ESPN helped capture the moment:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. wins the Daytona 500! It's his 2nd win at the Great American Race. pic.twitter.com/ENioO3RX2y— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 24, 2014
Earnhardt is an 11-time recipient of NASCAR's most popular driver award, and his win was a hit with fans. It was also well deserved after a thrilling and hard-fought race.
Despite a weather delay that lasted far longer than the race, the epic race is the main takeaway. The drivers weren't holding anything back.
Brad Keselowski, who finished third on the day, highlighted that fact in the following quote, tweeted by Fox Sports 1's Kaitlyn Vincie:
"That had to be the hardest raced 500 ever, and probably one of the best." - Brad Keselowski #nascar— Kaitlyn Vincie (@kaitlynvincie) February 24, 2014
Have a look at the full results and then I'll explain why Earnhardt's win points toward a big 2014 and perhaps his first Sprint Series championship.
Yahoo! Sports' Jay Busbee knows Earnhardt Jr. raced on another level on Sunday and called it a "virtuoso performance."
|1||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||200||9|
|7||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||200||34|
|43||Martin Truex Jr.||Chevrolet||30|
Earnhardt's lack of on-track success has been well-documented. Everything he does is well-documented.
Still, over the last three seasons, he has been a much more mature and consistent driver. Last season, he finished fifth in the standings, which was his highest finish since 2003, when he finished third in a strong start to his career.
Given his past three seasons, we can be confident that Earnhardt will have a solid points outing and will be involved in the Chase should he be able to race a full season.
Where will Earnhardt finish in the season standings?
But there hasn't been much of a reason to suggest he should be counted on as a serious Chase factor. His recent upward trend has lacked wins. He had just one over the four previous seasons.
Earnhardt's developing maturity involves patience and a vision of the big picture, but he hasn't been racing with the killer instinct needed to take checkered flags.
He showed that will to win on Sunday, and he held off a field that was racing harder than it likely will all season. He led the most laps on the day at 54, but there were numerous lead changes and late restarts. Only a determined and aggressive driver was going to win this race.
Still up? Sweet. Here's my story on Dale Earnhardt Jr. claiming Daytona as his in the finest race of his life: https://t.co/L9FQQcGozG— Jay Busbee (@jaybusbee) February 24, 2014
This is a great sign for his continued development.
Of course, there are more factors pointing toward Earnhardt's success this season.
Let's start with the fact that he is a member of the Hendrick Motorsports team. It is the current dynasty in NASCAR, and after a fairly dominant Daytona 500 from the team, the dynasty looks to be continuing.
This gives Earnhardt and his teammates an amazing foundation for success, which shouldn't have been doubted heading into Sunday.
What adds to the promise of Earnhardt's season, though, is the fact that he looked to have the strongest car of his teammates.
That wasn't the case last year, when Earnhardt had to settle for second as he watched teammate Jimmie Johnson take the Daytona 500.
Obviously, this doesn't mean Earnhardt will have the strongest car of his teammates week in and week out, but it is a great sign that his team is ready to give him the ride to take the checkered more often than in the past.
His team, as Sunoco Racing helps highlight, appears to be excited by the possibilities:
It's far too early in the season to confidently pick a driver to take the Sprint Cup title this year, but as long as Earnhardt Jr. is able to race the full season, he will finish in the top three in the Sprint Cup standings.