Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s impressive finish in a crazy Daytona 500 is a good sign for the rest of his NASCAR season. I know it's just one race, and it's a long season, but historically, a good showing at the Great American Race has lead to strong seasons for Jr.
Matt Kenseth was able to hold Jr. off to win a delay- and crash-marred Daytona this year. Still, Earnhardt, Jr. has to be encouraged by this strong finish.
Though he raced well, the second place finish still extended his winless streak to 130 races. He is quoted by Nate Ryan of USA Today with this about his pursuit of Kenseth and his appreciation of the fans:
We couldn't ever get to Matt, I kind of waited til the last minute. I thought it was a great race. I want to thank the fans for sticking around on a Monday night and everyone who tuned in at home. Sorry about the delay and everything.
That attitude and his legendary father Dale Earnhardt, Sr. has made Jr. the Series most popular driver for the ninth consecutive year, but it hasn't resulted in tons of on-track success.
That may be about to change.
In 2004, he won the Daytona 500 and finished fifth in the final Sprint Cup Series standings that year. Earnhardt, Jr. hasn't finished that high in any of the seven full seasons since. He also hasn't finished in the top three in any Daytona 500 since 2004.
For Jr., the way he starts a season has had a lot to do with the way it's progressed and ultimately ended.
In 2004, he had five other wins, as well as 16 top five finishes and 21 top 10 finishes. The win at Daytona was a precursor to a season of consistency. When it comes to winning, or at least competing for a championship, consistency is paramount.
We will have to wait and see what Earnhardt, Jr. produces in the Series' next race, which is the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. The race takes place on March 4th, and because of the delays at Daytona, there will be a shorter time between races.
Weather delays caused the 2012 Daytona 500 to conclude on Monday, February 27th. The drivers will catch a break because of the extra leap year day.
In 2004, when the Subway race was called the Subway 400, and was held at North Carolina Speedway, Earnhardt followed his win at Daytona with a fifth place finish.
Maintaining momentum will be huge for him, and it starts in Phoenix. If he delivers another strong performance, he will be a force for the remainder of the year.