Earnhardt Is A Daytona 500 Winner Again!

Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads the field to the checkered flag as cars crash behind him. (HHP/Tom Copeland Photo)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads the field to the checkered flag as cars crash behind him. (HHP/Tom Copeland Photo)

Patrick’s destroyed race car slid across the grass before coming to a stop in a heap of smoke.

“What the hell happened?” Patrick asked her crew over the radio.

Patrick tried to sum up on the long day after she was checked and released from the infield care center.

“I don’t know it feels like they are all pretty hard unfortunately,” Patrick said of her hit. “I think more than anything I am just upset that the GoDaddy car felt really good and it was the best car that I had all Speedweeks. It seemed like we could catch whoever and it seemed like we could move around, make lanes and just move around and move forward at the end of the day. I felt like everything was going pretty well, so it’s just upsetting you know. It’s just the culmination of sitting around all day and you know.

“It’s a bummer, but you know that is the excitement of speedway racing that anything can happen, and it was unfortunate that I was on the short end of the accident. But that is the kind of thing that happens and I appreciate everyone sticking around and watching, and we will go get them at Phoenix.”

Waltrip was another driver that whose race ended in that crash.

“They crashed ahead of us and I got clobbered like the guy had never seen there was a wreck,” Waltrip said. “I had been in touch with the leaders all race and I thought I had a good chance at it tonight but not now. It’s a great race for the fans and it was really fun to be out there and be a part of it. I wanted to be in the middle of it and I hate my night is over.”

Just 50 miles of racing remained and Edwards continued to lead but was being hotly pursued by Matt Kenseth and Earnhardt.

Former Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne brought out the fifth yellow flag when he crashed on the backstretch on lap 184.

The green flag flew on lap 188 with Earnhardt the lead followed by teammate Johnson. Harvick was third followed by another Hendrick car driven by three-time Daytona 500 winner Gordon with Hamlin in fifth.

Kurt Busch spun off the fourth turn and was able to keep the car from hitting a wall and into the grass as green flag racing continued. He was able to bring the car down pit lane without a yellow flag with Earnhardt still in front with 10 laps to go to set up the frantic finish.

“There is not shortage of storylines this year,” Keselowski said. “Dale is a very popular driver. He’s more popular than a number. The great thing about Dale winning today is I followed him and I think it was something this particular race there was no drama, no feeling that anyone can say there was voodoo magic wishing he won.

“He deserved this one the most.”

Earnhardt won the race with an average speed of 145.290 miles per hour in a race that was officially 3 hours, 26 minutes and 29 seconds. Of course, it was spread out over a ten and a half hour period.

“This has to be one of the hardest racing Daytona 500s ever,” Keselowski said. “The actual racing was great. I hope they don’t change this package.”

It was an incredibly excited race with the exception of the long rain delay. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers and Earnhardt was the best driver on the track in a highly competitive race by leading six times for 54 laps. Paul Menard was second in laps led when he was in front three times for 29 laps.

There were seven cautions for 39 laps but the race also included a 98-lap stretch from green flag racing from the start of the night portion until the latter quarter of the contest.

It was a popular victory for almost everyone in the sport, even those who had to weigh their disappointment of coming up short.

“It’s big for a lot of reasons,” Hamlin said of Earnhardt. “As far as the race win, it’s obviously very significant, any Earnhardt wins at Daytona…”

Earnhardt promises that he is going to enjoy this victory for a long time.

“You don’t get to celebrate this every week so I’m going to enjoy it as much as possible,” Earnhardt said. “You don’t know if you will ever get to experience another one.”

The smile has returned to Earnhardt’s face. It’s almost as if the weight of the sport has been lifted off his shoulders.

“It’s not a weight when you are able to deliver; it’s a weight when you aren’t able to deliver,” Earnhardt said of the big win. “I don’t know if I realize how big of a deal it is but I know I have a lot of fans that are really happy and enjoyed what I did tonight and brag about it over the water cooler.

“It’s going to be a fun Monday for everyone in ‘Junior Nation.’”