The first race of the 2014 Sprint Cup season was delayed for more than six hours when Mother Nature reared her ugly head on Daytona International Speedway, but Junior was eventually able to hold off Denny Hamlin to earn the second Daytona 500 victory of his career.
After winning the race, he was ecstatic, via NASCAR's official Twitter feed and FOX Sports:
Here's a look at how the final standings shook out, courtesy of NASCAR.com:
|1||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||Hendrick Motorsports||200||54|
|2||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||200||16|
|3||Brad Keselowski||Team Penske||200||13|
|4||Jeff Gordon||Hendrick Motorsports||200||0|
|5||Jimmie Johnson||Hendrick Motorsports||200||15|
|6||Matt Kenseth||Joe Gibbs Racing||200||0|
|7||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Roush Fenway Racing||200||0|
|8||Greg Biffle||Roush Fenway Racing||200||8|
|9||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||200||1|
|10||Casey Mears||Germain Racing||200||0|
The 39-year-old Hendrick Motorsports driver last won this historic race exactly a decade ago. As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out, the nine-year stretch between wins is a new record:
Dale Earnhardt Jr wins his 2nd Daytona 500 and first since 2004. The 9 years is the longest stretch ever between wins at this race.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 24, 2014
Earnhardt Jr., who grabbed the lead on Lap 160 and stayed in that spot for the majority of the final 40 laps, led for a total of 54 laps, which was most among the field.
Of course, by making his own history, Earnhardt Jr. halted another potential record-setting performance.
Hamlin, who won the Sprint Unlimited and the Budweiser Duel, had a chance to become the first driver ever to win all three races. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver came up just short, though, as he led for 16 laps but couldn't overcome Earnhardt Jr. for his first Daytona 500 victory.
As SpeedwayMedia.com reporter Nick DeGroot pointed out, he came extremely close to making history:
Denny Hamlin was one position away from the Daytona trifecta. I thought he was going to get to the outside of Jr. there; he was close.— Nick DeGroot (@ndegroot89) February 24, 2014
Following the extensive delay, which went into effect during lap 39, drivers took to the track under the lights, racing not only against each other but against time, as another storm threatened to hit.
NASCAR's official Twitter feed gave a cool look at the scene:
As the drivers battled after sunset, we saw a few wrecks down the stretch.
The first, which occurred during lap 146, involved Danica Patrick and Austin Dillon:
Patrick, who led for two laps for the second consecutive year, wasn't able to continue and finished in 40th place. The 23-year-old Dillon, driving in the historic No. 3 car, was able to recover and took home a solid ninth-place finish.
A few more accidents would follow in the final 50 laps, and NASCAR Stats on Twitter eventually put a final number on the total number of caution laps:
Caution 6 cont: Laps 195-198 for 4 laps. Race total of 37 caution laps. Ambrose was beneficiary. #NASCARPrimetime— NASCAR Stats (@NASCARStats) February 24, 2014
With the delay, the weather and everything else, it was an odd way to kick off 2014. But for Dale Jr., a win is a win, and this gives him some much-needed momentum to begin the season after finishing fifth last year.
After going winless in four of the last five years, Earnhardt Jr. has gotten off to the perfect start. He'll look to keep things rolling next Sunday at Phoenix International Speedway for The Profit on CNBC 500.
So long as Mother Nature keeps herself in check, that is.