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Daytona 500 Results: Biggest Takeaways from Spectacular Season Opener

Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Daytona 500 Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
Terry Renna/Associated Press
Richard LangfordCorrespondent IFebruary 24, 2014

Entering Sunday's Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had won just one Sprint Cup race since the 2009 season. He's won two races in that time span now.

At Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, Earnhardt powered the No. 88 Hendrick Chevrolet to Victory Lane. 

This was Earnhardt's second Daytona 500 victory, and the veteran driver was downright giddy with the win. NASCAR helps point that out: 

Have a look at the final results: 

2014 Daytona 500 Results
FinishDriverStart
1Dale Earnhardt Jr.9
2Denny Hamlin4
3Brad Keselowski33
4Jeff Gordon6
5Jimmie Johnson32
6Matt Kenseth3
7Ricky Stenhouse Jr.34
8Greg Biffle25
9Austin Dillon1
10Casey Mears28
11Joey Logano35
12Landon Cassill18
13Kevin Harvick38
14Jamie McMurray22
15Bobby Labonte26
16Reed Sorenson39
17Carl Edwards30
18Marcos Ambrose7
19Kyle Busch37
20Terry Labonte24
21Kurt Busch8
22Ryan Newman19
23Alex Bowman29
24Josh Wise11
25Brian Scott12
26AJ Allmendinger15
27Justin Allgaier40
28Cole Whitt23
29Parker Kligerman41
30Brian Vickers31
31Kasey Kahne5
32Paul Menard10
33Trevor Bayne14
34David Ragan43
35Tony Stewart21
36David Gilliland17
37Michael Annett161
38Kyle Larson160
39Aric Almirola146
40Danica Patrick145
41Michael Waltrip144
42Clint Bowyer127
43Martin Truex Jr.30
ESPN.com

The biggest takeaway from the day's action was that despite a lengthy weather delay, this was a spectacular race. Guys were gunning hard for the lead all day. 

Brad Keselowski, as Fox's Kaitlyn Vincie tweeted, highlights that:  

There are many other takeaways from this excellent season opener. Here are the three biggest. 

 

Dale Jr. Raises Expectations 

Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press/Associated Press

Earnhardt is the 11-time winner of NASCAR's most popular driver award, but he's still searching for his first Sprint Series championship. 

Early in his career, it looked like it would be a matter of time before he captured that championship. In his first seven full seasons, he finished in the top eight of the season standings four times. His highest finish in that span is third in 2003. 

He's only finished in the top eight twice in the seven years since. His highest finish in that span is fifth, which came last season. 

Last season certainly helped rekindle dreams of a championship, and this win pushes those hopes into overdrive. 

Earnhardt has matured into a driver who knows how to produce consistent results. He's adept at avoiding trouble and sticking with the leaders. He has not, however, shown that killer instinct to win. 

On Sunday, he proved he has the tenacity it takes to win when every driver is doing everything possible to take the checkered. 

This is a great sign for his chances of success this year, and it certainly raises expectations on the 88 team.

This shouldn't be a shock to the team, since they raised themselves. Sunoco Racing shared this: 

 

Hendrick Motorsports Ready to Continue Domination

Terry Renna/Associated Press

Earnhardt's win, like every other win by any driver that will come this season, is the result of a team effort.

Only three other drivers enjoy the same luxury of Earnhardt as having the best team in NASCAR behind them. 

Since Jeff Gordon won the championship in 1995, Hendrick Motorsports has taken 11 championships. Jimmie Johnson and his No. 48 crew have been the main cog in the success, but the team has flourished from top to bottom. 

There are no signs of that slowing down. 

Hendrick had four drivers in this race: Earnhardt won, Jeff Gordon was fourth, Jimmie Johnson fifth and Kasey Kahne was 31st. 

Johnson was in second on the restart of the green-white-checkered finish, and Kahne led for two laps before picking up some damage while avoiding one of the numerous wrecks. 

If other teams were looking for a sign of weakness from the current dynasty in their sport, they didn't get one. 

 

Brad Keselowski Will Have a Rebound Year

John Raoux/Associated Press

After winning his first Sprint Cup Championship in 2012, Keselowski disappointed with a 14th-place finish last season.

Keselowski was dealing with a new level of celebrity and a switch to a new car and manufacturer. 

His results suffered. He didn't pick up a win until the Chase, and he wasn't a part of the Chase field.

Keselowski looks ready to put all of that behind him now.

He powered the No. 2 Ford to a strong Sunday by leading 13 laps on the day and almost made a run at the lead after the green-white-checkered restart.

I expect him to be a big factor all season. 

Of course, there are bound to be some up-and-down results with an attitude like the one expressed in this Keselowski quote passed along by Geoffery Miller:

So, there may be an overzealous mistake or two, but he has the experience, talent and team to overcome this.

Keselowski looks focused and ready for a big year.  

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