The Daytona 500 was slated to start at 1:00 pm EST on Sunday. If one does some quick math, the race should have finished somewhere around 4:30 pm. (It being 500 mile race with an average speed of 200 mph, adding some extra time for wrecks and caution laps.) “The Great American Race” would wind up taking nearly 11 hours to complete, though, following a massive rain delay of over 6 hours. While this wait may have taken its toll on some of NASCAR’s finest drivers, there was one driver who would not be perturbed – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
While Dale Jr. may have not had the most impressive car in the first 38 laps before rain delayed the race, his performance was nigh dominant after the race restarted at 8:53 last night. Out of the next 154 laps (the race restarted at lap 46), Junior would lead 54 – more than any other driver in the field: “Tonight it was just all about not giving an inch, not running fifth, not sitting there in fifth-place all night and being okay with it. I wanted to lead every lap, I wanted be in first every lap,” stated Earnhardt. While Junior would not be in first every lap, he was most certainly the leader at the end of the most important lap – the final one.
Dale Earnhardt’s 2014 Daytona 500 victory marks his second victory at “The Great American Race,” coming an entire decade after his first victory at Daytona in 2004. The victory also marks an end to Junior’s 55-race winless streak – a phenomenon that has plagued Earnhardt over his NASCAR career. Before this most recent 55-race drought, Junior achieved a winless streak of epic proportions, going a whopping 143 races without a win. In fact, since 2005, Earnhardt has only won 5 races (Teammate Jimmie Johnson won 6 races in 2013 alone).
For some reason, though, Earnhardt has felt that 2014 is going to be a special year: “Let’s be honest, where I am as a driver I feel like I’m on the verge of breaking through and having possibly one of my best seasons… We ran second a lot last year, and that felt great. It was a statement to us that what we’re doing is working. Maybe, this is the year we turn the corner. It doesn’t wear on me mentally, but it motivates and ticks me off,” stated Junior in a pre-season interview.
And what better way to start the season than winning NASCAR’s biggest race and also sealing a position in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup post-season championship (Due to a new rule change which ensures that drivers who win at least one race will contend for the championship): “I feel uncomfortable sitting here bragging my ass off or saying that I run the best race of my life, but it was a unique race. We were all really pushing the envelope out there, really asking a lot of each other,” Earnhardt voiced following his victory.
“We’re going for the jugular this year,” Junior declared – a statement his father, The Intimidator, would most certainly be proud of.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) February 24, 2014
Image via Dale Earnhardt Jr., Twitter