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

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.”