There's his son, Dale, Jr., whose stirring ride to victory in the Pepsi 400 last July was a salve to the collective consciousness of racing fans everywhere. There's Jeff Gordon, who has won two Daytona 500s and always runs well there after winning a championship. There's defending race winner Michael Waltrip, whose victory ended a long losing streak in Winston Cup but whose celebration was lost in the aftermath of Earnhardt's death.

Dale Jarrett has won three Daytona 500s, Bill Elliott is a two-time winner and both have the tools to reassert some dominance over the place. Perhaps Stewart, who has sort of grown into Earnhardt's role as the "bad boy" of racing, will take up some of the void left by Earnhardt's passing.

Who will fill Dale Earnhardt's shoes at Daytona? Someone will, it is safe to say. The answer to exactly when and how that happens remains a question for time and the racing gods to answer at their leisure.