DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - The Dale Earnhardt Jr. lovefest at Daytona International Speedway continues. Earnhardt won the first of two Gatorade Duel at Daytona 150-mile qualifying races yesterday, after sweeping to victory in the Budweiser Shootout on Saturday night.
Next up on the Sprint Cup Series schedule - the 50th Daytona 500 on Sunday - and Earnhardt's recent success has his confidence at an all-time high.
"I feel like we've got a shot, you know what I mean," Earnhardt said.
"Nobody's boastful enough to come in here and claim that he's the favorite. But I think we've got a great shot. We've won some races down here, so we've got to be in the group."
Earnhardt passed Ryan Newman for the lead on lap 51 of the 60-lap event, then had to hold off Reed Sorenson and Newman to get the victory, but he had to spend the first portion of the race working his way from the back of the field. An engine lifter problem necessitated an engine change, which required Earnhardt to move to the rear of the starting grid.
"We had a problem, they got all over the engines, found out what the problem was," Earnhardt said about his Hendrick Motorsports Team. "Within two hours they were already working on the remedies, fixing what we needed to fix so it wouldn't happen again."
Fan favorite Earnhardt winning a second straight event overshadowed the other major events of the day, which included a the first Sprint Cup Series visit to Victory Lane for Toyota and a number of big names getting edged out of the field while a couple more made the qualifying standard.
In the second Gatorade Duel, Denny Hamlin outran Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon at the end, and Hamlin's Toyota took the checkered flag.
"That's a proud moment," Hamlin said.
In that second Duel, a lot of sweating was taking place behind the lead pack, as three-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Jarrett was fighting to qualify for the Great American Race a final time.
Jarrett, who announced that he will retire from racing after the first five events of the season, had to make the field on time since he did not accumulate enough points last year for an exemption.
With some help from teammates Michael Waltrip and David Reutimann, Jarrett finished ninth and will run on Sunday.
"I'm really happy that I got UPS and Michael Waltrip Racing's third car in the Daytona 500," Jarrett said. "The first part of the race I was kind of hanging out to see what was going to transpire. I saw a lot of cars were out of shape up in front of me, and I found myself a comfortable spot. When Michael was able to line up behind me, my car was really good."
THEY'RE IN: Qualifying on time for the Daytona 500 field: Dale Jarrett, David Reutimann, John Andretti, Kenny Wallace, Joe Nemechek.
THEY'RE OUT: Failing to qualify for Sunday's Daytona 500 were Bill Elliott, Sterling Marlin, Ken Schrader, Boris Said, Jacques Villeneuve, Patrick Carpentier, A.J. Allmendinger.