Speedweeks 2011 close chapter on dark decade
Much has been made throughout NASCAR Speedweeks of the 10th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s death on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Fitting tributes were the order of the week, with television programs produced and poignant displays of remembrance dutifully honored.
It’s all been well and good. Really, it has. But now it’s time to move on.
The greatest stock car driver most of us ever saw is gone, and while his absence will forever make for a void in the sport, this season’s trip to Daytona truly turned the page in what has been a veiled decade in the sport’s history.
Michael Waltrip earned a stirring win in Friday night’s Truck Series race, driving a No. 15 truck in honor of his No. 15 Cup car that carried him to the most bittersweet win in NASCAR history. Emotions welled up inside us all, while tears flowed for Waltrip and those closely associated. Good for Mikey, Ty Norris and all those boys.
Many looked to Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the sentimental favorite for Sunday’s 500, reckoning a win in the Great American Race would be the most fitting way to honor his fallen father. Earnhardt had the car to do it, but oftentimes at Daytona, it takes more than just a strong car. The breaks didn’t fall his way 10 years later, and Junior came up short.
In all honesty though, the fans probably wanted the Senior-honoring win out of Junior more than Junior wanted it for his own healing. Earnhardt Jr. had spent the majority of Speedweeks deflecting attention thrown his way on the topic of his father’s death, after all. No, Junior wanted the win because it was the Daytona 500, not because he needed to honor his father.
And what of 20-year old Trevor Bayne? The youngster carrying the banner of the legendary Wood Brothers scored what may be the biggest upset in the history of the event. And that in itself gives us the first line of the next chapter. New, young blood has suddenly and unexpectedly been injected into the sport. Will he be the central character of this new chapter? That’s impossible to tell, but oh has he given the fans, media and competitors something new to talk about.
So maybe this was a sign from above. Maybe Dale Earnhardt was riding shotgun in the iconic No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford on the last lap of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, 10 years after that fateful day that shifted the sport’s future. Maybe the greatest way to honor the sport’s greatest is to move on.
And if a kid winning NASCAR’s most prestigious race in his first try — the same race that eluded the great Dale Earnhardt for 20 years — isn’t a clear sign that life goes on and so should we … well, I don’t know what is.
Congrats Trevor. Godspeed Dale. Now let’s turn the page.