Published on February 24, 2014

Earnhardt Jr. wins Daytona 500, ends 55-race winless streak

(NASCAR photo)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the rain-delayed Daytona 500 at Daytona International Raceway—his second career 500 victory.

By Al Pearce, Crain News Service

DAYTONA, Fla. (Feb. 24, 2014) — It's been said that nothing is quite right in the cosmos unless Dale Earnhardt Jr. is enjoying some degree of racing success.

Junior Nation is immeasurably huge and fiercely passionate, and NASCAR and its partners are keenly aware of his fans' moods. Until late Sunday night Feb. 22, that mood has been pretty foul for years.

But as four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon said, "The world is right right now, since Dale Jr. just won the Daytona 500." Indeed, the world is bit "righter" now than it was when Saturday night turned into Sunday morning.

That's because Junior withstood a furious late-race charge from a host of drivers to win the rain-delayed Daytona 500 at Daytona International Raceway. It was Junior's second career 500 victory, coming a full decade after his first in 2004. This 500 was his 20th career Cup victory, his first since Michigan International Speedway in 2012 and his second since MIS in 2008. For Junior Nation, it's been a long, tough stretch.

Perhaps as poignant for Mr. Earnhardt, he won on the track where 13 years ago his father Dale Earnhardt Sr. died in a crash on Feb. 18, 2001, at the age of 49.

Oh, whatta feeling

"Winning this race is the greatest feeling you can feel in the sport, aside from accepting the trophy for the championship," their hero said in a victory lane that resembled a college frat party as much as a celebratory moment.

"I didn't know if I'd ever get a chance to feel that again (and) it feels just as good, if not better, than the first because of how hard we tried year after year after year, running second all those years wondering why and what we needed to do.

"This is amazing. I can't believe this is happening. I'll never take this for granted because this just doesn't happen twice, let alone once. I'm so thankful."

Mr. Earnhardt led 54 of the 200 laps in beating Denny Hamlin (who had no radio much of the night), Brad Keselowski, Mr. Gordon, defending race and series champion Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Greg Biffle, rookie pole-winner Austin Dillon, and Casey Mears. Several late-race cautions kept the field bunched and set up the week's fourth spectacular Cup finish.

Mr. Earnhardt said he felt this 500 might be special because his No. 88 Chevrolet from Hendrick Motorsports had been that good all week. "I realized during the week that this is a special car," he said. "There were moments (leading into the 500) when I just knew it was a great, great car. That's what you have to have down here. This car was awesome.

"Any time I needed something, it gave it to me. If I needed something extra, it gave it to me. It never let me down.

"We showed them all night long how good a car we had and it's because of these guys (the crew) putting it together in the shop. We could fight off battles after battles. We had enough car to battle them all night and if they took the lead, we could grab it back pretty quickly. We had a real fast car."

Rain, rain go away

The 56th annual 500 began on time, then went under the red flag for rain after just 38 laps. Competitors and fans sat around for almost 6 hours, 22 minutes as the long-expected weather—including a tornado warning—moved through the area. The race finally began again at 8:34, just moments after FOX TV's popular The Simpsons went off the air.

Eighteen drivers swapped the lead 42 times, with Mr. Earnhardt leading the most—six times for 54 laps. Paul Menard led 29 laps, Kyle Busch 19, Mr. Hamlin 16, Mr. Johnson and Kurt Busch 15 each, and Mr. Keselowski 13. The other 39 were spread among Mr. Biffle, Carl Edwards, Aric Almirola, Justin Allgaier, Michael Waltrip, Kasey Kahne, Trevor Bayne, Joey Logano, Danica Patrick, Austin Dillon, and A.J. Allmendinger.

Seven on-track incidents ate away 39 laps and caused considerable damage. More than half the field was involved in at least one incident, including: Edwards, Kahne, Ms. Patrick, Mr. Bayne, Mr. Allmendinger, Mr. Menard, Mr. Waltrip, Mr. Almirola, Kyle Larson, Cole Whitt, David Gilliland, Terry Labonte, Bobby Labonte, Josh Wise, Brian Scott, Marcos Ambrose, Kevin Harvick, Michael Annett, Brian Vickers, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Parker Kligerman, and Reed Sorenson.

In addition, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer were sidelined by engine problems.

Results

1. (9) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 200 laps, 133.1 rating, 48 points, $1,506,363.

2. (4) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 200, 113.8, 43, $1,148,451.

3. (33) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 200, 117.1, 42, $847,721.

4. (6) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 200, 102.7, 40, $731,399.

5. (32) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 200, 101.2, 40, $589,399.

6. (3) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 200, 98.2, 38, $518,362.

7. (34) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 200, 72, 37, $434,588.

8. (25) Greg Biffle, Ford, 200, 94.1, 37, $413,838.

9. (1) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 200, 83.4, 36, $424,674.

10. (28) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 200, 80.8, 34, $377,221.

11. (35) Joey Logano, Ford, 200, 104.1, 34, $376,354.

12. (18) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 200, 67.6, 0, $306,850.

13. (38) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 200, 85.1, 31, $368,196.

14. (22) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 200, 73.8, 30, $361,777.

15. (26) Bobby Labonte, Chevrolet, 200, 46.2, 29, $325,213.

16. (39) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 200, 69.3, 28, $342,446.

17. (30) Carl Edwards, Ford, 200, 87, 28, $340,638.

18. (7) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 200, 79.5, 26, $363,458.

19. (37) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 200, 100.5, 26, $373,504.

20. (24) Terry Labonte, Ford, 200, 66.1, 24, $339,996.

21. (8) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 199, 89.9, 24, $331,763.

22. (19) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 199, 60.3, 22, $331,638.

23. (29) Alex Bowman, Toyota, 198, 43.7, 21, $334,346.

24. (11) Josh Wise, Ford, 196, 47.5, 20, $322,888.

25. (12) Brian Scott, Chevrolet, 196, 68.2, 0, $336,035.

26. (15) A J Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 194, 53.1, 19, $321,788.

27. (40) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, accident, 193, 60.8, 18, $327,513.

28. (23) Cole Whitt, Toyota, accident, 193, 62.5, 16, $315,663.

29. (41) Parker Kligerman, Toyota, accident, 193, 48.2, 15, $318,338.

30. (31) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 192, 70.6, 14, $350,388.

31. (5) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 192, 64.1, 14, $350,413.

32. (10) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 184, 80, 13, $550,702.

33. (14) Trevor Bayne, Ford, accident, 183, 59.5, 0, $316,438.

34. (43) David Ragan, Ford, 176, 32.2, 10, $323,738.

35. (21) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 174, 36.8, 9, $349,521.

36. (17) David Gilliland, Ford, 171, 41.5, 8, $322,968.

37. (36) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, accident, 161, 42.8, 7, $313,605.

38. (16) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, accident, 160, 32.2, 6, $310,248.

39. (13) Aric Almirola, Ford, accident, 146, 59.8, 6, $317,939.

40. (27) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, accident, 145, 53.6, 5, $282,778.

41. (42) Michael Waltrip, Toyota, accident, 144, 46, 4, $278,628.

42. (20) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, engine, 127, 41, 2, $302,344.

43. (2) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, engine, 30, 27.3, 1, $292,311.

This report appeared on the website of Crain's Autoweek magazine, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.

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