Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his move late and just ran out of room. He finished second to Jimmie Johnson in the Daytona 500.
Throughout much of the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was relatively quiet. But when it mattered most, NASCAR's most popular driver factored in the outcome and nearly passed race-leader Jimmie Johnson before finishing in the runner-up position for the second consecutive year.
It appeared Earnhardt Jr. was going to have to settle for a result somewhere in the back half of the top 10. His Chevrolet didn't have the same speed as the Toyotas of Joe Gibbs Racing, which led 119 of a possible 200 laps.
But while the speed wasn't necessarily there for Earnhardt Jr., his mechanical reliability was working in his favor.
Within minutes of one another, two of the three JGR cars, driven by Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch, experienced engine-related issues. It forced both to the garage.
This opened the door for Earnhardt Jr., who slowly picked his way through the field from his 19th starting position — his worst starting spot ever in the 500 — and found himself within the top five as the field roared to a restart with seven laps remaining.
Earnhardt Jr. continued his charge to the front, working his way by Brad Keselowski and Greg Biffle to move into second on the white flag lap.
But lacking momentum, he couldn't navigate around Johnson. For the third time in four years, Earnhardt Jr. finished second in the Daytona 500.
More from SB Nation: