Earnhardt gets back to victory lane at Daytona

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The green flag waved on the 2014 Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway at about 1 p.m. ET on Sunday. Some 10-and-a-half hours later, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the checkered flag to claim his second Daytona 500 victory. No, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ most storied race didn’t have its format changed to an endurance event; the race was red-flagged for rain for six hours and 22 minutes after only 38 laps of the 200 scheduled had been completed. The red flag stoppage left some so flustered that FOX News reported that Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson was the winner this year’s Daytona 500 and Johnson began receiving congratulatory messages via social media on his, supposed, latest Daytona 500 victory during the red flag. The confusion came when FOX resorted to re-airing last year’s Daytona 500, actually won by Johnon, to fill time during the lengthy delay — a call that’s common during red-flag delays.

Earnhardt led the final 18 laps and pulled away from the field on a restart with two laps to go and remained up front when the caution came out on the final lap to end the race.

“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you can feel in this sport, other than winning the championship,” Earnhardt, who won his first Daytona 500 10 years ago, said. “I didn’t know if I would ever get the chance to feel this again.”

The Busch brothers, Kurt and Kyle, along with Denny Hamlin, looked to be the class of the field in the first 38 laps of the race, with Kurt Busch leading the most laps, 15, during that period, and Kyle Busch leading the last seven laps prior to the red flag.

During the caution just prior to the red flag, Earnhardt was among those who headed down pit road for fuel. Others pitted when the yellow flag came back out just before the race resumed, also to top off their tanks. Meanwhile, Buwith Denny Hamlinsch, Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin and others continued to stay out to hold on to their positions up front.

Once the race finally hit the halfway point — lap 100 — Hendrick Motorsports teammates Earnhardt, Johnson, and Jeff Gordon, along with Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski became mainstays up front.

The final 162 laps, or the distance of the race remaining after the red flag, was mistake and attrition-filled. The yellow flag waved five times during that period, with all but one of those cautions coming out for multi-car wrecks that each involved at least half-a-dozen drivers. With the area around pit road still damp from earlier showers, Michael Annett and Kasey Kahne experienced difficulty getting on and off pit road. Carrying equipment out of the pits was also a problem for Kyle Busch, who left his pit stall with an air gun and Aric Almirola took a jack out of hist pit. Meanwhile, speeding in the pits was a problemm for Alex Bowman and Kahne. All those mistakes that resulted in penalties came during green-flag stops.

Late in the race, Earnhardt, as well as the other front-runners went into fuel conservation mode, shutting off their engines during late race cautions as those farther back opted to play it safe by heading down pit road for fuel. The call to conserve paid off, as Earnhardt was able to stay up front to claim his second Daytona 500 win after finishing second in the race three times in the previous four years. His latest win also snapped a 57-race winless streak.

“He’s such a competitor, and there’s no better race to win than the Daytona 500, especially for Junior,” Gordon said. “There is something unique and special because of his fan base.”

Hamlin finished second, Gordon was third, Keselowski fourth, and Johnson rounded out the top-five after starting the race outside the top-30. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was sixth, Matt Kenseth seventh, Austin Dillon eighth, Greg Biffle ninth and Casey Mears 10th.

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But first, check out this photo gallery of sights from this year’s Daytona 500 (photos courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR):


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