Phoenix, AZ - With an epic Daytona 500 triumph in the books, it's on to Phoenix International Raceway for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., with plenty of historical fodder indicating a second-straight victory not only is possible but somewhat probable considering the inevitable momentum from winning NASCAR's biggest event.
Earnhardt's success at the one-mile PIR oval has been somewhat intermittent but it's also been memorable; he went to victory lane back-to-back in 2003 and '04 (there was one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race per season there at the time). Also, there's this recent history: Earnhardt finished fifth and fourth at PIR during his solid 2013 season.
Inevitably, talk started almost immediately Sunday night about another possibility: Earnhardt winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship for the first time. Five drivers have won the Daytona 500 and the series title in the same season: Jimmie Johnson (2006, '13), Jeff Gordon (1997), Richard Petty (1964, '71, '74, '79), Cale Yarborough (1977) and Lee Petty (1959).
Perhaps getting somewhat overlooked is that Earnhardt was being considered a title contender before the first lap was run this year. Such optimism was based mainly on his strong 2013 season when he posted a career-high 22 top 10s, starting with a runner-up finish in the Daytona 500 and ending with a fifth-place finish in the final series points, Earnhardt's best result since 2006