Earnhardt earns first Daytona 500 victory

Earnhardt earns first Daytona 500 victory

How sweet it is for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to win the race where his father died in a last lap crash in 2001. Earnhardt, Jr. propelled by the DEI power plant under the hood, nosed past Tony Stewart without any help from a drafting partner on lap ...

How sweet it is for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to win the race where his father died in a last lap crash in 2001. Earnhardt, Jr. propelled by the DEI power plant under the hood, nosed past Tony Stewart without any help from a drafting partner on lap 181.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. takes checkered flag.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
Stewart challenged Earnhardt, but when the No. 8 was out front in clean air, it was a rocket ship. Stewart battled hard to close in on Earnhardt in the race's closing laps, but no one was there to help Stewart draft. Earnhardt seemed to not need the draft in the end, as he pulled out at times to a four car-length advantage.

With two laps to go, it was clear that Stewart had nothing for the No. 8 car, and Earnhardt easily held off the No. 20 Gibbs Chevy to earn his first Daytona 500 victory.

"Good god, I am the Daytona 500 champion," said an elated Earnhardt. "I am happy as hell; this has got to be the greatest day of my life."

"I'm just amazed," Earnhardt continued. "It's just awesome. I can't believe I was able to pass him (Stewart) by myself. I was trying for awhile and I got a run on him and it happened somehow. I don't know. You don't know what you are doing at that point; you're just trying your heart out."

The win was especially meaningful for Earnhardt, as this was the event that most eluded his legendary father as a racer. It took Earnhardt, Sr. twenty attempts before he finally conquered the Daytona 500, six years ago today (1998). They become only the third father/son in history to both win the 'Great American Race'.

"He (Earnhardt, Sr.) was over in the passenger seat riding with me," said an emotional Earnhardt. "I'm sure he was having a blast."

This is Earnhardt's second win at DIS, ninth super speedway victory, and tenth career win in 148 starts.

Stewart finished second, scoring his best finish in six Daytona 500 starts.

"There wasn't going to be any stopping him," said Stewart of Earnhardt. "It was a matter of time. When he decided he was ready to go, he went. I'm not ashamed at all."

Tony Stewart congratulates Dale Earnhardt Jr..
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
"Considering what this kid went through losing his father here at the Daytona 500 and knowing how good he's been here and just something happened" continued Stewart. "It's nice seeing him get his victory here, too. I think his father's really proud today. You know, I'd love to have won the race, trust me. I did everything I could to still win the race. If I could have held him off, had him finish second, I would have done that in a heartbeat.

"But there was no holding that kid back today. Today was his day."

Stewart, not known for sucking up a second place finish with sparkling enthusiasm, was genuinely "tickled" for his friend's good fortune.

"We admire each other," said Stewart of him and Earnhardt's relationship. "We're fierce competitors, we like to have fun. We're very similar in a lot of ways."

Rookie Scott Wimmer earned a surprise third place finish. Wimmer who had been embroiled in a DUI scandal shortly before Speedweeks began, proved that his attention is on racing and not partying.

The break of the race for Wimmer came when he took two tires on his No. 22 Dodge on a lap 168 pit stop, propelling him into the lead. He eventually succumbed to the hard-charging Chevys of Earnhardt and Stewart, but the strong finish kick-starts his rookie of the year campaign.

"I was really excited how we ran today," said Wimmer. "We haven't been that strong down here. We've been struggling all speed week. Didn't qualify well, didn't have a real good Twin 125. Guys worked hard to make the car better, they definitely did that.

"We drafted real well with other cars, and we managed to run up front."

Fourth place was claimed by Kevin Harvick, making it his second consecutive fourth-place result in the Daytona 500.

"It's been a good couple of weeks for the GM Goodwrench car," said Harvick. "We just came up a little bit short on all ends of the stick. It's a good way to start off the season."

Race action at turn 4.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
Jimmie Johnson earned his third top-10 result in five attempts at Daytona, with a fifth place outcome.

"There wasn't much you could do sitting there in a three or four car draft," commented Johnson. "When things really shuffled around the pit stop sequence that took place, we got into single file racing and heck; we were just sitting there riding in line hoping that we could catch the lead draft.

"But those guys were a lot faster with fewer cars up front. We didn't stand a chance of catching them."

The race got off to a bumpy start, as several minor incidents slowed the field during the first fifty laps of the event, and the much-anticipated multi-car melee came on lap 70.

Trouble brewed when Johnny Sauter lost control of the No. 30 RCR Chevy and slid up the banking. Sauter pinched the No. 25 Hendrick Chevy of Brian Vickers, who then spun in front of the field. As Vickers spun, Michael Waltrip and Robby Gordon made contact sending the two sliding into the grass. Waltrip wound up flipping the No. 15 DEI Chevy several times before landing on its hood.

Eleven cars were mixed up in the fracas, including the rides of Scott Riggs, Terry Labonte, Kevin LePage, Jamie McMurray, Michael Waltrip, Sterling Marlin, and Ryan Newman.

No racers were injured in the accident.

Earnhardt's win places him at the top of series standings for the first time in his Cup career. Tony Stewart, Scott Wimmer, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson complete the top five.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Terry Labonte , Tony Stewart , Michael Waltrip , Kevin Harvick , Sterling Marlin , Robby Gordon , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Johnny Sauter , Scott Wimmer , Eric Gilbert