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Junior Gives Crowd A Thrill

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 14 2010
Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked like his old plate-race-dominating self on Sunday.  (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked like his old plate-race-dominating self on Sunday. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Daytona Beach, Fla. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. discovered some of his old plate racing magic Sunday in the Daytona 500.

The crowd favorite charged from 10th to second place on the final lap of the season-opening NASCAR Sprint Cup race – it was probably the most important runner-up finish of his career.

Earnhardt, the son of a seven-time Cup champion and long considered one of the biggest stars in the stock car sport, has suffered through two miserable seasons since joining the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports team.

He won one race and made the Chase in 2008, but finished 12th in the points. Last year, while teammates Jimmie Johnson, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon finished 1-2-3 in the championship, Junior failed to win a race and wound up 25th in the points.

Team owner Rick Hendrick has said repeatedly since the end of last season that he and the team were going to do whatever it took to get Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet turned around this year.

It wasn’t the win he had hoped for, but Sunday’s performance was definitely a step in the right direction.

“I feel good about the finish,’’ Earnhardt said. “It’s just frustrating coming that close. … you’re mad because you just want to get a top 10.  When you get a top 10, you’re pissed off because you can’t get in the top five. Then when you’re running second it gets you mad because you didn’t get a win. That’s how race car drivers are, I hope.

“We worked hard all week. I felt foolish about what happened to us in the 150 (qualifying race). We beat the fenders off the car and had to drop back and punt. I just didn’t like racing that way. We ran pretty hard today. We had a car that got ill handling and we faded a bit. We worked on it. We had all kinds of messes going on there.

“When it got cool,’’ he added, “everybody’s car gripped up. The outcome, I don’t know. We worked hard.  I’m pretty happy for my team. They needed a good finish.’’

But plate racing at Daytona and Talladega is very different from the rest of the season and Earnhardt knows he and the 88 team still have a lot to prove.

“This is not a true gauge on what the changes are going to do to our team,’’ he said. “The next couple racetracks will definitely give us a better understanding of where we are. … If we can go to Fontana, Vegas, be competitive at any point during them races, it would be a little more validation.’’

Sunday was a very good day, similar to the plate races of a few years ago when Earnhardt was considered the master of the draft.

“It was all a blur,’’ said Earnhardt, whose finish was reminiscent of his father’s last victory at Talladega, when he sliced through traffic and drove from 18th to first in the last 10 laps. “I was just going wherever they weren’t.

“I really don’t enjoy being that aggressive. But if there was enough room for the radiator to fit, you just kind of held the gas down and prayed for the best.’’

It was the most fun he’s had on a plate track in a while.

“Yeah, I had a hell of a time tonight,’’ Earnhardt said. “When you got a good car, one that will make some moves and don’t wreck … I wrecked out of the last couple 500s. I figured, `What do I have to do to finish one of these things and finish it good?’ I might have been a little too careful (in the past), you know.

“Tonight, I just let it all hang out. If there was a hole in the middle, I went there, wherever it was.’’

That was good enough to give Earnhardt some much-needed momentum and his legion of fans some hope.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 14 2010


  • Overra88ted says:

    Great to see a DEI-Ganassi car beat the red-headed stepchild from Hendrick Motorsports. Give Bass Pro Shops a big shout out for staying with DEI-Ganassi, it paid off big. Dale Sr. is smiling today!

    • DALESBABY88 says:

      well if he would of had one or two more laps he would of beat DEI and the red headed step son would of been able to bend over and tell DEI to KISS MY BUTT

  • Tom Hohmann says:

    I guess, according to the comments, Junior can’t win for losing. Get a life, and leave his alone.

  • MISSU3 says:

    It’s an insult to Jamie and the fans to think that the only thing that made the race exciting and satisfying was JR. I will always root for a first time winner at the 500. Too bad Jr. had to come in second, because he’ll suck the media right away from Jamies accomplishment. All the drivers seemed to be up on the wheel and racing gutsy. It was great to see Jamie and “EARNHARDT/Ganassi” in victory lane. Jr. would have won back a little of my respect if he had acknowledged that it was Teresa that was part of the company that beat him, but I guess he hasn’t matured that much yet.

    • DALESBABY88 says:

      He was the only reason the daytona 500 was exciting, i never seen anyone come from 10th to 2nd within one lap i was so proud of him. you go get em even harder in california kick some butt. your a champion your my champion always #1

  • paul says:

    the only time all night he was remotely close to the front was the last lap when the 00 pushed him up there.

    If thats the great jrs claim to fame he’s in for another loser yr.

    • DALESBABY88 says:

      what’s the matter paul jealous, your shrub didnt win pooor baby cryme a river, build me a bridge and get over it!!!! Junior is out for blood this year he is ruthless and if anyone gets in his way this year especially your boyfriend vile busch he will RUN them over!!!!