Jeff Gordon probably put it best in his postrace interview following Sunday’s Daytona 500: “The world is right, right now – Dale Jr. just won the Daytona 500,” he said. “That’s a sign this is going to be a great season.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s most popular yet pressured driver, picked a fitting time to end his 55 race drought when he took the checkered flag in NASCAR’s most monumental event on Sunday.
Earnhardt Jr., who finished second in the Great American Race three of the last four years, qualified ninth and led six times for a race high 54 of the 200 laps, including the final 12.
“I didn’t know if I’d ever get a chance to feel that again,” Earnhardt told ESPN in Victory Lane. “And it feels just as great if not better than the first, because of how hard we tried, year after year, running second all them years.”
Earnhardt Jr.’s win was no fluke, either. He’s been knocking on the door since crew chief Steve Letarte joined his team in 2011. During that span, they have had 55 top 10 finishes, including eight second place outings.
This will be the pair’s last season together as Letarte will join NBC for a TV role next year. The two are trying to make the most of their final run.
“‘I’m a little sad, this is going to be my last 500,” Letarte told reporters in the media center after the race. “I’m going to have a lot of those moments this year. … Everyone has a bucket list and you don’t work in racing without having the Daytona 500 on your bucket list.”
Rain stole the show for the bulk of the afternoon, with a near six and a half hour delay.
It’s the fourth time in the last six years where the 500 has been plagued with a lengthy postponement.