DAYTONA — It was a race that could not have been better scripted by a Hollywood writer: a six and a half hour rain delay, a tornado watch that forced the grandstands to be evacuated and multi-car wrecks.
Put these ingredients in a NASCAR race blender and you end up with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Victory Lane on Sunday winning the 2014 Daytona 500.
Not only was Junior victorious, he ended a 55 race winless streak spanning two years. Yes, Junior Nation is back in full force.
In Victory Lane, there was no containing Dale Jr.’s elation and emotion. He made it a point to hug every crew member. Also making cameo congratulatory appearances in Victory Lane were fellow teammates Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and reigning Sprint Cup Champ Jimmie Johnson.
It was Dale Jr.’s second trip to Victory Lane during the weekend. He was there on Saturday as the car owner for the #7 Ragu Chevrolet, as Regan Smith won the Nationwide Series race for JR Motorsports.
Dale Jr. was a car-length ahead of Denny Hamlin when NASCAR threw the caution flag a split second before Earnhardt Jr. crossed the finish line. Brad Keselowski, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson finished third through fifth, respectively.
The win by Dale Jr. also kept Hamlin from the trifecta after winning the Sprint Unlimited and the Budweiser Duel #1.
“Man, winning this race is the greatest feeling that you can feel in the sport, aside from obviously accepting the championship,” Earnhardt Jr. said in Victory Lane. “This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I’ll never take this for granted. I’m so thankful. Thanks to all my fans out there for supporting.”
Following the 6 hour 22 minute rain-delay, the race began and ran caution-free from the re-started Lap 47 to Lap 145 when a wild 13-car wreck occurred in Turn 4.
Among the notables involved were Aric Almirola, Danica Patrick and pole-sitter Austin Dillon. The first person out of the race was Martin Truex Jr., who started on the outside front row. It was a blown engine sending Truex Jr. home early.
In another multi-car wreck, Ryan Newman fell victim to the mystique of Daytona’s famed 2.5 mile oval. And to make matters worse for the Stewart/Haas Racing team, in his return to Sprint Cup since his broken leg, Tony Stewart suffered fuel pressure problems sending him to the garage for the night after 118 laps. He ended the race in 35th, 26 laps down.