For Junior Nation, this win could mean more memorable moments are coming. The more security Earnhardt Jr. enjoys in life, the more assertively he grips the wheel.

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – After enduring a lifetime of comparisons to the illustrious career of his namesake, Dale Earnhardt Jr. achieved something Sunday – a second Daytona 500 victory – his late father never did.

That might not qualify for the folk-hero status of a NASCAR icon, but it earned Earnhardt Jr. a claim to the swagger of a seven-time champion -- and he took it at Daytona International Speedway.

In the aftermath of his first win in 20 months, Earnhardt overcame his introversion and finally joined Twitter, spoke assuredly about embracing the weight as the face of the Sprint Cup Series and vowed he wasn't worried about his No. 88 Chevrolet returning to victory lane soon.

"We're going for the jugular this year," said Earnhardt, who hasn't enjoyed a multiple-win season since winning six in 2004 (which also began with his last Daytona 500 triumph).

That's good for Earnhardt, who admittedly wears his heart on his sleeve and whose results often correlate to his demeanor – the more security he enjoys in life, the more assertively he grips the wheel.

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But it might be even better for NASCAR, which gets three consecutive days to showcase its 11-time most popular driver in national media outlets turning attention away from the Winter Olympics for the first time in more than two weeks.

Chairman Brian France has said Earnhardt's success drives interest just as a cornerstone franchise such as the Lakers or Celtics would in the NBA, and there was hope that Earnhardt's 20th career victory might mark a watershed turnaround for a sport that still is battling lagging TV ratings and attendance (thousands of seats were vacant Sunday for the year's biggest race).

"The world is right right now," Jeff Gordon said of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate's victory. "That is a sign that the NASCAR season is going to be a good one."

RACE RECAP: See the best photos from the Daytona 500

The early returns weren't great, though. The Daytona 500 overnight rating was down significantly from last year's. The Fox broadcast averaged 9.3 million viewers, according to fast overnight figures released by Nielsen on Monday. That's down from 16.9 million viewers for the 2013 race, which touted Danica Patrick as the first female to win the pole, featured the debut of the Gen 6 car and saw Jimmie Johnson win in a race run without delay at its regularly scheduled time.

The precipitous dip could have been attributed to several factors – the six-hour rain delay resulting in a checkered flag at 11:18 p.m. and a strong lineup of Sunday TV (The Walking Dead, The Amazing Race, the closing ceremonies in Sochi).

While the TV audience declined, NASCAR.com had a record day of traffic (with page views up 131% over last year), and NASCAR said its measurements of social media chatter increased 67% during the race.

Earnhardt will have many high-profile opportunities to maintain the momentum. He started Monday on Good Morning America andfinished it on David Letterman's couch with many talk show spots in between. He'll be omnipresent Tuesday on ESPN and make publicity rounds in Austin, Texas, and Los Angeles before arriving Thursday at Phoenix International Raceway for the second race.

Though he wasn't as eloquent at a champion's breakfast Monday morning after an hour of sleep, his enthusiasm hadn't waned as he vowed that "I'm going to make sure everyone hears about" Daytona.

"When people say you're the face of the sport, and you're running fifth to 10th every week, it's very challenging because you're not delivering," he said. "This brings me a lot of joy. I look forward to doing all the media all week long and representing the sport.

"I don't know that I realize how big a deal it is, but I know I got a lot of fans that are really happy and really enjoyed what we did tonight and can't wait to go to work tomorrow to brag to all their buddies around the water cooler."

His mainstream appeal might have casual fans talking, too. According to Repucom, which measures the impact and valuation of sponsorships across several sports and monitors nearly 1,700 NASCAR brands, Earnhardt's awareness is at 76% among the general population, the highest since he was first tested in July 2011.

With NASCAR expanding its Chase for the Sprint Cup field to 16 drivers and switching to elimination rounds with a winner-take-all finale that's intended to stoke excitement, Earnhardt virtually became an instant championship contender. Qualifying for the Chase is achieved essentially through winning, and Earnhardt enhanced the focus on victories by snapping a 55-race winless skid.

"Our confidence couldn't be higher," said Earnhardt, who has made the Chase three consecutive seasons but still has only three wins in the past six years. Confidence is a great thing. It's half of the battle. When you have the most, you're in perfect situations to have some good things happen, so hopefully we can seize the moment.

Said team owner Rick Hendrick: "This race is our Super Bowl, so it will carry this team. Now you're in the Chase, just go race hard and have fun. It makes a statement how good they were last year carrying it forward."

Earnhardt enjoyed the best Chase of his six seasons at Hendrick last year and would have won a championship under the new Chase -- even though he didn't win.

Daytona erased worry about that dubious scenario in 2014, which will mark the last season with crew chief Steve Letarte (who will leave for an analyst job with NBC next year).

But that seemingly won't break the poise of a driver who wants to end the season by evoking his dad's memory in another way – with his first title.

"At the end of last year, we felt like we were right on the cusp of winning races," Earnhardt said. "We're turning the corner right at the right time. I got one last year with (Letarte), and we're going to make it something special."

PHOTOS: Dale Earnhardt Jr. through the years

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