Dale Earnhardt Jr. put forth a great effort at a very interesting Daytona 500 on Monday night, finishing second behind Matt Kenseth. While he can hang his hat on a strong showing in the biggest race of the year, it is not an indication that he is going to turn his career around.
Fans still flock to see "Little E" because of his last name. He is one of the most marketable drivers in the sport, and he generates revenue as well as anyone else in NASCAR.
Despite all the love and affection he gets from all corners of the racing world, Earnhardt is still trying to figure out what it takes to be a consistent driver on the circuit.
Finishing second at Daytona means nothing for what he will do the rest of the year. He has won this race before, in 2004, and has always been able to maneuver his way around the Daytona International Speedway.
What matters is how Earnhardt follows up this performance. Since joining Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, he has gotten better. In 2011, he finished in the top 10 of the final standings for the first time since finishing fifth in 2006.
He is still in search of his first Sprint Cup victory since 2008. It is not impossible to win the points title, or even compete for it, without winning, but recent changes to the system have made it that much more difficult.
Earnhardt needs to learn from this finish, not be content with it. But we have seen this song and dance so many times before. He has one great performance in a major race, everyone gets so excited to see what he will do and he ends up disappointing.
Maybe this is a new beginning for Earnhardt. Perhaps he has figured out how to race consistently week in and week out so he can stay at or near the top of the standings. Given history and constant disappointments from him, though, fans should not expect anything from Earnhardt until he proves he can do it.