Dale Earnhardt Jr. victorious in Daytona 500. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 15, 2004 * Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet, used a textbook drafting pass on Tony Stewart late in the race and held on to win the 46th running of...
Dale Earnhardt Jr. victorious in Daytona 500.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 15, 2004 * Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet, used a textbook drafting pass on Tony Stewart late in the race and held on to win the 46th running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday at historic Daytona International Speedway.
"It's just the greatest race, it's the greatest day of my life," said Earnhardt. "I can't really describe it. I don't know if I'll be able to tell this story to any and get it right."
After Earnhardt and Stewart, rookie Scott Wimmer finished an impressive third in his first Daytona 500. The Chevrolet's of Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five finishers.
By winning NASCAR's most prestigious race, Earnhardt Jr. joins his father Dale Earnhardt on an impressive list of Daytona 500 champions. Earnhardt Jr.'s father finally won his first Daytona 500 on his 20th try.
Even though Tony Stewart finished a close second to Earnhardt, there was nothing disappointing about finishing behind his close friend and starting the 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season on a high note.
"We knew if we (Earnhardt and himself) could get together, people were going to have a hard time with us all day," said Stewart. "Normally I wouldn't be excited about second. You know, I'd love to have won the race, trust me. If I could have held him off, I would have done it in a heartbeat, but there was no holding that kid back. Today was his day."
Stewart tried hard to get back by Earnhardt the last 20 laps, but the No. Budweiser Chevrolet was just too strong for Stewart and the rest of the competitors.
"I tried everything I knew to do, " added Stewart. "I had to back away from him to try to get a run up on him, it took the car too long to spool back up on him and I couldn't do it."
One of the big surprises of the afternoon was the performance of rookie Scott Wimmer who ran in the top five for most of the race. The driver of the No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge used some fine pit strategy by crew chief Frank Stoddard as they elected to change only two tires on the day's final pit stop.
"It was a great call Frankie (Stoddard) made to take two tires," said Wimmer. "I got out front, I was just looking for somebody to draft off of. I thought if we could have had two or three cars we could have hooked up, with Junior and Tony never would have caught us but that didn't happen."
The popular victory by Earnhardt Jr. in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series opener at the World Center of Speed, culminated a day full of season-opening festivities including a visit from President George W. Bush, who gave the starting command and the NEXTEL Tribute to America, a pre-race extravaganza leading up to NASCAR's most prestigious race.
Double Grammy award-winning superstar LeAnn Rimes sang the National Anthem prior to the 46th running of the "Great American Race." She also performed a pre-race concert for the sell-out crowd at DIS.
In addition to Rimes, Ben Affleck paced the field by driving the pace car, Whoopi Goldberg waved the flag for the start of the 46th Daytona 500, Grammy award-winning musician Lee Greenwood sang his marquee track, "God Bless the USA" and Orlando native and reigning Miss America, Ericka Dunlap emceed the pre-race event.
Tickets are available for the next NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway - the 46th annual Pepsi 400 on Saturday night, July 3 - can be purchased online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.
To reserve a ticket package for the 2005 Daytona 500, call the Speedway ticket office at (386) 253-7223