Earnhardt Jr. wins 2nd Daytona 500 a decade later
By Jenna Fryer ,AP
February 25, 2014, 12:51 am TWN
DAYTONA BEACH, Florida -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. won a rain-delayed Daytona 500 on Sunday, a decade after his first victory in the “Great American Race.”
Earnhardt snapped a 55-race winless stretch that dated to 2012, and also ended a frustrating sequence at Daytona International Speedway that had seen him finish second in three of the previous four 500s.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said Earnhardt, who climbed from his car in Victory Lane and hugged every member of his Hendrick Motorsports crew. “I didn't know if I'd ever get the chance to feel it again and it feels just as good.”
Rain stopped the race about 45 minutes in, delaying it for more than six hours. When it resumed, Earnhardt dominated at the track where his father was killed in an accident on the last lap of the 2001 race.
The race got chaotic as it neared the conclusion, with 42 lead changes and four multi-car accidents.
An accident with seven laps to go triggered by pole-sitter Austin Dillon, driving the No. 3 — Earnhardt's father's number making its return to the Daytona 500 for the first time since 2001 — set up a final two-lap shootout to the finish.
Earnhardt got a great jump past Brad Keselowski on the restart, and had teammate Jeff Gordon behind him protecting his bumper. But Denny Hamlin came charging through the field and Earnhardt suddenly had a challenger with one lap to go.
Then an accident farther back in the field involving former winners Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray brought out the caution and the win belonged to Earnhardt.
“We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart,” Earnhardt said. “I never take this for granted man, because it doesn't happen twice, let alone once.”
Hamlin was second in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, followed by Keselowski in a Team Penske Ford.
Hendrick took fourth and fifth with Gordon and last year's race winner, Jimmie Johnson.