Earnhardt Wins Daytona 500
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on February 23, 2014 | 11:24 P.M. EST
Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates his second win in the Daytona 500. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. kicked off the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season with a win in the Daytona 500.
Earnhardt was able to stay ahead of the field on a final restart with two laps to go to score his second career victory in “The Great American Race.”
After a more than six hour rain delay after 38 laps were in the book the race turned into one of the most dramatic and thrilling in Daytona history.
Earnhardt snapped a 55-race winless streak dating back to his last victory at Michigan in June, 2012.
“This race was car was awesome. We showed all night long how good a car we had in it’s these guys right here put it together in the shop,” Earnhardt said. “We were fighting off battles after battles. We got a little hookup from Jeff (Gordon) on the last restart and just took care of it from there.”
Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five.
Why Earnhardt Jr. Won: Earnhardt has always been regarded as one of NASCAR’s top restrictor plate racers and proved his talent again Sunday. He made his move through the draft and worked his way to the front of the field when it counted as the laps wound down. Despite picking up a piece of trash on his front grille, Earnhardt was able to outrun Keselowski and the rest of the pack to take the checkered flag with the thunderous cheers of the rain-soaked crowd cascading down from the Daytona grandstands.
What Else Happened: The race made it to lap 38 before heavy rains hit the track in a weather system that spawned both tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings. But after a more than six-hour delay and diligent track drying efforts by NASCAR, the race resumed just before 9 p.m. ET.
With the potential of more rain on the way, teams initially began plotting possible halfway strategies when the race would be official had weather again stopped the proceedings. The combination of that threat and much more grip because of the cool night racing conditions created several stretches of intense, three-wide racing.
The night wasn’t without restrictor plate racing’s notorious “Big One” with a 13-car accident as well as another that caught nine other drivers. And just for good measure another group of cars got together on the closing lap heading for the checkered flag behind the leaders.
Who Else had a Good Night: Hamlin came up one position short of pulling off a Speedweeks sweep after his Sprint Unlimited and Budweiser Duel victories earlier in the week. Despite losing radio communication with his team for a time, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver rallied back and was in contention for his first career Daytona 500 win. It was his best career finish in the race....Keselowski’s third place finish was the best of his Daytona 500 career...Gordon scored his sixth top-five finish in 22nd Daytona 500, best finish since his last 500 win in 2005.
Who had a Bad Night: Tony Stewart made his official return to the Sprint Cup Series but it didn’t go anywhere near as well as he’d hoped. Smoke dealt with a fuel pick-up problem earlier in the race before finally exiting when the engine expired...Clint Bowyer ended the Sprint Unlimited upside down and although his exit from the Daytona 500 was less spectacular it still stung. Bowyer was knocked out by mechanical issues to put a sour finish on his 2014 Speedweeks...A multi-car crash late in the race involved 13 cars and ended the night for Aric Almirola, Michael Waltrip, Danica Patrick and others...Austin Dillon was involved in another accident later in the race when he clipped Kyle Larson and before it was over Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Marcos Ambrose were among those also swept into the mess.
Quote of the Day: "I'm enjoying parts of it, but the entire experience is driving me crazy." – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Other Notables: Austin Dillon started from the pole and despite some adventures on the track came home eighth in his Daytona 500 debut...Casey Mears scored his first top 10 finish since posting a ninth at Daytona last July...Terry Labonte finished 19th and made his 32nd Daytona 500 start, tied with Richard Petty for second all time; made his first Daytona 500 start in 1979.