- Last Updated on Sunday, 25 November 2012 21:29
- Published on Wednesday, 07 July 2010 16:17
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The Fourth of July weekend at Daytona is a NASCAR tradition. The original July race was the Firecracker 250. Through the years the race has been lengthened and, like most every other major sporting event, a corporate sponsor tag has been added. The July 4 marquee event is now the Coke Zero 400 for the Sprint Cup series cars..
Kevin Harvick won this year’s Coke Zero 400 for his second win at the track, and second win of this season. Saturday night’s win was the 13th Cup win of Harvick’s career. The win increased Harvick’s point lead to 212. Jeff Gordon heads to Chicagoland Speedway Saturday night in second place, just 13 points ahead of teammate Jimmie Johnson in third.
The real excitement of the weekend was Friday night’s Nationwide Series race. The series debut of their new race car format features a longer wheelbase car with front ends that look much more like the cars you would see at your local dealer. Ford debuted their Mustang, which will be the full-time Ford entry in the Nationwide Series next year and Dodge Challenger also made its debut. But the big news was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s return to victory lane. Though not a win in the Cup Series, it was Jr.’s first trip to victory lane since the Life Lock 400 at Michigan on June 15, 2008. The Earnhardt Nation was beside themselves.
Driving a No.3 Chevrolet with a Wrangler paint scheme similar to the one Dale Earnhardt ran when he won the championship in 1986, Jr. was decked out in a spiffy blue and yellow fire suit and matching cap that the memorabilia designers obviously spent a great deal of time creating. A cap like Jr. wore and a die-cast model of his Wrangler Chevrolet are sure to be the hottest selling souvenir items of the season.
When the deal was first announced Dale Jr. said, “This will be a special weekend for us. We got together with Richard Childress and Teresa Earnhardt and put this deal together to honor my dad and his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. We’re bringing back this Wrangler paint scheme because it’s kind of what started his whole persona as being the tough guy that he was. We have a lot of memories of the No. 3 Wrangler car, and I think all my dad’s fans will get a kick out of seeing it on the track again.”
Friday night Dale Jr. broke a Nationwide Series drought of almost four years in winning the Subway Jalapeno 250. In the race Earnhardt held off runner-up Joey Logano and third place finisher Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in a green, white, checkered flag finish that took the race two laps beyond its scheduled 100 lap distance.
“I was so worried that I wasn’t going to win, cause nothing but a win would get it, for everybody,” Earnhardt said. “I worked hard to try to win, not only for Daddy, I’m proud of him going to the Hall of Fame, and he would be proud of me, I’m sure. But all these fans, I hope they enjoyed this. This is it, no more No. 3 for me. That’s It.”
In addition to the obvious, if a bit overdone effort to pay tribute and capitalize on his father’s legend and memory, the race reunited Dale Jr. and his longtime crew chief Tony Eury Jr. Throughout Junior’s career, first in the Nationwide Series and later on the Cup Circuit, there has been an Eury in Dale Jr.’s pit box - Either Tony Sr. or Tony Jr., that was until team owner Rick Hendrick relieved Tony Jr. of his crew chief duties last season and assigned Lance Mcgrew to crew chief of Junior’s No. 88 Hendrick Chevrolet.
It was great to see Tony Jr. and Dale Jr. back together. As Dale Jr. took the checkered flag, the TV cameras caught an emotional Tony Jr. wiping away a few tears. In the post race interview Tony Eury Jr. said, “You know, it was a pretty special win. It’s kind of like old times there. Like Dale Jr. said, it’s more of a tribute to Dale Sr., the things he brought us. I think we’ve always had a real great restrictor plate program. Now we got Rick and Richard both involved. That was a real special night for me personally, you know to be able to work with Dale Jr. again.”