At Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, Earnhardt powered the No. 88 Hendrick Chevrolet to Victory Lane.
This was Earnhardt's second Daytona 500 victory, and the veteran driver was downright giddy with the win. NASCAR helps point that out:
Have a look at the final results:
|1||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||9|
|7||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||34|
|43||Martin Truex Jr.||30|
The biggest takeaway from the day's action was that despite a lengthy weather delay, this was a spectacular race. Guys were gunning hard for the lead all day.
Brad Keselowski, as Fox's Kaitlyn Vincie tweeted, highlights that:
"That had to be the hardest raced 500 ever, and probably one of the best." - Brad Keselowski #nascar— Kaitlyn Vincie (@kaitlynvincie) February 24, 2014
There are many other takeaways from this excellent season opener. Here are the three biggest.
Dale Jr. Raises Expectations
Earnhardt is the 11-time winner of NASCAR's most popular driver award, but he's still searching for his first Sprint Series championship.
Early in his career, it looked like it would be a matter of time before he captured that championship. In his first seven full seasons, he finished in the top eight of the season standings four times. His highest finish in that span is third in 2003.
He's only finished in the top eight twice in the seven years since. His highest finish in that span is fifth, which came last season.
Last season certainly helped rekindle dreams of a championship, and this win pushes those hopes into overdrive.
Earnhardt has matured into a driver who knows how to produce consistent results. He's adept at avoiding trouble and sticking with the leaders. He has not, however, shown that killer instinct to win.
On Sunday, he proved he has the tenacity it takes to win when every driver is doing everything possible to take the checkered.
This is a great sign for his chances of success this year, and it certainly raises expectations on the 88 team.
This shouldn't be a shock to the team, since they raised themselves. Sunoco Racing shared this:
Hendrick Motorsports Ready to Continue Domination
Earnhardt's win, like every other win by any driver that will come this season, is the result of a team effort.
Only three other drivers enjoy the same luxury of Earnhardt as having the best team in NASCAR behind them.
Since Jeff Gordon won the championship in 1995, Hendrick Motorsports has taken 11 championships. Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 crew have been the main cog in the success, but the team has flourished from top to bottom.
There are no signs of that slowing down.
Hendrick had four drivers in this race: Earnhardt won, Jeff Gordon was fourth, Jimmie Johnson fifth and Kasey Kahne was 31st.
Johnson was in second on the restart of the green-white-checkered finish, and Kahne led for two laps before picking up some damage while avoiding one of the numerous wrecks.
If other teams were looking for a sign of weakness from the current dynasty in their sport, they didn't get one.
Brad Keselowski Will Have a Rebound Year
After winning his first Sprint Cup Championship in 2012, Keselowski disappointed with a 14th-place finish last season.
Which driver will finish higher in the season standings?
Keselowski was dealing with a new level of celebrity and a switch to a new car and manufacturer.
His results suffered. He didn't pick up a win until the Chase, and he wasn't a part of the Chase field.
Keselowski looks ready to put all of that behind him now.
He powered the No. 2 Ford to a strong Sunday by leading 13 laps on the day and almost made a run at the lead after the green-white-checkered restart.
I expect him to be a big factor all season.
Of course, there are bound to be some up-and-down results with an attitude like the one expressed in this Keselowski quote passed along by Geoffery Miller:
"Eh, points days don't mean anything anymore," - Keselowski.— Geoffrey Miller (@GeoffreyMiller) February 24, 2014
So, there may be an overzealous mistake or two, but he has the experience, talent and team to overcome this.
Keselowski looks focused and ready for a big year.