Daytona 500 2014: Full Results and Why Dale Earnhardt Jr. Is Headed for Big Year

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Daytona 500 2014: Full Results and Why Dale Earnhardt Jr. Is Headed for Big Year
Terry Renna/Associated Press

Holding on to his lead after a green-white-checkered finish, Dale Earnhardt Jr. claimed his second Daytona 500 win and just his second Sprint Series victory since the start of the 2009 season. 

ESPN helped capture the moment: 

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:

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."

2014 Daytona 500 Results
Finish Driver Laps Start
1 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 200 9
2 Denny Hamlin 200 4
3 Brad Keselowski 200 33
4 Jeff Gordon 200 6
5 Jimmie Johnson 200 32
6 Matt Kenseth 200 3
7 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 200 34
8 Greg Biffle 200 25
9 Austin Dillon 200 1
10 Casey Mears 200 28
11 Joey Logano 200 35
12 Landon Cassill 200 18
13 Kevin Harvick 200 38
14 Jamie McMurray 200 22
15 Bobby Labonte 200 26
16 Reed Sorenson 200 39
17 Carl Edwards 200 30
18 Marcos Ambrose 200 7
19 Kyle Busch 200 37
20 Terry Labonte 200 24
21 Kurt Busch 199 8
22 Ryan Newman 199 19
23 Alex Bowman 198 29
24 Josh Wise 196 11
25 Brian Scott 196 12
26 AJ Allmendinger 194 15
27 Justin Allgaier 193 40
28 Cole Whitt 193 23
29 Parker Kligerman 193 41
30 Brian Vickers 192 31
31 Kasey Kahne 192 5
32 Paul Menard 184 10
33 Trevor Bayne 183 14
34 David Ragan 176 43
35 Tony Stewart 174 21
36 David Gilliland 171 17
37 Michael Annett Chevrolet 161
38 Kyle Larson Chevrolet 160
39 Aric Almirola Ford 146
40 Danica Patrick Chevrolet 145
41 Michael Waltrip Toyota 144
42 Clint Bowyer Toyota 127
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. 

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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. 

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.

Terry Renna/Associated Press

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. 

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