Ricky Bobby used to say that "second place is the first loser." But hey, if you're going to be a loser, may as well be the best you can be.
On a night that saw every single one of his vaunted Hendrick teammates bail out of the Daytona 500 early, two via crash and one by blown engine, Dale Earnhardt Jr. carried the flags of Hendrick Motorsports and Chevy virtually alone up front. And he came within one good move of winning The Great American Race.
Certainly, Roush Fenway and Ford were the class of the field all Speedweeks long, and once eventual winner Matt Kenseth took over the lead after The Great Inferno, he didn't relinquish it. But Earnhardt made his way to the front as the laps counted down, and to even be in that position after so many seasons of frustration comes as welcome news to Junior and his waves of fans.
"I'm really pleased to be able to get good points tonight," said Earnhardt, who smiled as he entered the postrace media conference. "I'm happy for our team, too. We had a really good-looking race car, good craftsmanship, and I was real proud of that. You know, you bring such a nice car down here, and the chances of you tearing it up is pretty high. Odds are always kind of high you get caught up in something like we saw at the end of the race. But I was really happy to be able to take the car home in one piece, and liked the way the motor ran, liked the way the car drove."
Earnhardt did clear up one question, at least from his perspective: whether Greg Biffle was running interference for Kenseth. "If he had an opportunity to get around Matt and had a chance to win the Daytona 500, he would have took it immediately," Earnhardt said. "He's trying to do what he could do. If I were him, I can't imagine what his game plan was in his head, but if I were him, I would have tried to let me push him by and then pull down in front of Matt, and force Matt to be my pusher and then leave the 88 for the dogs."
But no dogs were harmed at any point in this race. And lest anyone think Earnhardt is happy with a race that nearly ended his 130-race winless streak, think again: "You know, you do want to come in here and make sure the press knows that you wanted to win the race, because the press are going to tell the fans what you thought, and you don't want to give anyone the impression that you are fine running second, because I'm not," Earnhardt said. "But I am happy with the points I got tonight, because it is a tough hole to climb out of, and this new system really makes it a little different and makes you uneasy. I am happy to be able to come out of here and not look back throughout the season, and look at this race as one of the ones where we give some points away, like we did last year."
Fair enough. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: happy with his points, not happy he finished second. We cool now? On to Phoenix.
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