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Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his beard power to second place

Jay Busbee
From The Marbles

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Fear the beard.

The day after an ugly start that cost him plenty of money, Dale Earnhardt Jr. rallied back to place second in the Daytona 500. He finished just behind Jamie McMurray, and may well have caught the No. 1 car had he another half-lap's worth of track.

It's one race, just one. But still, after the debacle that was 2009, Junior Nation had to be thrilled with the way their man rallied from down in the mid-20s to second place in just a few laps.

The reason Junior was in the position he was came about because of luck and pit strategy, two elements that weren't exactly present very often in 2009. Earnhardt managed to avoid the kind of wrecks that would have taken him out last year (luck) and came in for a late pit while others stayed out that ended up giving him a much stronger car than most of the field (strategy).

Junior critics love to say that without his last name, he'd be just another ordinary driver. Now let's turn that meme around. If you didn't take into consideration the last couple years, if you didn't think about race after race of frustration and disappointment, what would you think of this guy in the 88? Pretty darn solid, yes?

Again, it's way too early to make any kind of judgment on the season. But right now, there are 41 other drivers looking up at Earnhardt in the standings, and that's a pretty sweet place for Junior to be.

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