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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Brings Home 2nd Daytona 500
Daytona, Daytona!!! There is only one Daytona 500 and this year just like in the past few, the fans have seen it and been through it all on race day. But yesterday’s 500 was some of the best watching NASCAR had to offer.
From the beginning of Speedweek to the finish last night, Daytona has played host to the many NASCAR fans who attend each year, but this year we saw some unusual sights that were strange even for NASCAR. Between new rules, “the big ones” happening during practices, the largest field of rookies ever in one year (8), the pass car being on fire, the bigger story of the #3 car returning to cup level, the tornado warnings and rain giving the race a 6 1/2 hour rain delay and another 500 finish under the lights…this 500 really had it all.
It was to the point that if you were to blink you would have missed something.
Even before the race began their were a large number of cars that had to go to the rear of the field cause they were in back up cars. Then winning the pole spot was rookie Austin Dillon who was driving the #3 car. (This story alone had tails wagging but more on that next time)
Once the race started, we found Dale Earnhardt Jr. starting 9th, then soon after he was headed toward the front of the pack and he was never out of the top 15 for most of the 1st 38 laps before 2 cautions and the rain delay.
NASCAR tried a few times to restart the race but ended up having to restart at 5:30pm, and from that point on all bets were off.
Racers were driving like each lap was the last in fear the rain would restart and be called either by making the 1/2 way mark and more rain or just rain itself and having to finish on Monday.
Either way everyone was doing everything they could to get to the top spot and were making adjustments for more things than they had planned on initially. This lead to drivers making choices not normally made like leaving the pits to early, to speeding on the pits, to one rookie causing 3 out of 7 cautions before he finished 9th.
But as the picture became clearer Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a man on a mission and he was not going to give up the race without a fight.
Focused and full speed ahead, Dale Jr. raced his hardest and with help from his teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon doing what they could to block at different times, Dale traded the 1st spot back and forth with drivers Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth before the last caution with 8 laps to go, setting up a green and white checker finish with 3 laps to go.
Dale and Brad Keselowski set the start of the field and once the pace car was gone, so was Dale.
Battling to keep that lead he listened as his spotter TJ Majors told him “to bring it home Jr., the 11 has crashed,” and he was “cleared to be the winner.”
Dale Jr. did just that and did so in Earnhardt fashion.
He got his checkered flag, and did his victory lap around the track, picking up car owner Rick Hendrick who climbed in and sat on the door’s window as he had for Jimmie Johnson’s win the year before.
Once in Victory Lane, Dale Jr. took time to hug each crewmember before giving an interview and posing for photos. Once the interviews started he would only say, “winning this race is the greatest feeling that you can feel in this sport, aside from accepting trophy for the championship.
I didn’t know if I’d ever get a chance to feel it again and it’s as good if not better than the 1st one because of how hard we have worked to get here, and the people who are here make it extra special.
My sister Kelley, Rick, and the team.”
And Steve said he “wanted this one as a Crew Chief before he leaves at the end of the season so we had no choice be to race our butts off and do it. Jr. couldn’t celebrate his 1st 500 victory cause he raced and won the Nationwide Race the next day that year because it had been called due to rain so this is like his 1st and he’s going to make it count.”
Denny Hamlin who had won the Sprint Unlimited the week before and finished 2nd said, “I thought for sure we had more wrecked cars but Dale just played it perfectly.”
Teammate Jeff Gordon said, “Congrats to Jr. The world is “RIGHT”… It’s going to be a great 2014 Season”
The rest of the top 10 Drivers were as follows: Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Austin Dillon and Casey Mears.
Congratulations Dale Jr., you earned it.