On Sunday night, NASCAR got exactly what it needed — eventually. Its most popular driver won its biggest race Sunday night.
After an afternoon of severe weather pushed the Daytona 500, the sport’s Super Bowl, into an 8:30 p.m. restart 38 laps into the race, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the race for the second time, 10 years after his first win there. The victory snapped a seemingly endless losing streak of 55 races that dated to 2012.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” Earnhardt, who had finished second in three of the four previous Daytona 500 races, said (via the Associated Press). “I didn’t know if I’d ever get the chance to feel it again and it feels just as good.”
The race was delayed for 6 hours and 22 minutes because of the weather, a delay that prompted fans who were watching Fox Sports’ replay of the 2013 race during the afternoon to mistakenly congratulate Jimmie Johnson on his victory. Fans had to stick with Fox until 11:18 p.m. to find out that Earnhardt, driving the No. 88 car, had won.
“The world is right right now — Dale Junior just won the Daytona 500,” Earnhardt’s teammate, Jeff Gordon, said. “That’s a sign it’s going to be a great season.”
Earnhardt won it on a two-lap shootout with Denny Hamlin at the finish, with multi-car wrecks and a number of lead changes making for a chaotic ending. Hamlin, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, finished second and battled problems with his radio.
“It was tough and disappointing because I definitely could have used my spotter there at the end,” Hamlin said. “I’m trying to look up at the scoreboard, trying to figure out how many laps are left. I’m so 50-50 on whether I’m [mad] or I’m happy. I just don’t know. Any other year, I probably would have been jumping up and down.”
The win by Junior took back attention from the return of the No. 3 car, driven by Austin Dillon for the first time since Dale Earnhardt died in a Daytona 500 crash in 2001. That was fine with the Earnhardt family and crew, who are looking ahead.
“Dude, there is no reason why we can’t win the next 10 races in a row right now,” Earnhardt’s spotter, T.J. Majors, told USA Today. “He’s really good, and when he gets it in his head that he’s good? He’s dangerous.”
He celebrated by joining Twitter and mastering the selfie.
The best moment, though, came Monday morning, when he tweeted a selfie with his father’s statue.