It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. At Thursday’s Can-Am Duels, it was sweet victory for NASCAR’s favorite son and the defending Sprint Cup champion; it was the worst of times for two of their teammates.
Fifteen years to the day after Dale Earnhardt crossed life’s finish line at the 2001 running of the Daytona 500, his son Dale Earnhardt Jr. picks up an impressive win in the first of the Can-Am Duels. You can be luck and win at a resctrictor plate track. Hang around long enough, and you might win two. For the Earnhardt the Younger, this was his fifth Can-Am Duels victory in a career that his seen him excel not only at Daytona International Speedway, but Talladega Superspeedway. This observer won’t say that Dale Earnhardt Jr. can “see air” like his legendary father, but there’s no doubt he has mined as much knowledge as there is to be gained to understand drafting and timing to win at race tracks thought to be more as crapshoots as anything else. No doubt, this will go down in the pantheon of career memories as one of the special ones. The 88 was the car to beat in the first duel, and he couldn’t be beat.
No trip to Daytona is complete without a late race mash-up. Sure enough, Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray made contact jockeying around to try to catch Kyle Busch. Johnson went for the wild ride, and five others got their pieces wadded up as the defending champion took the checkered flag under caution. No doubt, old Rowdy is pleased not to be a part of the drama this time, and his performance- plus Denny Hamlin’s victory Saturday in the Sprint Unlimited serves notice that Joe Gibbs Racing is back for more in 2016.
Unfortunately, the mojo didn’t flow down to Matt Kenseth. The 44-year old from Wisconsin was one of the drivers caught up in the second Can-Am Duel heat crash. For Kenseth, this means going yo a back-up car and surrendering his front-row starting spot on Sunday.
For Jimmie Johnson, this can’t be the way he wanted to get his season started as he ponders another run at a seventh championship. He wrecked on Saturday, and then he comes out tonight and ends up with another ride that looks like a discarded RC Cola can. The golden horseshoe has gone missing again.