Jerry Bonkowski

Earnhardt's 2nd Daytona win gives reward to loyal fan base

Posted February 24, 2014

— After Sunday's Daytona 500, it only seems as if there's suddenly a groundswell to rename this city as Daletona Beach.

Following arguably the biggest win of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Sprint Cup career – his second Daytona 500 victory that comes 10 years after his first – his celebrated army of fans known as Junior Nation can once again hold their heads up high and brag about their favorite driver.

"I know I have a lot of fans that are real happy about what we did tonight and can't wait to go hang around the water cooler and brag to their buddies tomorrow," Earnhardt said Sunday night after taking the checkered flag.

It was not an easy race by any means, from either a logistical or performance standpoint.

First, there was a nearly six-and-a-half hour rain delay. Second, there were four large, multi-car wrecks once the track was dried and racing resumed - not to mention several other drivers whose day or night came to an early end due to mechanical failure.

Any one of those aforementioned wrecks could have brought an abrupt end to Earnhardt's day had he been caught up in the resulting mess, but by fate, good fortune, kismet – or whatever you want to call it – Earnhardt continually found himself in the right place at the right time throughout the race's 201 laps.

He not only was untouchable, he was invincible.

And the best place of all was when he crossed the start-finish line first for only the second time since the start of the 2007 season.

To say this was a big win for Earnhardt is putting it mildly. Rather, it was a must-win in a season that has perhaps the greatest significance ever in Earnhardt's now 15-year Sprint Cup career.

He has so much to win for in 2014:

* He turns 40 this year, knowing that once he crosses that threshold, opportunities to win a championship will become less likely with each passing season as his advancing age catches up with and starts to dull his fine motor skills. He knows he's not as young as he once was. He's outgrown and become too old for his once rock star lifestyle, and that if there was ever a time he needed to be a Sprint Cup champion, 2014 is it.

* He wants to send crew chief Steve Letarte out as a winner. Letarte is leaving Earnhardt and Hendrick Motorsports at the end of this season to become a TV analyst for NBC telecasts of NASCAR races starting in 2015. Junior gave Letarte perhaps the biggest present of his life with Sunday's win. No matter where Letarte goes from here, he'll always carry the badge of honor of being a Daytona 500 winning crew chief. The only present that could out-do what Earnhardt gave to Letarte with Sunday's win is a championship at season's end.

* More than anything, Earnhardt is perhaps as serious as he's ever been about, well, being serious about living up to all the hopes and expectations placed upon him by his loyal fans. They have waited, hoped, prayed and ultimately wound up disappointed every year since he became a full-time driver on the Sprint Cup circuit in 2000. It's time for Junior to repay his fans' faith and belief in him. It's time for Junior to give back after taking so much when it comes to fan support and the kind of idolizing that has made him the sport's most popular driver for the last 11 years running.

However, we've also seen this movie and watched this rodeo a couple of other times. When he won at Michigan in 2008 after not having won a race for nearly two seasons, his fans expected Earnhardt to go on a huge winning streak. Even Junior himself promised that.

Unfortunately, that promise wound up being hollow, as the next Cup race he would win – and up until Sunday, the only Cup race he had won with Letarte as his crew chief – was in 2012, again at Michigan, snapping a winless streak that surpassed 130 races.

Now, Junior has begun another winning streak. It's at one. Will he be able to get No. 2 this weekend at Phoenix? Or how about in two weeks at Las Vegas? Perhaps Bristol next month? Talladega or Richmond, his two most successful tracks?

Or will Earnhardt once again fall into yet another winless streak that lasts the rest of this season and potentially beyond?

As the old saying goes, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

After all the celebrating Sunday and all the bragging and trash talking that'll go on Monday and for the next several days, your millions of loyal fans likely couldn't stand to have their hearts broken yet again for a 16th straight year.

Please tell us, Junior, that you won't fool us a third time.

Follow Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski and catch him at 7:25 a.m. every Friday morning with Mark & Mike on 620 The Buzz.

10 Comments

Please to add a comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • Doc Holliday Feb 24, 11:02 p.m.

    The Deputy Sheriff appears to be shooting somebody the bird in the pic. lol

    It's just the way he's grabbing the fence but it looks funny.

  • Kattywompus Feb 24, 7:45 p.m.

    This is a liberal ploy. Fox News reported Jimmie Johnson was the winner of Daytona.

  • InTheNo Feb 24, 6:07 p.m.

    I seriously doubt that you're an Earnhardt fan, Bonekowski. So... what's it to you? He's won more Nascar races than you have hasn't he?

  • countrymandhc Feb 24, 2:32 p.m.

    Looks no matter who drives the 3 it's causing wrecks . Would like to see restrictor plate off 88 . Look like he had a lot more on restarts than even the other Hendrick cars. This time Danica's wreck wasn't her fault.

  • sunshine1040 Feb 24, 1:18 p.m.

    Way to go Dale keep up the good work

  • baldchip Feb 24, 12:43 p.m.

    Good race-Daddy's smiling down today!!

  • littleriver69 Feb 24, 12:37 p.m.

    I see Manica was her usual self. Almost Last!!

  • Tizu Feb 24, 9:38 a.m.

    LOL at the folks who thought Jimmie Johnson won due to the replay of LAST YEAR's Daytona 500. :)

    Great job, Junior. The last 58 laps were dominant. He deserved and earned the win.

  • mcorson2 Feb 24, 9:25 a.m.

    He deserves it! way to go Dale!

  • sburks1906 Feb 24, 8:59 a.m.

    Way to go Junior! WHOO-HOO!!!

  • ACC: NC State at Georgia Tech

    Saturday at 12:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • SEC: Arkansas at Florida

    Saturday at 2:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • PGA: Waste Management Phoenix Open

    Saturday at 3:00 pm on WRAL-TV

  • SEC: Kentucky at Missouri

    Tonight at 9:00 on 99.9 The Fan

  • NHL: Hurricanes vs. St. Louis

    Tomorrow at 7:00 pm on 99.9 The Fan

Scoreboard
Local
Final
ND 77
DUKE 73
Final
SAN 95
CHA 86
Final
NCSU 57
CLEM 68
Final
MEM 70
ECU 58
Final
PHI 89
DET 69
Final
CLE 99
POR 94
Final
TOR 119
SAC 102
Final
MIN 110
BOS 98
Final
ATL 113
BRK 102
Final
HOU 99
DAL 94
Final
NOP 85
DEN 93
Final
NYK 100
OKC 92
Final
SAN 95
CHA 86
Final
UTA 89
LAC 94
Final
PHO 106
WAS 98
7:00pm Tonight
ORL
MIL
 
7:00pm Tonight
IND
NYK
 
8:00pm Tonight
MEM
DEN
 
10:30pm Tonight
LAL
CHI
 
Final
VERM 44
GTDNS 47
 
Final
NAVY 64
AMER 54
 
Final
UMBC 56
BING 68
 
Final
JMU 88
DEL 82
 
Final
RICH 86
DUQ 55
Final
UNCW 82
ELON 65
 
Final
USB 72
HART 66
 
Final
WMARY 100
HOF 79
 
Final
COL 54
LAF 59
 
Final
PSU 63
MINN 58
Final
MAINE 58
UNH 63
 
Final
DREX 65
NE 60
 
Final
FORD 63
RIU 64
Final
SFLA 52
SMU 63
Final
MARQ 70
SHU 80
Final
LSU 64
SCAR 58
Final
UCF 62
TEMPL 86
Final
LONG 64
UNCA 74
 
Final
FSU 82
WAKE 76
Final
CCAR 68
WINT 75
 
Final
OU 84
WRST 76
 
Final
ND 77
DUKE 73
7:30pm Wednesday
GHND 0
HC 0
 
Final
CSOU 77
RAD 84
 
Final
OKLA 81
TTU 36
Final
BRAD 57
DRAK 69
 
Final
BUCK 68
LEH 62
 
Final
WICHS 58
LOYC 47
Final
ILLST 67
MIZST 57
 
Final
PEAY 69
MORE 82
 
Final
SDKST 86
NEOM 64
 
Final
ARST 73
ORST 55
Final
HOU 59
RICE 48
Final
SILL 52
NIOWA 59
Final
NCSU 57
CLEM 68
Final
MEM 70
ECU 58
Final
MIAMI 50
GT 70
Final
PURD 83
IND 67
Final
TCU 61
KU 64
Final
BC 72
LOU 81
Final
MISS 79
MSST 73
Final
CREI 77
STJ 74
Final
SJST 52
AFA 66
Final
ARZ 90
OREG 56
Final
WASH 74
STAN 84
2:00pm Today
PROV
DEP
 
6:00pm Tonight
RUTG
MSU
 
7:00pm Tonight
ARMY
BU
 
7:00pm Tonight
RFLSH
BRY
 
7:00pm Tonight
MERC
CHAT
 
7:00pm Tonight
LIU
CCST
 
7:00pm Tonight
TOWS
COC
 
7:00pm Tonight
UMASS
DAY
 
7:00pm Tonight
FUR
ETST
 
7:00pm Tonight
ODU
FIU
 
7:00pm Tonight
RMU
FD
 
7:00pm Tonight
CHAR
FATL
 
7:00pm Tonight
LIB
HIGH
 
7:00pm Tonight
UNF
KNST
 
7:00pm Tonight
FLGC
LIP
 
7:00pm Tonight
OSU
MD
 
7:00pm Tonight
Terriers
MNTER
 
7:00pm Tonight
STET
NKENTUCKY
 
7:00pm Tonight
WAGN
SHU
 
7:00pm Tonight
GMAS
STLU
 
7:00pm Tonight
JVU
USCU
 
7:00pm Tonight
VMI
WCU
 
7:00pm Tonight
LATU
WKENT
 
7:00pm Tonight
UNCG
WOFF
 
7:00pm Tonight
DET
YOUNG
 
7:30pm Tonight
GSOUT
APP
 
7:30pm Tonight
TENNM
EILL
 
7:30pm Tonight
GHND
HC
 
8:00pm Tonight
CIN
UCONN
 
8:00pm Tonight
NDST
DEN
 
8:00pm Tonight
SD
MAST
 
8:00pm Tonight
UWMIL
ILLCH
 
8:00pm Tonight
BEL
JVST
 
8:00pm Tonight
SMISS
MARS
 
8:00pm Tonight
TXSA
MTST
 
8:00pm Tonight
PETE
RIDE
 
8:00pm Tonight
SEMIZ
SIUE
 
8:00pm Tonight
TENST
TENT
 
8:00pm Tonight
NDAK
WEBER
 
8:05pm Tonight
SALA
LALAF
 
8:15pm Tonight
TXARL
UGST
 
8:30pm Tonight
ARKST
ARKLR
 
8:30pm Tonight
TROY
LAMON
 
9:00pm Tonight
MURST
EKENT
 
9:00pm Tonight
NCOL
IDST
 
9:00pm Tonight
MIZZ
KENT
 
9:00pm Tonight
GONZ
PORT
 
9:00pm Tonight
UTEP
UAB
 
9:00pm Tonight
GRCN
UMKC
 
9:05pm Tonight
WLVRN
CHIST
 
9:30pm Tonight
USC
COL
 
10:00pm Tonight
UCI
CPSL
 
10:00pm Tonight
CSNO
HAW
 
10:00pm Tonight
PAC
PEPP
 
10:00pm Tonight
SDU
SCU
 
10:00pm Tonight
UCD
UCSB
 
10:00pm Tonight
UCLA
UTAH
 
10:05pm Tonight
PORST
MONT
 
10:05pm Tonight
SACST
MNTST
 
10:30pm Tonight
CSFU
LBSU
 
10:30pm Tonight
GAELS
LMU
 
11:00pm Tonight
WASU
CAL
 
11:00pm Tonight
BYU
USF
 
Final
NJD 2
TOR 1
Final
WAS 4
PIT 0
7:00pm Tonight
NYI
BOS
 
7:00pm Tonight
NYR
MON
 
7:00pm Tonight
PHI
WIN
 
7:30pm Tonight
TOR
ARI
 
7:30pm Tonight
FLA
CLB
 
7:30pm Tonight
OTT
DAL
 
7:30pm Tonight
TAM
DET
 
8:00pm Tonight
STL
NAS
9:00pm Tonight
CAL
MIN
 
9:30pm Tonight
EDM
BUF
 
10:00pm Tonight
SJS
ANA