Earnhardt had not been a factor at Daytona. He finished eighth in his first race and ninth in his second. On Sunday he never led.
And then, on the last turn on the last lap, the same lap on which Saturday's wreck occurred, Earnhardt took off as if propelled. The push came from Mark Martin.
Earnhardt is good in Daytona. Four times-in 2001, ‘10, ‘12 and ‘13 — he finished second and he won in ‘04.
All Sunday it was as if hanging above the track was a yellow sign shaped like a pennant: NO PASSING ZONE.
And then the sign was removed and Earnhardt came flying and with a final spectacular pass he could have won.
“Yeah, it's like a drug, you know-I assume,” Earnhardt says of winning the sport's biggest race. “It's such a high. You just don't know when you'll ever get that opportunity again, or if you'll ever get that opportunity again.”
Before Earnhardt finishes his post-race interview, he says he has something to say. He speaks passionately and not in response to a question.
Earnhardt loves his sport, and he realizes attendance and television ratings have declined steadily. Some seasons every straightaway and every curve on every track are seemingly up hill.
Despite Saturday's accident-and Earnhardt talks about his concern for the injured-he's convinced his sport has found traction it has lacked.
There “just seemed to be a different vibe inside the infield,” Earnhardt says. “People seemed more excited about what was getting ready to happen.”
On Sunday “there seemed to be a whole lot more people here, seemed to be a lot more excitement about the race.
”That really was the biggest motivator for me today,“ he says. ”I think we're headed in the right direction. We may not be consistently each week. But I thought (Sunday) for some reason just felt like we're on the right track as a sport.“
I trust Earnhardt's insight and after Saturday sincerely hope he's right.