Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his second Daytona 500 on Sunday, setting a NASCAR record for the longest stretch between victories in the sport's preeminent race. Junior's first Daytona 500 triumph came back in 2004, and his nine-year drought between victories was one year longer than Cale Yarborough's.
Sunday's rain-soaked win may have been the most satisfying in Earnhardt's career, after he finished second at the Daytona 500 in three of the previous four seasons. He also ended a 55-race winless streak that dated back to June 2012.
An 11-time defending winner of NASCAR's Most Popular Driver Award, Earnhardt hasn't had the results to match his reputation in recent seasons. He always seems to be on the cusp but usually can't get over the hump.
Sunday's victory may provide the charge he needs, and the new Chase for the Sprint Cup format means that Junior will qualify for the Chase, barring a complete meltdown.
However, one big win doesn't necessarily make him a championship contender, as Earnhardt has always done his best work in restrictor-plate races and previously suffered through winless streaks of 76 and 143 races.
While it's unclear whether Earnhardt is a real threat to take the Sprint Cup, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon said it best: "The world is right right now—Dale Junior just won the Daytona 500. That's a sign it's going to be a great season."
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