Friday, July 2, 2010

Earnhardt Jr. wins in 'Daddy's' car

Sometimes purely good things do happen. That was certainly on display Friday night at Daytona when Dale Earnhardt Jr. brought back the #3 for the final time and put it in Victory Lane.

The Earnhardt story in racing is one of the most compelling in any sport. The pioneer father Ralph Earnhardt battled on dirt tracks for much of his career before passing away at the age of 45 from a heart attack.

His son, the Intimidator, moved the story forward with a will to win that has gone unmatched. He too started out on the small dirt tracks in North Carolina before making himself one of the most revered people to ever be in the sport. With seven championships and 76 career Cup victories, he is one of only five men to have a pillar in their honor in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Then, along came the brash, blond-headed son. Dale Earnhardt was always a nose-to-the-grindstone type that had one mission: to win. His son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., was the one that was never quite sure of his direction in life and often did things to bring out the rough side of his father. Dale Earnhardt was one of the greatest racecar drivers to have ever lived, and Dale Jr. always wanted to live up to what his dad expected of him, but at least in his mind, he was not sure he had.

As an example of those standards, during Dale Jr.’s high school years his dad sent him to Oak Ridge Military Academy for two years to teach him discipline.

Eventually, Dale Jr. decided to follow in his father’s giant footsteps and become a professional racecar driver himself. Once he made that decision and committed himself, Dale Sr. supported him 100 percent. Dale Jr. had a bunch of success in what is now the Nationwide Series and won the series championship twice. A feat only accomplished by six other drivers.

In 2000, Dale Jr. splashed onto the Cup scene with two point-paying victories and a win in the All-Star Race. After each of those victories Dale Sr. was one of the first to come over and celebrate with his son.

However, in the first race of the 2001 season, Dale Jr. lost his dad in a crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500. The entire NASCAR world was struck to the core by the tragedy, but Dale Jr., only 26 at the time, and the rest of the Earnhardt family felt it the hardest.

Since that time it has seemed as though Dale Jr. has been trying to live up to what he thinks his father would have expected of him. Not necessarily the expectations set forth by the fans or the media. With his father’s passing, Dale Jr. lost that validation of whether or not he was doing well enough.

Fast forward to July 2, 2010. Dale Jr. got everybody back together and brought out the yellow-and-blue #3 Chevrolet that his father drove to two championships from 1983-1988. It was the first time Dale Jr. had driven the #3 car since he did it twice in the Nationwide Series in 2002, and it was also the final time. In a race that felt like a movie, Dale Jr. drove the #3 car to Victory Lane at Daytona.

There was simply no other possible ending for that race Friday night. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was going to win. No matter what runner-up Joey Logano tried to do from the second-place position, he was not going to get around the #3 into the lead. The story wouldn’t allow for it.

Emotions had not been this high after a race since Kevin Harvick won at Atlanta in 2001, just a month after Dale Earnhardt’s death. Crew chief Tony Eury Jr. was reduced to tears, but Dale Jr.’s emotions after the race told what so many others were thinking.

"I worked hard to try to win it, not only for Daddy, I am proud of him going into the Hall of Fame, and he would be proud of this, I'm sure," Earnhardt Jr. said. “Just all his fans. He had so many great fans. Not just mine. This is for his fans. Hopefully, they enjoyed this."

Whether or not this win allows him to settle in and propel his Sprint Cup career forward is yet to be seen, but at least for this one special night, Dale Jr. was able to be sure he had met his father’s expectations.


  1. How ironic, the owner of the Go Daddy NW car pimping a NW knock off version of a car his daddy made famous.

  2. Seems EVERYONE forgets that Dale JR ran the #3 in the BUSCH series and won 2 back to back championships in it.

  3. It was really nice to see Jr. in the number 3 car and to take it to victory lane. Oh course, if you didn't already know before that race started who was going to win you must be living under a rock. There was never any doubt in my mind that Jr. was going to win. It just seems that everytime there is something special that surrounds Jr. in honor of Sr. he picks up his performance and goes out and wins.

    Congratulations to Jr. and his team on the win.

  4. Hey Mayer - My fav topic -- Junior winning! =)

    While I love the tribute and that Jr stepped up to win it, the psychological damage to Jr being done by trying to live up to never ending expectations pains me a bit...and the fact that he questions (rightly so) if his dad would be proud.

    Thankfully I know Victory Lane is as good as any shrink...

  5. Tsfanpc - Yep, that was a night that should be remembered for a long time. Most times Nationwide moments tend to be forgotten, but this shouldn't be one of them.

    klvalus - I would guess Jr.'s career provides ample psychologist-type material. Last year he seemed as low as I've ever seen a driver. It was good to see him completely enjoy something again.