The Norman Transcript

Sports

February 25, 2014

Daytona win lifts Earnhardt Jr.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — There was a moment late in the Daytona 500 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a moment to catch his breath. It was clearly his race to lose and the tension ran thick through Junior Nation, all the way into his car.

Steve Letarte, the crew chief and cheerleader who had rebuilt Earnhardt’s crumpled confidence and returned him to a championship contender, used the moment under caution to settle his driver.

“Having fun?” Letarte said over the radio.

“Yeah, but it’s the big prize, man. It’s hard to enjoy it,” Earnhardt said, before he paused. “I’m enjoying particular pieces of it, but the entire experience is driving me crazy.”

That’s the albatross that was strapped to the back of NASCAR’s most popular driver as closed in on his second Daytona 500 victory. It had been 10 years since he won his first 500, and after three runner-up finishes the last four seasons in a race that had caused his family so much heartache and joy, the moment was overwhelming.

There’s so much pressure on Earnhardt, who entered the season-opening showcase mired in a 55-race losing streak dating to 2012. He’d won just two races since joining mighty Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, and as he closes in on his 40th birthday, he is still searching for his first Cup championship.

It’s been openly stated by the suits at NASCAR that when Junior wins, NASCAR’s popularity surges. So under that theory, if he could just get it together, the days of flat television numbers and sagging attendance would certainly spike.

That’s a lot of pressure to put on one guy, and it hit him as he readied himself for the homestretch Sunday night.

“It’s a big race and you want to win it so badly, and your team wants to win so badly,” he said afterward. “You realize at that moment that there are countless people watching on television and there are countless people sitting in the grandstands with your shirts and hats on, and your team is over on the pit wall and your family back home — there are so many people pulling for you and want to see you win. It’s a heavy weight.”

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Sports
  • Big 12 Media Days Football Big 12 could fill NCAA’s vacuum; make the discipline calls, too

    It doesn’t look good for Joe Mixon.  Though his attorney, Kevin Finlay, said the most ballyhooed prospect of the Sooners’ most recent recruiting class “instinctually defended himself against further harm,” it just doesn’t ...

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Tang making a splash on state level

    The Sooner Swim Club has produced a long string of great athletes in Norman. Norman North has won back-to-back state championships and senior Justin Wu owns several state records and last week qualified for the U.S. National swim meet. The ...

    July 29, 2014

  • Bradford facing another year of scrutiny in newest season

    ST. LOUIS — It’s become a rite of training camp for Sam Bradford. Every summer, he deals with the oversized burden of living up to getting picked first overall in 2010. The St. Louis Rams quarterback is not surprised that once again, he’s ...

    July 29, 2014

  • Judge rules against owner Donald Sterling, but lengthy saga far from over

    LOS ANGELES — Embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling lost his attempt to block the $2 billion sale of the team to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer....

    July 29, 2014

  • T-Wolves land guard Mo Williams

    MINNEAPOLIS — Mo Williams is on his way to Minnesota, which means J.J. Barea could be on his way out....

    July 29, 2014

  • LSU freshmen face misdemeanors

    BATON ROUGE, La. — Two LSU freshmen football players face charges, one for allegedly stealing a bicycle outside Middleton Library and the other for allegedly tossing firecrackers into a campus apartment....

    July 29, 2014

  • Fitzgerald says players’ push for union brought Northwestern together

    CHICAGO — No matter how this season unfolds, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald insisted there is no more unified team than his Wildcats. For that, he credits the push for them to unionize....

    July 29, 2014

  • Delany rides fence with PSU

    CHICAGO — Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany took a non-committal stance on an effort by five Pennsylvania Congressmen to rescind sanctions against Penn State for its handling of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal....

    July 29, 2014

  • Murray St. aims to be OVC contenders

    Fifth-year Murray State coach Chris Hatcher has returned the program to OVC relevance thanks to his exciting “Hatch Attack” offense. The Racers will need more results if they hope to be serious contenders....

    July 29, 2014

  • Healthy Claiborne ready to show his worth to Cowboys

    OXNARD, Calif. — Morris Claiborne got on Terrance Williams’ nerves the minute the competition started at training camp for the Dallas Cowboys....

    July 29, 2014

Facebook