Monday, February 24, 2014

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Wins Rain-Soaked Daytona 500

Originally written for CLNS Radio.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Daytona 500 after rain delayed the race for over six hours on Sunday night.
Photo courtesy Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Earnhardt led a race-high 54 laps, but he had to hold off a hard charge from Denny Hamlin on the final lap.  

The win was Earnhardt’s second Daytona 500 victory.  The first came in 2004, 10 years ago.
“I didn’t know if I’d ever get a chance to do that again, and it feels just as good; it feels better,” Earnhardt told FOX Sports in victory lane.  “This car was awesome.  We showed them there we had the best car.”

Earnhardt couldn’t contain his excitement in victory lane.  After getting out of his car, he hugged each team member before doing an interview, thanking them for their effort.

“They put a lot into this car during the offseason.  It’s so rewarding to bring it to victory lane for them.”

Hamlin, an early favorite to win the race after winning the Sprint Unlimited and one of the Budweiser Duels on Thursday, finished second after having radio problems.  He lost radio contact with his team following a rain delay, which could lead to a bad situation at the 2.5 mile Daytona International Speedway.

“There’s a lot to be disappointed about, but there’s a lot to be happy about,” Hamlin told FOX.  “I had 150 laps without a spotter there.”

The race began with rookie Austin Dillon on the pole, driving the No. 3 made famous by Dale Earnhardt.  Hamlin quickly got around Dillon to take the lead for the first time of the day on lap two.

Kyle Larson, another rookie driving the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Target car, spun on lap 22 to bring out the first caution.

Martin Truex Jr. qualified second, but blew an engine on lap 31 to bring out the second caution.  During the caution the skies opened up, and the field was brought down pit road under the red flag.

After six hours and 22 minutes, the cars were finally re-fired and the race restarted.

The field drove on the edge of disaster for over 100 laps while they raced towards halfway, in hopes of beating another rain storm that threatened the track.

After running past halfway without incident, a string of multi-car wrecks continued to bunch up the field until the end of the race.

The first wreck came on lap 146, when Kevin Harvick and Brian Scott made contact.  Scott shot up the track into Aric Almirola, who then spun down the track.  The wreck collected Dillon, Michael Waltrip, Paul Menard, Justin Allgaier, David Gilliland and Danica Patrick, who hit the outside wall head-on.

On lap 163, Dillon got into Larson, spinning him in front of the field.  That wreck collected Marcos Ambrose, Michael Annett, Kasey Kahne, Brian Vickers and Casey Mears.  It once again bunched up the field.

On lap 184, Trevor Bayne hit the wall mid-pack, but everyone was able to avoid hitting him.  This set the field up for a 13-lap sprint to the finish.

With five laps to go, Dillon got into his teammate Ryan Newman to start another wreck.  The wreck collected Parker Kligerman, Cole Whitt, Brian Scott and Terry Labonte.  Labonte had announced earlier in the week that this would be his last Daytona 500.

On the restart, Earnhardt had to hold off his teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, along with Brad Keselowski and Hamlin.  Coming out of Turn 4, Harvick got together with Kyle Busch, which sparked a big wreck coming to the checkered flag.

Here are the unofficial results:

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
2. Denny Hamlin
3. Brad Keselowski
4. Jeff Gordon
5. Jimmie Johnson
6. Matt Kenseth
7. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
8. Greg Biffle
9. Austin Dillon
10. Casey Mears
11. Joey Logano
12. Landon Cassill
13. Kevin Harvick
14. Jamie McMurray
15. Bobby Labonte
16. Reed Sorenson
17. Carl Edwards
18. Marcos Ambrose
19. Kyle Busch
20. Terry Labonte
21. Kurt Busch
22. Ryan Newman
23. Alex Bowman
24. Josh Wise
25. Brian Scott
26. AJ Allmendinger
27. Justin Allgaier
28. Cole Whitt
29. Parker Kligerman
30. Brian Vickers
31. Kasey Kahne
32. Paul Menard
33. Trevor Bayne
34. David Ragan
35. Tony Stewart
36. David Gilliland
37. Michael Annett
38. Kyle Larson
39. Aric Almirola
40. Danica Patrick
41. Michael Waltrip
42. Clint Bowyer
43. Martin Truex Jr.

The Sprint Cup season is just beginning, and next Sunday the stars of the Sprint Cup Series roll into Phoenix International Raceway.  The Profit on CNBC 500 can be seen at 3:00 p.m. ET on FOX.

Photo courtesy Tom Pennington/Getty Images

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