In November, moments before the final race of the 2010 season at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Earnhardt leaned against his number 88 Chevy on pit road. He would finish the season 21st in points, but as he squinted into the bright South Florida sunshine, he was already thinking about the promise of a new season—this season. "We're going to get this thing turned around," he said. "We have no other choice. It's going to happen. Man, it has to happen."
The words were startling, not because he was making a prediction, but because of this: For the first time in a long, long time, the son—full of confidence, full of Earnhardt swagger—sounded a hell of a lot like his old man.
This Sunday at Daytona, the engines will fire for another season of racing. The air will be full of hope and expectation: Can Johnson win a sixth straight title? Can Hamlin fulfill his immense promise? Will one or more young stars emerge to challenge the old guard? But even as NASCAR roars off into the future, memories from a decade before will hang over the speedway. The legacy of Dale Earnhardt will be everywhere—in the design of the cars, in the SAFER walls they race past, in the HANS devices worn by the drivers and, of course, in the thousands of fans who will stand on Lap 3 and hold up three fingers in silent tribute—but nowhere more than down on the track, as it has for the past 10 years, riding along with three men.
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