DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. has got to be getting tired of finishing second.
For the third time in four years, Earnhardt finished second in the Daytona 500. It has almost become an annual tradition for Earnhardt, the 2004 winner of the Great American Race.
For much of Sunday’s race, though, Earnhardt ran under the radar. He didn’t run near the front most of the day, preferring instead to hang back and let others lead the way for the first 450 miles.
“The engine was great. The car was real fast. You had to be real patient and if you tried to pull out you would go to the back of the field,” Earnhardt said. “We had to really be patient on them green runs to try to hold our track position and try to do things on pit road to get us up front.
“But at the end I knew the racing was going to get mixed up and it sure did.”
Earnhardt was certainly correct. The final caution flag of the day waved with nine laps left, setting up a mad dash to the finish for Earnhardt and the rest of the field. With teammate Jimmie Johnson grabbing the point on the final restart, Earnhardt needed help to make a push for the lead.
He got that help from veteran driver Mark Martin.
“Me and Mark were just kind of sitting there and I was hoping he was thinking what I was thinking,” Earnhardt said. “So I was going to wait and back-up pretty hard to him and then get a run off of (turn) two and then see what we could do in those last three-quarters of a lap.”
The pair was able to work their way by both Danica Patrick and Greg Biffle, but once they got to Johnson they simply ran out of momentum.
“I just kind of ran out of steam off of (turn) four and Mark didn’t get back to us,” Earnhardt said. “It just didn’t work out just perfectly. But we made a good move; just not enough race track. It’s real hard to pass the leader. Jimmie (Johnson) did a lot of good things there early or late in the race to stay up front.”
If Earnhardt was frustrated about finishing second again at Daytona, he didn’t seem to show it. Instead, he shared his excitement for future restrictor-plate races with the new Generation 6 race car.
“It was a lot of fun, just a great package, a couple of adjustments and man this is going to be awesome.”