The 2014 Daytona 500 was a wild start to the NASCAR season, and there is no better way to get fans excited about the beginning of a new campaign than by watching Dale Earnhardt Jr. take home his second Harley J. Earl Trophy.
After winning the race, Earnhardt commented via NASCAR and Fox Sports' Twitter feeds:
Add in the intense battles on the last several laps, the rain delay that forced the race to be contested under the lights and several multi-car crashes, and this year’s 500-mile Daytona marathon will go down as one of the most memorable.
Here are the final results for Sunday’s Great American Race:
|1||Dale Earnhardt Jr.|
|7||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
|26||A. J. Allmendinger|
|43||Martin Truex Jr.|
The biggest story of the Daytona 500, besides the massive rain delay that plagued the event, is the victory for fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr.
After winning the race in 2004, the veteran has come close to winning on numerous occasions—three second-place finishes in the last four seasons—but he finally got the Daytona monkey off his back Sunday.
In the video above, the Fox camera captured the in-car reaction of Earnhardt after his victory and the raw joy he showed. On the audio, he claims that the victory in the 2014 race is even more valuable to him after the struggles he went though.
During his backward victory lap (made famous by the late Alan Kulwicki), Earnhardt took the time to see many of the fans that made his journey to the top of the sport possible. As the unquestioned most popular man in NASCAR, the fans were finally rewarded for their unwavering loyalty.
Six-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson was asked by Cary Estes of Sports Illustrated about his fifth-place finish, but he instead spoke about his teammate taking home the checkered flag:
That doesn't mean anything. I want to talk about my teammate and the awesome job he did. I knew there was no chance of me winning on that final restart (with two laps to go). So I was rooting like crazy for that 88 (Earnhardt) to get to Victory Lane. He's been knocking on the door for a number of years, and he got it done tonight. He doesn't have to worry about any of that stuff anymore. He's the man today.
The feeling around the garage area was excitement for Junior’s victory. Drivers like rookie Austin Dillon understand how important a top star like Earnhardt is to the sport and can’t help by share their support for a class act.
Fellow driver Brad Keselowski told Nate Ryan of the USA Today about Junior’s victory, and he also revealed just how tough the end of the race was on a driver:
He did a great job. He's been right there. He runs restrictor plates as an elite driver; he's probably in the top three. He hasn't gotten the win he deserved a couple of times from a whole bunch of circumstances out of his control. He was due.
Everybody kept telling me over the radio, "There's more rain coming," (and) I think that really added to the anxiety and rush of pace even more so than the break. I think everyone raced a hard 500-mile race. That has to be the hardest 500 race ever, probably one of the best.
While everyone wants to talk about Earnhardt’s performance, there were 42 other drivers who tried their luck at the Super Bowl of the sport. The pressure on the drivers and the lack of experience from a deep rookie class caused several issues on the track.
One of the biggest wrecks of the night took place on Lap 146 when Danica Patrick, Dillon and several other serious contenders were collected in a massive multi-car pileup.
Patrick commented on her crash to Ryan following the 500-mile race:
I'm just upset the GoDaddy car felt really good and was the best we had in Speedweeks. I felt everything was going pretty well. It's just upsetting, a culmination of sitting around all day. It's a bummer, but that's the excitement of speedway racing that anything can happen. It's unfortunate I was on the short end of the accident, but that's the type of thing that happens.
After so much chaos and so much happiness all mixed into one long day of action, the NASCAR teams will look ahead to next week’s race at Phoenix International Raceway.
Carl Edwards was able to take home the victory in 2013 at Phoenix, holding off a hard-charging Jimmie Johnson. While both of those men will be top contenders—as will Phoenix ace Jeff Gordon—last year’s fifth-place finisher was Earnhardt.
With momentum on his side, Junior will be looking to start the season with two straight wins.
*Stats and videos via NASCAR.com.