It was a trip back in time at Daytona over the weekend, when Dale Earnhardt Junior climbed into his number 3 Chevrolet painted in the classic blue and yellow "Wrangler Jean Machine" paint scheme made famous by his father in the 1980's.
The night was packed with anxiety and emotion for Little-E, who said before the race that "less than a win would be a disappointment."
The deal to put the number three back to the track brought together JR Motorsports, Teresa Earnhardt, Richard Childress and Hendrick Motorsports. The teams have not always seen eye-to-eye since the tragic Daytona crash that took the life of racing's biggest star. However, they put their differences aside to pay tribute to their father, husband and friend.
Nine years after that devastating day, the legend of Dale Earnhardt has not faded, but rather grown. His merchandise continues to be a top seller, the late legend recently graced the cover of "ESPN the Magazine," and he is currently featured on boxes of Wheaties. Fittingly, Earnhardt is among the first drivers to be inducted into the new NASCAR Hall of Fame, sparking Junior to pay tribute to "Daddy."
As much as he helped to shape the sport of NASCAR during his life, Earnhardt has made an equally strong impact in death. Driver and track safety equipment has become commonplace in the post-Earnhardt era.
NASCAR has suffered without its biggest star. Fans flocked to Junior, who has said he continues to feel tremendous responsibility to his father's faithful followers.
Nothing would help the sport more than to see the young Earnhardt challenge for the Sprint Cup championship. He's currently 13th in the standings, three points outside of the "playoffs" with eight races to go until the Chase.
When Earnhardt, Jr. climbed into the new Nationwide series car wearing is Dad's old colors Friday night, he created an event one that brought more attention to NASCAR's "second" series than it has enjoyed in years.
Little-E serendipitously took the race on lap three, while fans raised three fingers into the air in tribute to the Intimidator, just like they did on lap-three of every race in the season of Earnhardt's death.
Imagine what it must have been like for Junior to be leading the field toward the checkered flag, passing the very spot where his father lost his life on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
Moments later, Earnhardt was taking his father's number-3 back to victory lane, adding to the legend of racing's most famous family.
Now, it's back to the business of racing for the Chase. No doubt, Daddy will be along for the ride.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at email@example.com.