An Earnhardt discovered EuroNASCAR in 2015
Jeffrey Earnhardt traveled to Brands Hatch in 2015 to compete in EuroNASCAR – Dale Earnhardt’s grandson competed in the ELITE 1 championship
When Earnhardt’s name popped up on the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series (NWES) entry list for rounds five and six at Brands Hatch in the UK, NASCAR fans were excited. Jeffrey Earnhardt, the grandson of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt and nephew of Dale Earnhardt Jr, traveled to Europe to compete in two ELITE 1 championship races. But how did the experienced Cup, Xfinity and Truck driver do at the Indy Circuit?
The 32-year-old didn’t have an easy time, as he was up against many experienced road course specialists in the NWES. In qualifying, he placed his Whelen Amai.fr Chevrolet Camaro in 14th place – a solid result given that a total of 25 drivers competed in the top category. Earnhardt took the race from midfield on the 1.944-kilometer short layout.
Wild Saturday race
Nicolo Rocca got off to a strong start from pole position and settled into the lead. Behind him it got quite intense and there was a tough situation between the two teammates Ander Vilarino and Romain Iannetta. The Spainard even had to leave the track briefly at Graham Hill Bend to prevent a collision between the two. Earnhardt had a good first lap and settled into the midfield.
Then things got dramatic at the front: Rocca made a mistake in Clark Curve and went off the track. While the Italian rejoined the field in fourth place ahead of Vilarino, Eddie Cheever III took over the lead. There was then another typical bump-and-run by Vilarino against Rocca in Druids, which is why Rocca dropped back to fifth. While things got wild at the front, Earnhardt focused on defending his position and getting the car safely to the finish.
The next lead change came on lap 13 of 30, with Iannetta attacking Cheever to take over first place. Meanwhile, Earnhardt had already made up two positions. The American from Mooresville in the state of North Carolina was running in twelfth place after a solid first third of the race and now had veteran Bert Longin in front of him. Lurking behind Earnhardt was Philipp Lietz from Austria, who had previously won both ELITE 2 races on the oval of Raceway Venray.
Early DNF on Saturday
However, Earnhardt did not see the checkered flag on Saturday: The guest entrant missed the braking point in the Clark Curve and slid into the gravel on his #55 car – he managed to avoid contact with a wall. The safety car had to be deployed so that Earnhardt’s car could be recovered. The race was restarted on lap 22: Iannetta defended his lead while Frederic Gabillon moved into second.
The Clark Curve came back into focus when Alon Day and Rocca clashed: The two touched, causing Rocca to come to a stop in the gravel trap and Day to continue with a damaged car. In the end, Iannetta won the race ahead of Gabillon and Vilarino, while Cheever and Anthony Kumpen completed the top 5. For Earnhardt, it was to leave the situation behind and focus on Sunday.
The second attempt
Despite the setback on Saturday, Earnhardt was quite fast at Brands Hatch: This was also shown by his starting position for the second race, which was formed by the fastest laps in Saturday’s race. The US American drove the ninth-fastest lap and thus started the sixth round of the 2015 season from the top 10 – a good starting position to shine at the second attempt.
The second race started as action-packed as the first one ended: Iannetta pulled away at the front, while Rocca crashed heavily into the wall at Druids after contact with Gabillon – for which the Frenchman was penalized – a used weekend for the Italian with title ambitions. Earnhardt made it through the chaos unscathed, making up a few positions. The safety car was deployed.
After the restart, one of the most violent accidents in NWES history occurred: Fabrizio Armetta, Lietz and Wilfried Boucenna shot together into Paddock Hill Bent. There was contact between Armetta and Boucenna, with the latter being thrown violently into the tire pile. The #77 car was thrown into the air, destroying all body panels. When the bare chassis came to a halt, the all-clear was quickly given: Boucenna got out uninjured!
Earnhardt sneaks to the front
Earnhardt benefited from the accidents and was already in seventh place at the restart on lap nine of 30. Ahead of him was Austrian Florian Renauer, while Longin lurked behind the American for his chance to make up a position. When the green flag was waved, Iannetta again took the lead ahead of Kumpen and Vilarino. Longin simultaneously grabbed seventh place from Earnhardt in Druids, leaving the US NASCAR driver behind.
Just a few laps later, there was contact between Cheever and Kumpen, who slid across the grass at Surtees, losing many positions – another stroke of luck for Earnhardt, who was again catapulted further towards the top-5 without much trouble. Just a few turns later, Vilarino took the lead in Druids against Iannetta, who subsequently had Rocca hanging on his back bumper.
Roberto Benedetti triggered the next caution when he got his Double-T Chevrolet stuck in the gravel. There were only a few laps to go when Vilarino led the field to the restart and defended his position in Turn 1. Earnhardt, meanwhile, lost two positions to Armetta and Kumpen, who tried to fight his way back to the front after he went out on the grass.
A solid result in a chaotic race
Due to the numerous incidents, there was a lot of debris scattered around the track, but that was no reason for the race control to stop the race one more time. In the end, Vilarino won the race ahead of Iannetta, Day, Renauer and Kumpen. Earnhardt saw the checkered flag behind Longin in seventh place, capping a solid weekend with a strong top-10 finish.
Lietz, Cheever and Freddy Nordstrom finished behind the US American to round off the top-10. One retirement in a promising position and a seventh-place finish: the long trip to Europe by Dale Earnhardt’s grandson paid off. Jeffrey Earnhardt was not to remain the only big name from the USA to try his hand in the NWES. Later, other stars followed who crossed the big sea, but more on that later …