With a win in hand, Dale Earnhardt Jr. can push the envelope

AVONDALE, AZ - MARCH 01: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #88 Great Clips Chevrolet, looks on during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 1, 2014 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
AVONDALE, AZ - MARCH 01:  Kevin Harvick, driver of the #88 Great Clips Chevrolet, looks on during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 1, 2014 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
AVONDALE, AZ – MARCH 01: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #88 Great Clips Chevrolet, looks on during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series The Profit on CNBC 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 1, 2014 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

AVONDALE, Ariz.—Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s victory in last Sunday’s Daytona 500 might just be the NASCAR equivalent of a ‘Get-out-of-jail-free’ card.

With a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berth all but a certainty thanks to the win, Earnhardt, Steve Letarte and the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team suddenly are liberated in the approach they can take to the next 25 races on the schedule.

And Earnhardt is riding a wave of confidence swelled mightily during last year’s Chase. Just ask teammate Jeff Gordon.

“There’s no doubt, this sport is so much about confidence and believing in one another,” Gordon said. “We’ve all said that one race doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything, but, boy, with the new points system, it certainly guarantees a lot.

“That allows you to continue to build that confidence and just push the envelope of your setups, your pit strategy, how you’re driving … And with the kind of confidence he has coming from last year, and now off of this race (Daytona 500), you would think that will transfer over to the next several races.”

If it does, is a championship possible for the driver of the No. 88 Chevy? Gordon wouldn’t rule it out.

“Now we get to the downforce tracks, and if those guys perform well on these next few tracks, watch out. I think anything is possible.”

About Greg Engle 7420 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for Examiner.com and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.