No track in NASCAR carries more meaning to Dale Earnhardt Jr. than Daytona, the site of his greatest personal tragedy (the loss of his father in 2001) and his greatest professional triumph (winning the 2004 Daytona 500). Even when Earnhardt was struggling through a 143-race winless streak, which he snapped last season, he always believed he could win on the high banks of Daytona, because he's as adept as anyone in the sport in the art of drafting, which he learned from his legendary father. Yes, the place is special to him, and it says here that he'll create another Daytona memory on Sunday by winning the 55th running of the Great American Race.
Here's how I see the 500 playing out for Earnhardt, who will start 19th: Early in the race he and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson will flex their horsepower muscle and draft to the front of the pack together. Then they'll drop to the back and cautiously motor around the tri-oval, waiting for the Big One to erupt in front of them. After avoiding the accident that could wipe out up to half the field, Earnhardt and Johnson will make their charge with about 15 laps to go. They'll take the lead with five laps left and then Earnhardt will edge Johnson at the finish for the victory.
So it will be a one-two finish for Hendrick Motorsports on Sunday.