Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Wins Daytona 500 For First Time Since 2004


Twitter: @Li495Akiem

Feb 23, 2014; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr (88) celebrates winning the Daytona 500 with his girlfriend Amy Reimann at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s be honest, for a little bit. Fox executives in Los Angeles and Nascar suits and suitresses in Charlotte popped champagne like they won the championship game after this year’s running of the Daytona 500.

Why? The sport’s most popular driver won its flagship event.

That’s right. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. of Rick Hendrick Motorsports has won the Daytona 500. The #88 is in Victory Lane.

He was as excited as anyone could possibly be to win the Daytona 500, as were many of the fans in the stands. Anyone who knows Nascar knows that at least half of the fans at any race are part of Junior Nation.

When Dale Earnhardt, Jr. last won the Daytona 500, his primary sponsor was Budweiser, which is now Kevin Harvick’s main sponsor. Also, he drove the #8 instead of the #88.

Nascar is, without a doubt, rejoicing that its most popular and marketable driver won, but in the beginning of the day, the powers that be in Daytona and Charlotte had to be wondering if they would even get the race in due to weather.

With rain, and a tornado warning engulfing the East Central Florida area (a state which is no stranger to rain, by the way) that pushed the race into the nighttime hours. Of course, the race was originally slated to start in the daytime, but we wound up with night racing on the first race of the night.

Due to the weather, the race was red flagged 38 laps in, bringing all of the cars to the pits and under the covers. Kyle Busch and the #18 was in the lead at the time.

During the six hours of rain, Fox went to backup and interstitial programming. This included tape from the past two Daytona 500s. Some viewers were so confused at what was going on that they thought what was being shown on Fox was this year’s race.

This despite the fact that the Fox Sports ticker clearly showed that viewers were watching encore presentations of the previous two Daytona 500s.

The time for the race to restart was continuously pushed back and pushed back and pushed back. The later the race was pushed back, the more it seems as if Nascar could have no choice but to move the race to Monday afternoon or Monday night.

Then, Nascar decided to restart the race at 8:00 Daytona time…which was later moved back to 8:30 Daytona time.

Racing resumed at night, and the race was able to move past the halfway point. This was great for Nascar, because as long as the race completed at least half of its laps (The Daytona 500 is a 200 lap race), the race became an official race in terms of results in case of another delay.

Earnhardt first assumed the race lead at Lap 131. For the remainder of this race, he would be near or at the front for the lead.

Then, in Lap 144, one of “The Big Ones” happened. This wreck involved 15 cars, including those of Aric Almirola, Paul Menard, David Gilliland, and Danica Patrick.

A few laps later, another wreck occurred. This one involved Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon, who, of course, is getting a lot of attention around Nascar for being the new driver of the #3—the famous number of the late Dale Earnhardt, Sr.

Another wreck happened at Lap 162 that involved Dillon, Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, and Kasey Kahne.

On a restart at Lap 169, Earnhardt was met with stiff competition from the #16 of Roush Fenway Racing Driver Greg Biffle. Another car soon appeared near the front as well—that of #99 driver Carl Edwards.

After Trevor Bayne’s crash at Lap 184, the #48 of Jimmie Johnson also joined his Hendrick teammate in Earnhardt near the top of the race lead.

With less than 10 laps to go, another wreck occurred. The victim this time was the #41 of newly signed Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kurt Busch, who has had his share of disappointments as of late since being dropped from Penske a few years ago.

On Lap 194, another wreck took place, with the primary drivers involved this time being Dillon and Newman again.

Can someone say “Green White Checker”?

Everyone in Daytona Beach, Florida could. The drivers involved with a real chance to win this time included Earnhardt, Brad Keselowski and his #2 Blue Deuce, and the #11 of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin. When the restart occurred, Earnhardt was able to hold off both Hamlin, as another wreck occurred behind the race leaders. It took out a number of drivers, including Busch, who led the race prior to the rain delay. When all was said and done, there was a celebration in Junior Nation as its favorite finished first. Hamlin came in second and another Hendrick driver, #24 Jeff Gordon, was third.

Let’s now see if Junior sticks to his promise involving Twitter. Much to the chagrin of Junior Nation, the driver of the #88 has not joined “the nest”, but did promise that if he won the race, he’d join Twitter.

A tweeting nation awaits its leader.

The victory now means that Little E has won more Great American Races than his father. Dale Earnhardt, Sr. won his in 1998 when he was a driver for Richard Childress Racing.

The emotion was palpable as Junior celebrated with his crew and took his victory lap to thank his many fans. He was roundly criticized for his inability to win a race until his win at Michigan in 2012 put him back in the win column. Slowly, but surely, he was working to get back up to this point, including making the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a realistic chance to win that title.

It seems as though his patience, and that of Junior Nation’s has finally paid off in a major way. If this is the beginning of his contending for a championship in 2014, only time will tell. No doubt, that Nascar hopes it is as well as Fox, and ESPN, which is in its last year as a Nascar broadcaster.

Top 10 Results:

1.    Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

2.    Denny Hamlin

3.    Jeff Gordon

4.    Brad Keselowski

5.    Jimmie Johnson

6.    Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

7.    Matt Kenseth

8.    Austin Dillon

9.    Greg Biffle

10. Casey Mears