I'll say it now: I think Dale Earnhardt Jr. will win the 2011 Bud Shootout. He's on the pole. He rules Daytona. He shines during Speedweeks. I'm not in the mood for a Kyle Busch heavy NASCAR season. I'm annoyed Denny Hamlin came so close last year. And Jimmie Johnson needs to just chill out. Five championships is plenty. He should just retire and let Chad Knaus work with Dale.
But Junior does have Steve Letarte now, Jeff Gordon's former crew chief (Alan Gustafson now calls the shots for the 24). Is this the change that the 88 so badly needs? Will Junior Nation finally have something to get excited about besides the fact that Dale is so handsome and single and who knows who he'll date next?
I'm willing to bet it's time for wins. Because I can't bear to think if it isn't. I'm not the only one thinking that Rick Hendrick would be forced to send Dale packing, am I? Morally, he can't though. They have that father/son bond since Rick lost his son and Dale lost his dad. But the Hendrick teams are about winning. And business is business. This is year four of a five-year deal Junior has with Hendrick. It's time to put an end to the 93 race win-less streak.
Apparently Steve Letarte thinks so, too. And he's making big changes. Letarte told Dale that he has to majorly scale back on all the PR he does -- and be around the car and the garage a lot more than he has been in the past. I have faith. Tonight is the night to start the wins. I will be putting Dale in for my Daytona 500 NASCAR Fantasy League (that race is on February 20th). And even though it's the same race track that claimed the life of his dad in 2001, the great Dale Earnhardt Sr., it's the track that Junior often dominates. And I don't care if it's all been re-paved ... I think he'll still win tonight and next week. We'll see if I'm on the right track at 8 p.m. EST.
Sadly one thing we won't see much of this season is Dale Jr. with a beard. Apparently scruffy Dale is not liked by his sponsors, so they make him shave.
Will you be watching the Shootout tonight? Who are you hoping will win?
UPDATE: Okay, okay! Dale didn't win. Instead Regan Smith and Carl Edwards slammed into him for the Shootout's first big wreck. Still, I'm happy it wasn't Hamlin getting the checkers ... that move below the yellow was illegal. And I'm happy it was Kurt, NOT Kyle. Though I would have been happier with Ryan.
Image via tedmurphy/Flickr