The race came down to a two-lap, winner-take-all shootout, after an accident, triggered by rookie Austin Dillon brought out the race’s sixth caution flag. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. led for the majority of the race on Sunday night, and found himself in the lead for the sprint to the finish.
Everything seemed to be going Jr’s way, he had a fast car throughout the race, teammate Jeff Gordon was lined up behind him for the final restart, and he had enough fuel to the finish. However, a large piece of tape, from one of the damaged race cars latched onto the front grille of the #88 Chevrolet, which caused concern for fans, and the driver’s crew as it would restrict the airflow to the car’s engine.
The temperatures of the oil and water in the car stayed at a normal level, as the field came to the green for the race’s dash to the finish.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. held off late race charges from 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle, and Denny Hamlin, who had won the Sprint Unlimited and Budweiser Duel at Daytona, and was the odds-on favorite to win the race. As the field crashed behind him, Earnhardt streaked across the finish line ahead of Hamlin, capturing his 20th career Sprint Cup win, and his second Daytona 500 victory.
Earnhardt’s win comes after finishing second in three out of the last four Daytona 500’s, and is his first win in the Sprint Cup Series since 2012 at Michigan, snapping a 55-race winless streak.
Earnhardt Jr’s win also marks another historical milestone; his victory marks the longest span (10 years) between winning multiple Daytona 500’s.
An extremely jubilant Earnhardt emerged from his car in victory lane, in a shower of confetti, as he hugged and thanked every member of his crew before speaking with the media. When asked how it felt to finally win the Daytona 500 again, Earnhardt said, “winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship…I didn’t know if I’d ever get the chance to feel it again…and it feels just as good.”
As NASCAR’s most popular driver, Earnhardt’s victory earned praise from teammate, and defending Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson. “He’s been knocking on the door of the 500 for a lot of years. He got it done tonight, and did an awesome job,” Johnson quipped after finishing 5th.
Earnhardt joked with the media during the week that he would join Twitter if he was to win the Daytona 500. Shortly after the race, Earnhardt tweeted a photo of himself and the Daytona 500 trophy, with the caption, “Tonight seemed like as good a night as any to join Twitter. How is everyone doin? #2XDaytona500Champ.”
That tweet alone generated more than 21,000 likes in just a few hours, solidifying why Earnhardt is NASCAR’s most popular driver.
- Other notables : Austin Dillon, who won the pole for the Daytona 500, finished 9th in the return of the 3 car to Sprint Cup competition, despite being involved in several accidents throughout the night. Tony Stewart’s return, after suffering a broken leg last August, was less-than-stellar, as Stewart experienced issues with the fuel cell in his car, and wound up finishing 35th. Stewart’s teammate, Danica Patrick, suffered similar issues, as she finished 40th after getting caught up in a 12 car crash with 55 laps to go. However, Patrick once again led a lap in this year’s Daytona 500. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Phoenix International Raceway next Sunday, for the The Profit on CNBC 500; Carl Edwards is the defending race winner.