Dale Earnhardt Jr: Why He'll Shock the Field and Win Daytona 500

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistFebruary 21, 2012

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 19:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 19, 2012 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Sometimes, a little change can go a long way.

And with NASCAR's new rules de-emphasizing drivers pushing draft for one another, that could be all the difference for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and lead him to win this year's Daytona 500.

He may not have won the Budweiser Shootout, but he felt pretty good during the race. From Lee Spencer of FOX Sports:

No longer did he have to rely on whether his teammate was ready to make a move from the back of the pack or push him to make a pass. Earnhardt could wheel his car on his own. And Sunday night, Earnhardt appeared to be back in old form—before he was caught up in a wreck and finished 20th. Still, the potential for racing was there.

"I was feeling really good and really happy with the way things were going," Earnhardt said after the race. "I felt like I was doing a good job. I felt like I had control of my race and had potential to win the race if I made all the right moves. That is all I can ask for."

It's good Jr. is feeling so comfortable because 2012 really needs to be the year he snaps his current streak of 129 races without a win. A second year with crew chief Steve Letarte, whom Earnhardt clearly responded positively to in 2011, should go a long way toward ending that streak.

But Daytona is where Earnhardt has the opportunity to make a big statement and remind the field that he is a force to be reckoned with in 2012. He won the race in 2004, and he has six top-10 finishes in the race over the duration of his career.

Daytona International Speedway has been kind to him in the past, after all.

An Earnhardt pleased with the new rules, motivated to break his winless streak, more comfortable with his crew and already confident at this track, the Daytona 500 seems like the perfect storm needed for the racer to snag a much-needed victory.

I wouldn't bet against him.


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