TAYLOR: The New Earnhardt Jr.
Sunday was Daytona 500 race day. What NASCAR fans had been waiting months for was finally here. A calm first 38 laps were run before the rain came – lots of rain.
For NASCAR and the race fans, another headache was on hand. Mother Nature was not playing nice and an almost seven hour rain delay forced the sport’s biggest event to run late into the night. During the break FOX aired the 2013 version of the Daytona 500 in which Jimmie Johnson won. Soon casual viewers were confused and were thinking they were watching the actual 2014 race.
Those in the know on social media soon began to have great fun in laughing at the misinformed crowd as we found ways to entertain ourselves during the break in the action. NASCAR drivers stuck in their motorhomes in the Daytona swamp weren’t much different.
Jimmie Johnson was watching the Jungle Book with daughter Evie despite somehow also winning the event being run on television. Kyle Busch and wife Samantha were taking selfies on the pit box and Clint Bowyer was doing a hilarious Q&A on Twitter and posting pictures with septic trucks. NASCAR rain delays for you.
Missing from all the delay shenanigans and social media fun was the man who entered 2014 on a long losing streak. It had been 10 years since Dale Earnhardt Jr. had won his first Daytona 500 in 2004. Questions lingered about his winless season last year as so many fans desperately wanted their favorite driver back in victory lane. The pieces, momentum and performance were there, but never the end result.
As the field finally buckled back in to restart the Daytona 500 Earnhardt was relaxed. Driving his National Guard Chevrolet with fancy new reflective gold numbering, he soon settled into the race – a metaphor much for like he has within his personal life.
Over the past three years Earnhardt as a person has become has finally begun accepting who he is. The fans see it and the media see it and so do those around him. Some of the credit goes to Earnhardt himself while some also goes to longtime girlfriend Amy and his inner circle of friends. He is finally comfortable in his own skin and on Sunday night at Daytona Int’l Speedway the comfort level in the draft matched his newfound personal comfort.
Earnhardt was focused. The No. 88 car blasted around Daytona, blocking and holding the field at bay. The driver in the car perhaps drove the best race of his career. As chaos repeatedly happened behind him and various challengers appeared in one of the most exciting Daytona 500’s of all time, Earnhardt remained the calm force-the pied piper of the field.
On this night no one could hold the lead over the No. 88. As the field rounded the final corner with the many fans still in attendance at full throat cheering Earnhardt as he crossed the line to win his second Daytona 500. NASCAR nation rejoiced.
Soon after his victory Earnhardt did something else he had previously never done. He tweeted. Posting selfies with the trophy and with his dad’s famous statue outside of Daytona Int’l Speedway, Earnhardt’s newer and happier approach to life showed through. He had let people inside his private life. His success was not only big for him, but big for the sport of NASCAR. Say hello to the now two-time Daytona 500 champion and to the new Dale Earnhardt Jr.