Yesterday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the NASCAR season opening Daytona 500 after a ten year stretch since he won the last one, and also ending a 57 race winless streak. You could see every year that the Steve Letarte led Hendrick team was gelling and it was all coming together. Two years ago Dale's season was torpedoed when he removed himself from driving the car for several races due to continuing ill effects from a concussion. Last year Dale just couldn't get around his Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson for the win at the Daytona 500. There were other races - where he was in the lead but had to nurse the car for fuel mileage, and Kevin Harvick ran him down and passed for the win.
Then there was the Nationwide series, where a joint effort between Richard Childress Motorsports, Dale Earnhardt Inc. (headed by Sr.'s widow Theresa), and JR Motorsports (Dale Jr.'s and his sister Kelly's race organization) would field a throwback tribute to Dale Sr., in yellow and blue just like back in the day, and with the number three, at the summer Nationwide race at Daytona. Jr. that race, but he said he'd never run the three again - the incredible expectations and pressure to win were just too much. He managed to pull it off that time, but as he has said so many times in the past that he is not his father.
They certainly have completely different personalities and driving styles. Junior is his own man who leans upon his sister. I can totally relate right there.
At any rate, Junior fought to the lead in the closing laps and had a dominant enough car to cut off any advances, kill the air behind him and so on to stay up front. He also had a car that was very strong on restarts - he got the jump on everyone several times and stayed in control of the race. The white flag found him in the lead, and a crash and last second yellow that froze the field's order kept him in the lead.
He really didn't need that, he was in no danger of losing the lead.
But during all those restarts Junior Nation was sweating. What if someone side drafted Junior too closely and cut a tire or damaged the car irreparably? What is someone got the jump on Junior? What if a stout line freight trained him and put him ten places back or so?
All of these were distinct possibilities, but it was Dale's day. He crossed the finish line first and won the race.
Plus, he joined Twitter!
Tonight seemed like as good a night as any to join Twitter. How is everyone doin? #2XDaytona500Champ pic.twitter.com/4k4JVA7fG9Junior had been resisting joining Twitter for some time, but he obviously had the name reserved and kept away from squatters, etc.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) February 24, 2014
All this time, we the devoted kept the faith. Many did not, voicing their impatience on one of the several SiriusXM Radio NASCAR channel, or on the many NASCAR themed websites and so on.
Rick Hendrick kept the faith. Of course, Junior is a money making marketing machine - from the souvenir sales (through the roof) or just Junior endorsing a product - he pulls in some serious Madison Avenue bucks.
However, it's not about the money with these guys. Hey, they ain't stupid - they're gonna make what they can, but honestly - they are there to race and win. Rick could get out and go run his gigantic auto empire, but he has committed his efforts towards giving his drivers the best equipment he can manage to produce. And it is good stuff, so much that others such as Tony Stewart lease it. And they like it.
Dale could go home and run his Whiskey River bars and sit on his continually growing merchandise income. He about knocked himself out of a functioning brain when he had his concussion issues, but as soon as he was healthy, he was back in his car racing.
So I congratulate Dale Jr. for his persistence in the face of surmounting losses. He and his team prevailed - they finally got it to click, the shots started falling in and everyone else missed their tackles. It's been a long drought, but the wait was well worth it.
Now on to a Sprint Cup Championship!