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NASCAR: Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins Daytona 500

Published February 24, 2014 8:26 am

Daytona 500 • After 6-hour rain delay, Earnhardt prevails.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Daytona Beach, Fla. • Through rain and wrecks, on Daytona's longest day, this was a drought Dale Earnhardt Jr. was determined to end.

NASCAR's most popular driver won the Daytona 500 on Sunday night for the second time — a decade after his first victory — to snap a 55-race losing streak dating to 2012.

The victory ended a streak of futility at Daytona International Speedway, where he finished 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."

As he crossed the finish line in his No. 88 Chevrolet, the few who withstood a rain delay of 6 hours, 22 minutes screaming their support, Earnhardt euphorically radioed his crew, saying: "This is better than the first one!" He was met by Rick Hendrick after his victory lap, and the team owner climbed into the driver's window for a ride to Victory Lane.

"The world is right right now — Dale Junior just won the Daytona 500," teammate Jeff Gordon said. "That's a sign it's going to be a great season."

Rain stopped the race about 45 minutes after it began for a delay of 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.

He led six times for a race-high 54 laps — all after the rain delay — and seemed to have it under control until things got chaotic near the end. There were 42 lead changes and four multi-car accidents as the field closed in on the checkered flag.

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 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 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. "This is amazing. I can't believe this is happening. 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, in what quickly became a company-wide celebration.

"He's been knocking on the door of the 500 for a lot of years. He got it done tonight — did an awesome job," said Johnson, who beat Earnhardt to the finish line a year ago. —

Top finishers

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

2. Denny Hamlin

3. Brad Keselowski

4. Jeff Gordon

5. Jimmie Johnson

6. Matt Kenseth

7. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

8. Greg Biffle

9. Austin Dillon

10. Casey Mears