That Earnhardt hasn't won a second 500 really shouldn't be a surprise. It took his father, a seven-time Cup champion, 20 years to win his first and only one in 1998. It took three-time Cup champion Darrell Waltrip 17 tries to win one.
Three-time champion Tony Stewart never has won one.
"It's an easy race to win, and it's a hard race to win,'' Guarneri said. "You have to have everything fall right.''
He's right. It's not easy, although Earnhardt made plate wins look easy from 2001 to 2004 when he won the 500 and five Talladega Cup races.
"Those cars were pretty amazing that I was driving back then,'' said Earnhardt, who was driving then for his father's team at Dale Earnhardt Inc. "I will be honest. Those cars should have won. I can't take as much credit as I would like for how good those cars were back then, and how we had ourselves separated from the competition.''
Today's cars are much closer. It's hard to get an edge, even when you're driving for the sport's top organizations as Earnhardt is.
"I definitely appreciate the challenge we have today,'' Earnhardt said. "If it were the same playing field, I would be asking myself a lot of questions. But it has changed so much since then. At least that is my story."
Earnhardt doesn't get frustrated by his narrow losses in the 500. He doesn't have time to. He's too busy trying to win this one.
But he hasn't forgotten the feeling he had in 2004 after beating Stewart by 0.273 seconds.
"A lot of satisfaction, a lot of relief and a lot of pride,'' he said. "Certainly, definitely walked around with my chest out for a while. And you still carry that with you after all these years. That will last forever. You never forget about it.''
Those that were on Earnhardt's crew that day won't forget, either. They are spread throughout the garage with DEI disbanded. Several of them are on Patrick's team, from Guarneri to car chief Kevin Pennell, the jackman on the 8 in '04.
"That was an emotional deal right there,'' Guarneri said. "When Sunday starts up, I'll look out there and hope [Patrick] can win and we can run across and pick her up and I'm sure it will be pretty wild. You have to celebrate like that, because you never know when you'll get back there again.''