The 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season opened up with a bang if you are a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan. The driver kicked things off with a win at Daytona International Speedway by taking the checkered flag of the Daytona 500.
Now Earnhardt is returning to the speedway he seems to have mastered, along with Talladega Superspeedway, with a couple of wins under his belt. The burning question for Jr. fans is a simple one. Can Dale Jr. sweep the races at Daytona in one season? Or, is he thinking about something else?
If he does win both races at Daytona then the feat would add him to an elite group of Cup Series drivers. Since racing started at the track only six drivers have managed to win both races at the World Center of Racing in one season. One of those drivers, Jimmie Johnson, will be in the Coke Zero 400 with Earnhardt on Saturday night. Johnson won both races at Daytona last season in 2013 in route to his sixth Championship. Johnson also won the Daytona 500 in 2006.
The first Cup Series driver to pull the sweep at Daytona International was Fireball Roberts who managed the feat in 1962 only a few years after the track opened in 1959. Cale Yarborough followed Roberts with two wins at the track several years later during the 1968 season. It was the very next season when the “double” was achieved again in 1969 by LeeRoy Yarbrough. Bobby Allison, one of the original members of the “Alabama Gang”, won both Daytona races in 1982.
Then there’s the long gap of racing seasons until Jimmie Johnson started talk about the double taking place again last season. Now Earnhardt has ignited the topic again with his season opening Daytona win and his successful season to date. But wait, Earnhardt is not talking about winning both races at Daytona. He’s talking about making up for a mistake he made at Talladega which is another restrictor plate track similar to Daytona.
"It was embarrassing man" Earnhardt said Thursday at Daytona about his finish in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. "I hate to talk about it. The way we ran and what I chose to do at the end of that race is just really uncharacteristic of anybody that is in the field and trying to compete."
Terrific at Talladega
Another factor in the mix that can’t be measured is how Earnhardt performed during the spring race at Talladega. Earnhardt tried the tactic of riding near the back to avoid any big wrecks. The plan was to avoid crashes and make a move to the front towards the end of the race. There was only one problem in the fact that the plan didn’t work and Earnhardt’s car was horrible towards the end of the race in dirty air. By the closing laps of the race any chance of Earnhardt challenging for a victory had long passed. He finished a disappointing 26th.
"I learned some lessons," Earnhardt said. "You are never too old to be taught a lesson either. I definitely experienced that in Talladega this year. ... I forgot that there was a team behind me, and depending on me. Lot of fans there to see us race, showed up to spend hard-earned money, so it was a difficult thing to go through."
Now the most popular driver in NASCAR feels that the victory at the Daytona 500 at the beginning of the season is a great thing but now he owes something to himself and his fans to make up for his efforts at Talladega. He's setting his sights on the running of the Coke Zero 400 on Saturday night.