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DATE News (chronologically)
02/15/11
nassprint
'The Call' is already in, Dale Jr. will win the Daytona 500  NASCAR is asking 200,000 fans to honor Dale Earnhardt this coming Sunday. On the third lap, everyone at the Daytona 500 will be asked to extend three fingers.

The announcer might as well say, "Everyone who thinks Dale's son will win, please raise your hand."

The smart money is on Junior. So is the dumb money, the Confederate money and every other bit of currency. Ten years after Dale Sr. died at the track, who doesn't think the Earnhardt stars are aligning?

"I don't really get into that hypothetical, fairy-tale ending stuff," Junior said.

He would like to earn his way into victory lane. Others suspect Earnhardt will do it the old-fashioned way – by relying on the script writers NASCAR hired from Disney.

I normally dismiss conspiracy theorists as having moon rocks for brains, but this isn't Dealey Plaza or Area 51. This is Daytona International, where a second gunman always seems ready to shoot out the tires of Earnhardt's competition.

I'm speaking theoretically, of course. In reality, Earnhardt just won the Daytona 500 pole fair and square. Same thing when he drew the pole position for last Saturday's Budweiser Shootout. That came a day after the lights went out during practice.

Rumor has it NASCAR quickly installed a trap door on Turn 2. It will swallow every car not driven by a Wrangler jeans spokesman.

"Things are certainly lining up an interesting way," Jeff Gordon said. "I mean, (Earnhardt) pulled the pole for the Shootout, won the pole for the Daytona 500, the lights went out the other night. Some strange activity happening around the Daytona 500 right now."

He doesn't really buy into the conspiracy theory. But drivers don't have to be accomplices to make this one work. NASCAR inspectors can simply pretend they don't see that 1.21 gigawatt Flux Capacitor under the hood of the No. 88.

I'm not accusing anyone of aiding and abetting. It's just that this sport seems to have a way of producing perfect winners.

It needed an Americana moment at the 1984 Firecracker 400, when Ronald Reagan became the first sitting president to attend a race. I'll be darned if Richard Petty didn't finally win his 200th race that day.

Fast forward to 1998, when NASCAR was kicking off its 50th anniversary season and Earnhardt Sr. was running his 20th Daytona 500. What a fine time for The Intimidator to finally win the big race.

After he died in his No. 3 Chevy, who better to win the first race back at Daytona five months later than the Little Intimidator? Junior charged so fast at the end you'd have thought his restrictor plates weren't so restricted.

"I knew going in the No. 8 car was going to win this race," Jimmy Spencer said. "Something was fictitious."

"You don't go by yourself on the outside and make that kind of time up," Johnny Benson said. "But it's okay. It was good that Junior won."

Spencer later apologized, sort of.

"Problem is, I speak what's on my mind. Other people don't," he said. "I would say probably 75 percent of the garage was saying that."

When Little E wins, NASCAR wins. Being the circuit's most popular driver has certain privileges. Like at Talladega in 2004, when he appeared to drive below the yellow line while making a late pass to win. NASCAR didn't penalize him and refused to show the video replay to media after the race.

Was he getting special treatment?

"The great ones, unfortunately, always have to get that label," NASCAR boss Brian France said.

Little E was never great, but at least he was competitive when he drove for his father's old DEI team. Since moving to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, Junior has one more win than Lee Harvey Oswald. He comes into Daytona on a 93-race winless streak.

The burden of proof isn't on the conspiracy theorists. It's on Little E to prove he can win without outside help. When it comes to that, the outside help sure knows how to pick its spots.

The burden of proof isn't on the conspiracy theorists. It's on Little E to prove he can win without outside help. When it comes to that, the outside help sure knows how to pick its spots. fanhouse.com

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