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James: Nostalgia, redemption part of Daytona 500 lore – USA TODAY

James: Nostalgia, redemption part of Daytona 500 lore

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Brant James, USA TODAY Sports 8 a.m. EST February 21, 2016

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USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Gluck speaks on Kyle Busch’s quest to repeat. USA TODAY Sports

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Daytona 500 lends itself to nostalgia and redemption tales. That NASCAR’s grandest race occurs at the beginning of the season sometimes exaggerates both. So does the unrelentingly thankless nature of racing in the whirls of air within Daytona International Speedway.

But when Dale Earnhardt Jr. pauses after winning an otherwise mundane qualifying race and reflects, eloquently, as usual, on the memory of his late father and the way he played Daytona, the storyline isn’t understated.

That Earnhardt Jr. won for the 17th time in all races at Daytona and aims for a third Daytona 500 win in a Chevrolet named “Amelia” that won three restrictor plate races last season simply adds intrigue. His win in the first of two 150-mile qualifying races Thursday occurred on the 15th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death on the final lap of the Daytona 500. Anniversaries always seem to become more poignant when viewed in comparison to a nice round number, and fifteen perhaps doesn’t ring as much as did a ten or as will a twenty. But a son’s memories flow where a father lived so large or died so traumatically, especially when that is your workplace for weeks every year.

“I was daydreaming a little bit,” Earnhardt Jr. admitted. “I’m guilty of daydreaming a little bit about winning this race tonight because of the day. That was special to me.”

Kyle Busch has his redemption tale half-written entering Sunday. The defending series champion won the second Duel on Thursday and is a member of a Joe Gibbs Racing contingent that has been speedy all week. And a year ago he was denied a chance at a first Daytona 500 win and the next 10 races of the season when he broke a leg and foot after crashing into an unpadded wall during the season-opening Xfinity Series race here. That he came back so quickly was astounding. That he won a championship was unthinkable when he languished in obvious pain outside his race car beside the track last February. Busch knows better than to hope too much for that perfect ending here.

“I think if I could end up in Victory Lane on Sunday, then I certainly think it would kind of come full circle, essentially,” he said. “I’d love to have that happen, but I’m not expecting anything from the racetrack or the racing gods to make that happen.”

Follow James on Twitter @brantjames

PHOTOS: History of the Daytona 500

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James: Nostalgia, redemption part of Daytona 500 lore

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Storylines for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch examples of both

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Brant James, USA TODAY Sports 8 a.m. EST February 21, 2016

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USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Gluck speaks on Kyle Busch’s quest to repeat. USA TODAY Sports

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Daytona 500 lends itself to nostalgia and redemption tales. That NASCAR’s grandest race occurs at the beginning of the season sometimes exaggerates both. So does the unrelentingly thankless nature of racing in the whirls of air within Daytona International Speedway.

But when Dale Earnhardt Jr. pauses after winning an otherwise mundane qualifying race and reflects, eloquently, as usual, on the memory of his late father and the way he played Daytona, the storyline isn’t understated.

That Earnhardt Jr. won for the 17th time in all races at Daytona and aims for a third Daytona 500 win in a Chevrolet named “Amelia” that won three restrictor plate races last season simply adds intrigue. His win in the first of two 150-mile qualifying races Thursday occurred on the 15th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death on the final lap of the Daytona 500. Anniversaries always seem to become more poignant when viewed in comparison to a nice round number, and fifteen perhaps doesn’t ring as much as did a ten or as will a twenty. But a son’s memories flow where a father lived so large or died so traumatically, especially when that is your workplace for weeks every year.

“I was daydreaming a little bit,” Earnhardt Jr. admitted. “I’m guilty of daydreaming a little bit about winning this race tonight because of the day. That was special to me.”

Kyle Busch has his redemption tale half-written entering Sunday. The defending series champion won the second Duel on Thursday and is a member of a Joe Gibbs Racing contingent that has been speedy all week. And a year ago he was denied a chance at a first Daytona 500 win and the next 10 races of the season when he broke a leg and foot after crashing into an unpadded wall during the season-opening Xfinity Series race here. That he came back so quickly was astounding. That he won a championship was unthinkable when he languished in obvious pain outside his race car beside the track last February. Busch knows better than to hope too much for that perfect ending here.

“I think if I could end up in Victory Lane on Sunday, then I certainly think it would kind of come full circle, essentially,” he said. “I’d love to have that happen, but I’m not expecting anything from the racetrack or the racing gods to make that happen.”

Follow James on Twitter @brantjames

PHOTOS: History of the Daytona 500

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