The next era of the NASCAR Nationwide Series got off to a start tonight with homage to an earlier era. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the first ever NASCAR Nationwide Series race with the COT program in a #3 car painted up to resemble the car that made his father one of NASCAR largest stars. Junior has stated that this will be his last run in a number 3 car, and it feels pretty safe to say that this car will not ever return to the NASCAR Cup series, but it may just come back in the Nationwide Series one day.
For old school NASCAR fans like me, it was very touching to see the #3 car return to victory lane in Daytona. This track once held the ultimate in triumphs for Dale Earnhardt Sr., when he won the 1998 Daytona 500 after 20 years of almost winning, and of course it was at this track where the NASCAR world lost Dale Sr. in an accident during the 2001 Daytona 500.
It was very emotional, not only for the fans, but for the NASCAR personalities involved in this victory. Junior’s crew chief, his cousin Tony Eury Jr. was brought to tears, and could not conduct his post race interview. He instead focused on what this track had taken away from his family, and what this group of men had been able to bring back. Without a doubt this is a victory that Dale Sr. would have been very proud of.
The decision to run this car was to celebrate Dale Sr.’s election into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and in a very classy act Junior dedicated the victory not only to his fans, but his father’s fans as well. Of all teh tributes to Dale Sr. over the years this is one of the best, a moving tribute to NASCAR’s greatest driver in Victory Lane at Daytona. In a word, perfect. Of course I have to say Dale Sr. we miss you buddy.