Daytona's Magical Aura: Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s 2004 Daytona 500
Daytona has always had this magical aura with stories surrounding the Daytona 500 that everybody loves to tell over and over. As we near closer to the Daytona 500, here is a look back through some of the highlighted moments in Daytona 500 history.
The Daytona Magical Aura could easily be said for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s 2001 Pepsi 400 win at the first race at Daytona since his father's death. It was a night full of emotion and meaning. However, that led to another chapter.
When Earnhardt Jr. looked to take over his father's dominance of Daytona, everybody feared that he'd go through the same thing his father did—Daytona domination with the lack of a 500 win.
From 2001 to 2003, Earnhardt Jr. came close to doing it, yet each year fell short.
In 2001, he finished second to teammate Michael Waltrip as he pushed him to the win.
In 2002, he was running second when he had to make an unscheduled pit stop after he ran over a piece of debris that fell of teammate Waltrip's car. He was later involved in the big wreck.
In 2003, he was won the Budweiser Shootout, his Gatorade Duel qualifying race and the Nationwide race. When it came to the Daytona 500, however, he fell two laps behind after having to make an unscheduled pit stop to change a bad battery.
When it came to 2004, the story changed and the question of if this would become a repetitive story was answered.
In the Budweiser Shootout, Earnhardt Jr. finished second to Dale Jarrett.
In the Gatorade Duel, Earnhardt Jr. won, which gave him the third-place starting spot. Though after pole sitter Greg Biffle changed engines, Earnhardt Jr. started the Daytona 500 on the pole.
Tony Stewart led most of the race, while Earnhardt Jr. ran second. They pitted together, drafted together and pulled out a fair bit on the rest of the field.
With 20 to go, Earnhardt Jr. made his move and passed Stewart for the lead, holding on to win the race and his first and only Daytona 500.
"We just feel real strong about being here," Earnhardt Jr. said. "You know, in a way it feels like you're closer to Dad, but at the same time it feels like it's a reminder of losing him all over again. So I wanted to come down here and win."
"Considering what this kid went through losing his father here at the Daytona 500, and knowing how good he's been here and just something's happened, it's nice to see him get his victory here, too," Stewart said.
"I think his father's really proud today. You know, I'd love to have won the race, trust me. I did everything I could to still win the race. If I could have held him off, had him finish second, I would have done in it a heartbeat. But there was no holding that kid back today. Today was his day."
Earnhardt Jr. went on to win the Nationwide Series race the next day to win three of the four races during the weekend.
The numbers for this add up in a almost perfect way as his dad won the Daytona 500 on February 15, 1998 while Earnhardt Jr. won it February 15, 2010.
With new crew chief Steve LeTarte on board and higher expectations in place, a win at Daytona could be the start of a brand new year in helping to start answering the expectations laid in front of him and getting things back on track.
To see more articles by Ashley McCubbin and live updates from the weekend, check out newsfromthepits.blogspot.com.
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