Victory is found in life, as well as on the track

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. --- Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s big victory was a speed bump compared to one crew member's struggle to help his family with life and death -- all while continuing his work to put Earnhardt in Victory Lane.


That's why Earnhardt's Hendrick Motorsports crew dedicated its win in Saturday's Budweiser Shootout exhibition race to teammate Joey Arnold, whose 4-year-old son, Cayden, died eight days earlier, on Feb. 1.

Arnold and his wife still are struggling to come to terms with the loss. Cayden had been battling a birth defect that severely hindered his brain development and confined him to a wheelchair.

By speaking out, Arnold hopes to raise awareness of his son's condition.

"He was full of life," Arnold said, pausing as his voice cracked. "His body restricted him, but his mind, his heart was still full of little boy."

In many ways, it was a miracle that Cayden even was born.

Doctors diagnosed Cayden with holoprosencephaly, a disorder that prevents complete development of the brain in the womb, and told Arnold and his wife, Shira, that he likely would die before being born.

"We prayed to have 10 minutes with Cayden so we could hold him and love him," Arnold said. "And God gave us 41/2 years."

Still, the Arnolds were told to lower their expectations. Cayden was born blind and deaf.

However, with an implant, he could hear. His vision developed.

In recent weeks, Cayden started taking bigger steps.

He was beginning therapy to learn how to walk. He was learning to use a computer to speak.

He surprised his parents by driving his motorized wheelchair down the driveway and back without help. Then he went to bed and never woke up.

Cayden died on a Friday. Arnold went back to the Hendrick shop that Sunday, and told a co-worker that he'd be back into work on Monday.

Arnold isn't finding it hard to concentrate on his job -- not harder than any other day, anyway.

"Cayden was always in the back of my mind," Arnold said. "And none of us ever know when our last day is, but due to our situation, it was always back there. I always thought of it. I don't really find today any harder than two weeks ago."



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