Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a bit of a history with the Daytona 500. His win in 2004 set up his best season as a driver, and now he can't seem to get over the hump to win a second. Junior has finished second in three of the past four Daytona 500s. Though he has struggled to win the event, his recent success in the event has set up a career rejuvenation for Earnhardt, which should culminate in a strong season in 2013.
Earnhardt began this run by finishing second in 2010, but unfortunately, that strong start didn't culminate in a strong season. He improved every relevant stat from the year before, but no wins and just eight top-10 finishes resulted in a down season for Junior.
Earnhardt finished second again in 2012, but by this point, his career was back on the upswing. He won his first Sprint Cup race since 2008 while posting 20 top-10 finishes, just one off his career best. His money total was his best since 2006, and his average finish of 11th tied a career high.
So now, what can Earnhardt do in his third season starting with a second-place finish? I'd guess a lot.
The popular driver may be more motivated than ever. His aggression in the race's final stages was incredible to watch, as he was pushed by Mark Martin to blow past several drivers into second place. Though he was unable to get by Jimmie Johnson, his big move paid off.
The move just didn't result in a win, and now Junior is hungrier than ever to provide a big win for his team. After the race, Earnhardt expressed a combination of happiness and frustration, stating according to Yahoo Sports:
Running second over and over is great and all—for our team, a good start to the season. But I would love, even having to go through the hassle that (race winner) Jimmie (Johnson) is about to go through this week, it's worth it.
Based on recent history, Earnhardt's finish should help him get the win that he so yearns for. His career is back on the upswing, and his mind is in the right place. Junior's performance Sunday was spot-on, and similar efforts will be sure to produce wins going forward.
Though there is plenty of melancholy surrounding Junior's second-place finish, there should be nothing but optimism about what the rest of the season will hold.