Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s win in the #3 car was the perfect end to an era
Friday night was a special night in NASCAR history.
Whatever your opinion of the most popular driver in NASCAR, anyone with any sense of the history of this sport had to have a smile on their face after the Nationwide race ended Friday night, when a man named Earnhardt drove a car with the #3 on the side and an 80s-retro paint scheme to Victory Lane at Daytona, a track that has provided both unsurpassed triumph and unsurpassed tragedy for the Earnhardt family.
What’s most amazing to me was how much work went into getting this one racecar on the track. Discussions had to involve Dale Jr., Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress and Teresa Earnhardt – formerly known as the wicked stepmother to many fans.
After the race, Jr. even said he wasn’t even sure who owned the car, but that’s pretty irrelevant. What matters is that everybody got together in the name of one idea – honoring the one man they all respected, Dale Earnhardt Sr. Any personal disagreements of the past were put aside, and this awesome-looking car came to be.
And in case any of you are holding out hope that Jr. will drive a #3 car in the future, forget about it. He left no room for the door to be open again, as evidenced by this post-race quote.
“It doesn't make sense for me to do this again. I think in the Nationwide Series, it makes enough sense, and I really wanted to do it, and I've done it. I don't ever want to do it again. And I'll never change my mind, ever."
With this being the last time, he definitely went out in style … by holding off a charging Joey Logano, who was right on his bumper and easily could have dumped him (though Logano might not have made it out of the track alive if that had happened.)
It was clearly an emotional win for Jr., his crew and his fans, many of whom no doubt shed a tear after seeing that car get the checkered flag.
It was similar to the emotion felt when Jr. won the Pepsi 400 at Daytona just five months after his dad passed way. Crew chief Tony Eury Jr. was so choked up he could barely answer a question from the TV reporter, and the win was almost universally celebrated by the NASCAR community.
Jr. was extremely candid and almost overwhelmed by his emotions at times as he gave his postrace interviews Friday night, even making a few comments about his father – something you rarely hear him do. (My favorite was in Victory Lane, when he said, “I never knew what I was going to get with Daddy—he was a loose cannon. But I think he'd be proud.” Moments of insight into his relationship with Sr. are very rare from Jr.)
I’m sure there will be some people out there who hate everything Earnhardt, and that’s fine. It is, after all, America and a free country – something we celebrated this weekend on the 4th of July – and they have the right to do so.
But this small minority will be dwarfed by the many fans who will forever remember this weekend, which may go down in history as the last time an Earnhardt drives a #3 car to Victory Lane (unless Jeffrey Earnhardt or another descendent starts to make an impact in the sport.)
When I first heard about this car, my immediate thoughts were how cool it would be if Jr. won, and that it was actually pretty likely considering his past dominance at Daytona. When I saw Jr. up front for that final restart, I knew something awesome was about to happen, and I’m glad I was able to see it happen.
It was the perfect end to an era, and now Jr. can use this emotional boost as he returns to concentrating on making the Chase, winning races and catching up to his teammates at Hendrick Motorsports.
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