 14-time most popular driver has 26 wins, 148 top fives, 252 top 10s and 13 poles. His average finish is 15.6.

The achievement comes months after it originally would have taken place.

Earnhardt missed the final 18 races of the 2016 season as he recovered from a concussion. Had he not suffered the injury, Earnhardt’s 600th start would have been in last August’s night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver heads to Fontana this weekend looking to jump-start a season that’s gotten off to a rough start.

Earnhardt is 23rd in the point standings after not recording any top 10s or top fives through four races.

Sunday’s race will be Earnhardt’s 24th start at the 2-mile speedway. He’s earned five top fives at the track with a best result of second in 2013.
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