A Sign Of Things To Come?

It has been a long time since Dale Earnhardt Jr. found himself in victory lane at a race.  He's made more news off the track in the past few months than he has on it.  His long awaited debut with Hendrick Racing came Saturday Night at the Budweiser Shootout.  For Dale Jr. and his legion of fans, it couldn't have been any better.

The biggest story off the track in NASCAR the past few months has been Dale Earnhart Jr.'s move to Hendrick Motorsports, leaving the company that his father started.  The biggest questions about it was about why the divide between Dale Jr. and Teresa was so big and how would he do with his new team.  The latter was answered in emphatic fashion Saturday Night Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona.
Going into Saturday's race, Dale Jr. actually wasn't the talk.  It was actually what happened in the aftermath of Friday practice.  In the practice session, Tony Stewart made contact that put Kurt Busch into the wall.  As the cars went to pit road, Busch drove his car into the side of Stewart's.  Both drivers were summoned to see NASCAR officials.  It is that meeting where some say that Stewart threw a punch at Busch.  The story has not been confirmed or denied by either party or by NASCAR.
The Shootout was the first test for the new cars at Daytona.  Close racing was the theme of the night.  For most of the event, the pack remained very close, sometimes being separated by a second or less.  It looks like that the new cars get a passing grade for the night.
There were four cautions for a total of 14 laps.  The first fell on lap 17 when Bill Elliott had a blown tire and smacked the turn one wall.  That would be the way the first segment would end.  The second caution fell on lap 25 when Jamie McMurray got contact from Denny Hamlin and hit the wall.  McMurray's night was over while Hamlin was able to continue.  Caution number three happened on lap 49 when David Gilliland lost a tire and smack the wall.  Greg Biffle and Martin Truex Jr. were collected with Kasey Kahne picking up a bit of damage as well.  The final caution was on lap 65 because of two incidents.  Kurt Busch lost control and starting spinning in turn three into turn four, but did a remarkable job of keeping off the wall and away from other drivers.  Behind that, J.J. Yeley crashes into Ryan Newman as everyone was braking, trying to avoid the spinning Busch.
The restart with four laps to go had Stewart leading, but Earnhardt would power past him to take the checkered flag.  For Dale Earnhardt Jr., it was his first win since he took the Spring race at Richmond in 2006.  Stewart finished second, Jimmie Johnson third, Jeff Gordon fourth, and Shootout newcomer Reed Sorenson fifth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s run Saturday Night was similar to how he ran on the restrictor plate races before.  He was the best car in the field.  The 47 laps led by Earnhardt set a new Budweiser Shootout record.  It may only be one race, but it sure looked like the old Dale Earnhardt Jr. and not the one who struggled through the 2007 season.  Now that he is in the stable of NASCAR's super team, it's very possible that this could be a huge season for him.  That will be one of the questions answered from now until November at Homestead.

Click HERE to see Jr. charge back for Budweiser Shootout win

By Crimson Cowboy

Videos courtesy of NASCAR.com

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