Jeffrey Earnhardt makes Sprint Cup debut tonight

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RICHMOND, Va. – He carries the name of NASCAR royalty but his path to this moment has not come easy.

After part-time rides, a spell competing in mixed martial arts and a return to racing, Jeffrey Earnhardt – grandson of Dale Earnhardt, and nephew of Dale Earnhardt Jr. – makes his Sprint Cup debut tonight at Richmond International Raceway.

Jeffrey Earnhardt will start 42nd.

“I’m just thankful to have this opportunity,’’ he told NBC Sports. “I’ve got a long, long way to go to learn these cars.’’

He makes his debut in an event where the final five spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup will be set. Earnhardt wants to avoid impacting that race.

“These guys have got a lot on the line,’’ said Earnhardt, who has made six Xfinity starts this season with a best finish of 12th at Talladega Superspeedway. “We’re racing to improve our team so one day we can be there. Just don’t want to upset anyone in debut.’’

Earnhardt’s goal is simple. He wants to run all the laps and finish in the top 30.

If not, he’ll have another chance to reach those goals. He’s scheduled to drive the car again in two weeks at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.