Earnhardt gains momentum at Daytona
The result isn’t what Junior Nation expected.
But for the first time in a long time, that’s a good thing.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. struggled throughout Sunday, but he looked very much like his namesake as powered his way from 22nd in the eight laps of overtime to finish second in the Great American Race.
"I looked in my mirror and saw (Earnhardt)," Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray said about the last lap of the race. "I’ll be honest, I was like, ‘Crap, this guy has won a lot of races here. His family has an incredible history here.’ You know, I believe everything happens for a reason. I just was like, I hope this isn’t his turn to win the Daytona 500, I hope this is mine."
A trip to Victory Lane wasn’t to be for Earnhardt, but his result is more than enough to help put behind ghosts of last season, when he finished a career-worst 25th in the Sprint Cup standings.
The 2010 campaign got off to a great start for Junior at Daytona as he led the first practice for the Daytona 500 and went on to claim the outside pole for the race. But mediocre showings in the Budweiser Shootout (11th out of 24) and the Gatorade Duel qualifying race (21st out of 27) stalled his positive momentum.
"We worked hard all week. I felt foolish about what happened to us in the (Duel)," Earnhardt said. "We beat the fenders off the car and had to drop back and punt. I just didn’t like racing that way."
The Daytona 500 wasn’t shaping up any better.
Although he led four laps and maintained his position among the leaders early, he got lost in the shuffle and seemed destined to be an also-ran just like in 2009.
"We had a car that got ill handling," Earnhardt said. "We faded a bit. We worked on it. We had all kinds of messes going on there."
But in a race filled with bizarre moments — including two stoppages for holes in the track that lasted a combined two hours and 20 minutes — Earnhardt made his charge as others wrecked around him and extended the race by eight laps.
"I couldn’t really tell you the process," he said. "But I just remember going down the back straightaway and getting in between Greg (Biffle), and I don’t remember who was on the outside of me. We all kind of wiggled through that whole deal.
"Jamie got away from us. I didn’t even know where I was. Then we got into three. I was counting in my head how many laps we ran.I knew we were coming to the checkered, I was running second, this is awesome, but it kind of sucks at the same time."
It was simply another dramatic moment for an Earnhardt at Daytona International Speedway, where father Dale was the most successful driver in history with a record 34 event wins.
The special place may not be like the rest of the tracks on the circuit, but the momentum gained can help catapult Junior to a much-needed rebound for his racing career.
"I feel good about our chances going into the next couple weeks," Earnhardt said.
Junior Nation can start expecting results again.