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From 2001 to 2017, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s NASCAR Cup Series career was underlined by his having to carry the torch of his father's legacy as well as try to build his own. Earnhardt Jr. had only just begun his second season at NASCAR's highest level when his legendary father -- seven-time NASCAR Champion and racing icon Dale Earnhardt -- was killed in a crash on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

From that point onwards, Earnhardt Jr. had to live without his father's guidance and with the unknown of exactly how his father would perceive him or his accomplishments. And that not knowing continues now, as Earnhardt Jr. will join his father as a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Friday night, Earnhardt will be the headliner of the Hall's class of 2021, with his induction coming 12 years after his father was a member of the inaugural class of 2010.

With his newest milestone coming as he continues to serve as one of NASCAR's most notable ambassadors and as a highly-influential car owner, broadcaster, and occasional driver, Earnhardt told the Associated Press that he believes his father would be surprised by his accomplishments, but still wonders exactly what The Intimidator's feelings would have been towards what both he and sister Kelley Earnhardt-Miller (the co-owner of JR Motorsports) have done in the 20 years since his death.

"I would do anything to hear what he thinks about all the things we've done and everything we've been involved in. I would just do anything to really, really truly know what his words would be," Earnhardt told the Associated Press. "I think about it all the time."

After getting the opportunity to drive for his father's team in what is now the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Earnhardt Jr. won two championships -- a development he believes caught his father off-guard -- on his way to earning a full-time Cup Series ride with Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2000. After winning twice as a rookie, Earnhardt Jr. was just beginning to ascend towards stardom when his father's death resulted in him having to publicly cope with enormous personal loss while also having to adopt his father's legion of fans as well as his own.

Now 47 -- two years younger than his father was at the time of his death -- Earnhardt Jr. thinks his father would have felt he didn't reach his potential as a driver when he was younger, and that his dad would have pointed out the regrets he has and the mistakes he made during his career.

"I think he certainly would be happy and proud, but also typical dad going, 'Well, if you try a little harder here,' or 'If you had done a little different there' and 'Maybe you should prioritize this,'" Earnhardt said. "That's exactly what I would expect from him and I would welcome that type of criticism today." 

The younger Earnhardt is part of a three-man Hall of Fame class of 2021, a group which also includes Alabama racing legend Red Farmer and NASCAR Modified Series great Mike Stefanik. The Earnhardts will become the sixth father-son duo to become Hall of Fame members, joining the Frances (Bill Sr. and Jr.), Pettys (Lee and Richard), Allisons (Bobby and Davey), Jarretts (Ned and Dale), and Bakers (Buck and Buddy).