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Dale Earnhardt Jr., right, celebrates in Victory Lane with teammate Jimmie Johnson, left, after winning the NASCAR Daytona 500 Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
5 things to know about the Daytona 500
Daytona 500 » Dale Earnhardt Jr. won Sunday’s race.
First Published Feb 24 2014 12:29 pm • Last Updated Feb 25 2014 04:41 pm

Daytona Beach, Fla. • Five things to know about the rain-delayed Daytona 500, NASCAR’s signature event that finished under the lights Sunday at Daytona International Speedway:

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Hendrick domination

Richard Childress Racing garnered attention last week. Joe Gibbs Racing grabbed headlines this week. Hendrick Motorsports left Daytona International Speedway with the only prize that really mattered.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his second Daytona 500 and first in more than a decade Sunday night, overcoming rain and wrecks to end a 55-race drought with a victory under the lights at the famed speedway where his father died in a last-lap crash at the 2001 race.

"It’s obviously very significant [when] any Earnhardt wins at Daytona," second-place finisher Denny Hamlin said. "It’s a significant day for their family and great for the race team."

Earnhardt celebrated by giving team owner Rick Hendrick a ride to Victory Lane then climbed out of his car and hugged every crew member. Teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon stopped by to join in the festivities.

Gordon finished fourth, one spot ahead of six-time and defending Sprint Cup Series champion Johnson. No one should have been surprised to see those guys up front. After all, Johnson won his second Daytona 500 last year, Gordon has three victories in "The Great American Race" and Junior had three second-place finishes in NASCAR’s premier event the previous four years.

But they mostly were overlooked during Speedweeks, especially after rookie Austin Dillon gave RCR the pole in the return of the famed No. 3 car associated with Earnhardt’s father and Gibbs drivers Hamlin and Matt Kenseth combined to sweep the first three Cup races.


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SHR struggles

Tony Stewart stretched his Daytona 500 winless streak to 16.

He had another failed effort in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevrolet as he battled engine and fuel-cell issues. Stewart was never a factor and finished 35th, 26 laps behind Earnhardt. The three-time Cup champion was driving in his first Sprint Cup points race since he broke two bones in his right leg in an August sprint-car crash.

Daytona was a tough day and deep into the night all around for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Danica Patrick, who led Daytona 500 laps for the second straight year, slammed nose first into the concrete in a 13-car crash late in the race and finished 40th.

"It was the best car that I had all Speedweeks," she said.

Up next, Kurt Busch, whose spin down the stretch sent him to pit road and knocked him out of contention for a solid debut with SHR. He was 21st. Kevin Harvick was 13th after getting caught up in an accident with seven laps left.

Denny’s disappointment

Hamlin wasn’t sure how to feel after he fell just shy of a Daytona sweep. Hamlin tried to become the first driver to win the exhibition Sprint Unlimited, his 150-mile qualifying race and the Daytona 500 in the same Speedweeks. He settled for second in the 500 behind Earnhardt.

Hamlin is off to a great start after he sat out five races with a fractured vertebra last season. His runner-up finish was his best in the 500, topping his fourth-place finish in 2012. He did it all after losing radio communication after the long rain delay.

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