Dale Earnhardt Jr. Perfected a Fitting Tribute With an Emotional Victory

Sal Sigala Jr.Senior Analyst IJuly 3, 2010

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - JULY 02:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #3 Wrangler Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Subway Jalapeno 250 at Daytona International Speedway on July 2, 2010 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Hollywood’s best screenwriters couldn’t have scripted a better set of circumstances than what took place at Daytona International Speedway on the evening of July 2, 2010.

It contained everything that any A-list movie was ever made of.

There was a supporting cast when Earnhardt’s No. 88 Sprint Cup Series crew was there to provide a series of flawless pit stops.

"You know we lost everything here," said Tony Eury, who was teary-eyed after the emotional victory.

Eury added, “To come back with that number and do this, it means everything."

Eury was referring to the last lap accident that took the life of one NASCAR’s biggest stars, Dale Earnhardt Sr., during the 2001 Daytona 500.

The villains were also on hand to do what they do best, but try as they must, the 42 of them could not spoil what the racing Gods had already set forth.

Joey Logano, who finished second in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry, probably said it best.

"I probably gained a lot of fans tonight by pushing the three to victory, but I'd much rather be in Victory Lane," Logano said.

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Logano added, "It's cool to see the three in Victory Lane at Daytona. It's really neat. A lot of people thought they would never see that again."

The co-stars did an outstanding job making sure the hero had all the tools that would be needed to undergo the task at hand.

Richard Childress assisted Earnhardt by allowing him to use his father’s number for the sole purpose of paying tribute to a man who was not only his driver, but also a very close and dear friend.

"To see Dale Jr. in Victory Lane and the look on his face brought back so many memories of when I've seen Dale Sr. here," said Childress in Victory Lane.

Teresa Earnhardt also gave her support knowing the reason was to honor her late husband’s induction into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame.

“Dale’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame is truly a special honor for the Earnhardt Family as well as for all of Dale’s fans,” she said. “Dale was a competitor, but he was also a person who loved the fans and worked hard to connect with the people who supported him through his career.”

JR Motorsports and Rick Hendrick supplied Earnhardt with the engine that carried him to victory lane.

After the race, Earnhardt said, “I didn’t want to do a burn out. I wanted to tear this motor apart and see what we did, to see where we improved.”

The hero, of course, was the man behind the wheel, the man who drove an almost perfect race.

The fire in his eyes, along with the will and desire to be the best, is what has made Earnhardt a fan favorite.

The race in itself was won on pure heart and dedication, but most of all, Earnhardt dug deep within himself, which is something that has been lost in the past couple of seasons.

The tenacity along with the persistence to make this night happen was well worth its weight in gold once Earnhardt crossed into the finish into the hearts of race fans around the nation.

"I was so worried that I wasn't going to win, 'cause nothing but a win would get it—for everybody," said Earnhardt after fighting away the tears of joy.

"If we didn't win, what a waste of time," said Earnhardt.

Earnhardt added, "I worked hard to try to win, not only for daddy—I'm proud of him going to the Hall of Fame, and he would be proud of this, I'm sure—but just all these fans. I hope they enjoyed this. This is it—no more '3' for me. That's it."

In the beginning, it took on a life of its own, but most of all, it had a storybook ending, with the hero crossing the finish line in order to pay tribute to a man that gave a whole different meaning to the name Daytona.

The heavens knew this night would be special, when even she held back her tears of joy to let a son carry the torch that his legendary father once carried during his own storybook career.

What started out as a race ended in a tribute that was long overdue, and what better way to honor the No. 3 than a victory, which is how it should have ended all along—at the track that took Earnhardt's life.

When Earnhardt Jr. took the victory lap without the burnout, it brought back fond memories of the way his father would have done it.

Earnhardt drove around the track while waving to the fans as a gesture to thank them for supporting one of America’s most exciting sports, and that is NASCAR racing.


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