The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Sports

February 24, 2014

Earnhardt Jr. wins 2nd Daytona 500 a decade later

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Through rain and wrecks, on Daytona's longest day, this was a drought Dale Earnhardt Jr. was determined to end.

NASCAR's most popular driver won the Daytona 500 for the second time — a decade after his first victory — to snap a 55-race losing streak dating to 2012.

The victory Sunday night ended a streak of futility at Daytona International Speedway, where he finished second in three of the previous four 500s.

"Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship," said Earnhardt, who climbed from his car in Victory Lane and hugged every member of his Hendrick Motorsports crew. "I didn't know if I'd ever get the chance to feel it again and it feels just as good."

As he crossed the finish line in his No. 88 Chevrolet, the few who withstood a rain delay of 6 hours, 22 minutes screaming their support, Earnhardt euphorically radioed his crew, saying: "This is better than the first one!" He was met by Rick Hendrick after his victory lap, and the team owner climbed into the driver's window for a ride to Victory Lane.

"The world is right right now — Dale Junior just won the Daytona 500," teammate Jeff Gordon said. "That's a sign it's going to be a great season."

Rain stopped the race about 45 minutes after it began for a delay of more than six hours. When it resumed, Earnhardt dominated at the track where his father was killed in an accident on the last lap of the 2001 race.

He led six times for a race-high 54 laps — all after the rain delay — and seemed to have it under control until things got chaotic near the end. There were 42 lead changes and four multi-car accidents as the field closed in on the checkered flag.

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