Earnhardt Is A Daytona 500 Winner Again!
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In NASCAR’s version of “The Longest Day” Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was able to reward the large group of fans that endured a rain delay of more than six and a half hours to win Sunday night’s 56th Daytona 500 in a race that ended at 11:20 p.m. Eastern Time.
For those fans that arrived at Daytona as early as 5 a.m., a victory by Earnhardt was more than worth the wait.
“When I drove down the front straightaway after winning the race it felt like I had everyone there cheering for me,” Earnhardt said. “That was key to the moment when you do something like this. Seeing all of that and all the fans you feed off it so much just looking up in the grandstands and to see all those people cheering I will never forget that.
“It’s incredible to feel that from that side of the race track.”
It was Earnhardt’s second Daytona 500 victory and came 10 years after his first in 2004. And it was also his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win since a victory at Michigan Int’l Speedway on June 17, 2012.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver, who is easily NASCAR’s most popular driver, defeated Denny Hamlin’s Toyota in a race that ended with a massive crash behind the lead group of drivers.
This was a race that had almost everything including some late race drama after a six-car crash in the third turn that started when the Richard Childress Racing duo of Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman made contact in the third turn. By the time it was over Justin Allgaier, Parker Kligerman, Cole Whitt and Terry Labonte were all involved in the carnage with just six laps to go.
At the time of the crash, Earnhardt was in front ahead of Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards.
Earnhardt, however, had some debris off Newman’s damaged car get stuck in the opening of the grille.
It didn’t matter because over the final two laps of green-flag racing, Earnhardt could not be denied.
“Man, winning this race is the greatest feeling you can feel in this sport aside from accepting the trophy for the championship,” Earnhardt said. “I didn’t know if I would ever get to feel that again, but it feels just as good. It’s not better than the first because of how hard we tried year after year running second.
“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. 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.
“This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I’ll never take this for granted, man, because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Behind Hamlin in second was Keselowski in third, followed by Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates Gordon and Jimmie Johnson.
“There is a lot to be disappointed about but a lot to be happy about,” said Hamlin, who had no radio communication with his crew over the last 150 laps. “I didn’t have the spotter to help guide me so I was winging it trying to spot all six corners by myself. It was a good run but I’m disappointed.”
Keselowski had a really fast Ford and scored his second career top-five Daytona 500 finish.
“I actually thought we were going to win,” Keselowski said. “I couldn’t get any help from behind and that is all she wrote.”
During the daytime portion of the race, Earnhardt was the leader when he led a group of cars onto pit road on lap 34 for a pit stop.
And then came the rain with all the cars brought down pit road on lap 38 when the Red Flag flew to stop the race for 6 hours, 22 minutes, 41 seconds.
After running under yellow to help dry the race track racing finally resumed on lap 46 with Kyle Busch’s Toyota in front. That began a nice sequence of racing where Busch, Hamlin and Brad Keselowski took turns leading the race.
Green flag pit stops began on lap 72 with Jeff Gordon coming down pit road. Kasey Kahne spun exiting the pits after his stop but was able to get back up to speed. But the biggest mistake came when front-runner Kyle Busch left pit lane while the air gun was still attached. Busch was assessed a stop-and-go penalty for leaving the pits with equipment still attached to the car.
He served the penalty on lap 79 and returned to the track in 40th place and without a drafting partner was in jeopardy of getting lapped.
Danica Patrick was in front of the field of the Daytona 500 for the second year in a row but she had not made her pit stop yet and would lose the lead once she came into the pits on Lap 88. Tony Stewart, her team owner, also followed her onto pit road along with Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman.
Paul Menard was in front at the halfway point – lap 100 – and that meant it was an official race even if more rain hit the track.
Last year’s Daytona 500, Johnson, was in the lead in front of Earnhardt as the race continued to lap 111 without a caution since the green flag waved after the rain delay.
Another round of green flag pit stops began on lap 114 as the race cruised along at a rapid pace after the long red flag.
Earnhardt shot to the lead by taking the low line at the start/finish line bringing the large crowd of race fans that had endured a very long, wet and tedious day a chance to cheer for NASCAR’s favorite driver.
After 98-straight laps of green flag racing a major crash coming off the fourth turn on lap 145 saw Patrick’s Chevrolet get onto the apron and then rocket across the track with a head-on collision into the wall. The crash also involved Kevin Harvick, Menard, Almirola, Michael Waltrip, Parker Kligerman, David Gilliland, Austin Dillon, Brian Scott, Kasey Kahne, Marcos Ambrose, Justin Allgaier, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Josh Wise.