It’s fitting that today, on the 3rd of July the sports world is reminded of one of the best drivers in NASCAR history. Dale Earnhardt Sr., the Intimidator, who drove the number 3 car for nearly 30 years. Last night at Daytona International Speedway fans were reminded of him as Dale Jr. drove the #3 car back to victory lane.
With the famous blue and yellow Wranger paint scheme that his daddy used for years, Junior sat out to honor his dad at the track that took Dale Sr. from him. Junior chose that paint scheme to commemorate his father’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame and would race in that #3 for only the third time in his career and the 2nd time at Daytona.
On the third lap Dale Jr. took the lead with the fans standing and holding up three fingers, a tribute that started the race following the 2001 Daytona 500. At that moment it became clear that Dale Jr. had a good car and just might be capable of winning the race. Four cautions and 100 laps later the race was over and Dale Jr. was back in victory lane for the first time since his win in Michigan in 2008.
This was more than just another win for Dale Jr. though. Fans heard that in the voice of crew chief Tony Eury Jr. after the race. His voice cracked when he said “We lost everything here and to come back with that number and do this, that means everything.” The expressions from Jr. in victory lane echoed that. “I was so worried that I wasn’t going to win, because nothing but winning was good enough,” Earnhardt said. “If you didn’t win, what a waste of time. 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”, he said. You could also tell that he did this for the fans when he talked about what the race meant in victory lane. “Just all his fans. He had so many great fans. Not just mine. This is for his fans. Hopefully, they enjoyed this.”
The fans did enjoy it. All of the blue and yellow in the stands, the #3’s held high. The fans will always remember the Intimidator. Last night Jr. did the number right and put it back in victory lane for one final time at Daytona. He says he won’t ever drive the #3 again and if that is the case, this was one heck of a final tribute
Revitalizing a Career?
Some have already started calling this a breakthrough win. Jumping to the conclusion that this revitalizes Dale Jr.’s career and get’s the monkey off his back. I’m not that quick to go there. I think the win does put to rest the fans clammoring for Jr. to permanently drive the #3, even if he’s had more success with that number than his 88. And it’s true that Jr. has had his struggles. It was 85 points races between victories. But maybe he isn’t as good a driver as his father? That’s just a thought. He didn’t ask to have to live up to his dad, but he’s got the name and with it comes expectations. Just ask the Petty’s about living up to “The King.” Or maybe we should accept that it’s harder to win races than we think. But before we start throwing around things for Jr.’s future, lets just take the time to appreciate this moment and what it means to a family and to the racing world.