We are relatively recent converts to the all-American sport of NASCAR. But most people with even a passing interest in sport understand that NASCAR and the name Earnhardt and synonomous.
Dale Earnhardt was NASCAR's baddest, meanest and best-known driver until his death from a basilar skull fracture in a crash at Daytona in 2001. Earnhardt's death sent shockwaves through the sport; The Intimidator was since as immortal. Following the accident, NASCAR started taking safety far more seriously, with HANS devices becoming mandatory, safer crash barriers being introduced and NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow being fast-tracked. Dale Earnhardt's death has had a positive legacy for the sport.
Dale Earnhardt Junior started racing full-time in NASCAR in 2000. He finished second in the Daytona 500 of 2001 crossing the finish line at around the same time his father's car slammed head-long into the Turn 4 wall.
Dale Junior, or just Junior as he is most commonly known now has had an up-and-down career as he has tried to emerge from his father's huge shadow. But the Earnhardt name has ensured his favouritism with the fans, known as Junior Nation.
Junior Nation hasn't had much to get excited about in the last few years. Dale Jr hadn't won a race since 2008. He'd had more than his share of close shaves, none moreso than at Charlotte last year where he led on the last lap only to run out of fuel with the line in sight and coast home in seventh. But the drought ended on Fathers' Day, as Fox Charlotte reports:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had finally reached Victory Lane again, ending one of the longest stretches between wins in Sprint Cup history.He had gone 143 races without finishing first — but not all of those defeats ended in failure. Over the last couple years, Earnhardt has methodically worked his way back among NASCAR's elite, to the point where his victory at Michigan International Speedway seemed almost inevitable.
It really was only a matter of time."I feel like we are getting stronger," Earnhardt said. "This year, we have gotten faster throughout the year. We started off pretty quick and we have gotten quicker, and quicker, especially these last couple weeks. So that's been a thrill for me."Earnhardt's first Cup victory since 2008 came in convincing fashion when he beat Tony Stewart by 5.393 seconds Sunday. When the black Chevrolet with the green No. 88 crossed the finish line, Earnhardt could stop answering questions about when he was going to win again. Now, he's a legitimate contender for the overall series championship.Earnhardt is second in the points standings and has been consistently impressive all year."We have a conference meeting on Tuesday with all of the drivers and crew chiefs and that will be a thrill since we won," Earnhardt said. "But we have got to start talking about the next race. We need to keep our eye on the goal and, like I said, we'll enjoy this, but we are ready for the next opportunity to win one, because this is fun."
It was an emotional end to yesterday's race; the crowd roared its approval as Junior climbed out of the car. But the poignancy of a race win that would have made his late father proud was palpable, even on the television coverage.