Winning the Daytona 500 for the second time in his career -- the first since 2004 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. capped a week the Earnhardt name dominated the news.
It wasn't always about Dale Jr., either. The talk of the track was the return of the No. 3 car after a 13-year absence from NASCAR's highest level. The last time the No. 3 was on the track in a Sprint Cup race came in 2001, when Earnhardt died on the final lap of the Daytona 500. The car is now driven by car owner Richard Childress' grandson, who put the car on the pole in his first Daytona 500 before finishing ninth in the race.
Leading 54 laps in the 200-lap race, Earnhardt Jr. took the lead back on Lap 188 and finished in 3 hours, 28 minutes, 3 seconds, finishing about 10 hours after the start of the race. The 500 was delayed by 6 hours, 22 minutes after rain caused a red flag on the 38th lap. Racing was eventful but clean for the next 100 laps or so. That changed, as five wrecks marred the final 60 laps, including one that happened behind the leaders on the race's final lap:
Denny Hamlin finished a solid trip to Daytona International Speedway in second. Hamlin had already won his Budweiser Duel heat on Thursday and the exhibition Sprint Unlimited race a week before. Hendrick Motorsports also had a good showing beyond Earnhardt. Jeff Gordon finished third and Jimmie Johnson fifth.
Nearly half the day's entrants came away from the day able to say they led the Daytona 500: There were 43 lead changes and 19 leaders. Paul Menard led 29 laps before being wrecked and finishing 32nd. Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Johnson and Keselowski also led for double-figures laps. Dillon led only the first lap of the race.
Other top drivers, such as outside-pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Tony Stewart suffered from engine troubles. Patrick crashed out in the Lap 145 wreck.
Daytona 500 (unofficial results)
|1||Dale Earnhardt Jr.|
|6||Ricky Stenhouse Jr|
|43||Martin Truex jr|