DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps to capture his second career Daytona 500 victory on Sunday under the lights at Daytona International Speedway.
Earnhardt’s win marks the eighth Daytona 500 crown for Hendrick Motorsports, which most recently won The Great American race last year. All told, the organization has won the Daytona 500 in consecutive seasons twice. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson did it first in 2005 and 2006, respectively. Earnhardt's win this year follows that of teammate Johnson's 2013 victory at The Great American Race.
Earnhardt’s victory at Daytona also qualifies him for the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup race per the recent changes to NASCAR rules.
"Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you can feel in this sport, apart from accepting the trophy for the championship, said Earnhardt, during the post-race show in Victory Lane.
Prior to Sunday, the driver of the No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS had recorded runner-up honors in three of the last four Daytona 500 contests. But on Sunday, after a six-plus hour delay, it was his turn. Earnhardt’s victory, the 20th of his NASCAR Sprint Cup career, marks the 219th for Hendrick Motorsports.
Teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson finished in fourth and fifth, respectively, giving Hendrick Motorsports three top-five results at this year's Daytona 500. Kasey Kahne, who encountered a variety of mid-race issues, finished 31st.
Here's how Hendrick Motorsports drivers fared in The Great American Race:
Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS
Kahne started fifth in the Great American Race, beside teammate and three-time Daytona 500 champion Jeff Gordon. After a yellow caution flag was waved for spilled fluid, Kahne moved into the runner-up position by Lap 33. He battled for the top position with leader Kyle Busch and took the lead on Lap 48. Kahne pitted at Lap 63 for the first time since the restart, with crew chief Kenny Francis electing for a four-tire change. However, Kahne's luck seemed to run out from there. His Chevy SS spun coming out of pit road due to the dampness of the track, which brought upon a lost lap. On Lap 116, Kahne manuevered to miss a spinning competitor and was clocked too fast entering pit road, causing him to lose another lap. With 52 laps to go, Kahne moved into the 33nd position. At Lap 145, Kahne was involved in a 12-car incident, but was able to continue racing. Unfortunately for the No. 5 team, Kahne was caught up in another multi-car incident on Turn 4 at Lap 162. Despite his hardships, he finished race running, taking 31st.
Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet SS
Gordon started strong at the 2.5-mile speedway, moving into the runner-up position by the second lap. He came off pit road sixth following the first yellow-flag pit stop on Lap 25. Gordon moved into the third position by Lap 30, alongside teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. After a six-plus hour rain delay, Gordon returned to the track running seventh and moved into the fourth position by Lap 57. However, Gordon lost the draft and slipped to 13th by Lap 138. He escaped a multi-car incident at Lap 145 to remain in the 13th position, before moving into the 11th position with 45 laps to go. By Lap 180, Gordon had moved into the fifth position. With 12 laps to go, Gordon moved into the third position behind teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson, giving Hendrick Motorsports a perfect trio in the top three positions. He held on to give Earnhardt a push on the final restart and ultimately finished fourth in The Great American Race.
Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS
Johnson remained quiet for the first half of The Great American Race, staying toward the back under the guidance of spotter Earl Barban. Johnson restarted 38th after the rain delay, but moved up 15th by Lap 55. Johnson catapulted in the following laps, moving into the runner-up position by Lap 80. After his first green-flag pit stop following the six-hour rain delay, Johnson moved the third position by the halfway point and was running second by Lap 106, just ahead of teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. He took the lead by Lap 108, pacing the field for eight laps. He fell back into the runner-up position for five laps before reclaiming the lead at Lap 121. He reported to crew chief Chad Knaus at Lap 124 that the bottom line might be faster. Johnson pulled into pit road at Lap 128, but quickly moved into the fourth position one lap later. He then moved into the runner-up position by Lap 133 behind leader Earnhardt. With 50 miles to go, Johnson took right side tires at his final green-flag pit stop of the night. Johnson moved back into the runner-up position with 30 laps to go. He battled for a top five position before ultimately moving into second by Lap 183. However, Johnson lost the draft with seven laps to go and fell to sixth. He rounded out the top five with a fifth place finish.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet SS
Earnhardt started ninth in the Great American Race and moved into the third position by Lap 15. After reporting a tight-handling car to crew chief Steve Letarte, Earnhardt pulled into pit road for right side tire changes during the first yellow-flag pit stop. He emerged third out of pit road and by Lap 28, Earnhardt was side-by-side with teammate Jeff Gordon in the third and fourth positions. Earnhardt moved into the runner-up position by Lap 78 before his first green-flag pit stop after the restart. By Lap 107, Earnhardt was running second behind leader and teammate Jimmie Johnson. Earnhardt took the lead by Lap 132 after making his second green-flag pit stop following the restart. He made his final green-flag pit stop with 50 laps to go, opting for right side tires changes. With 47 laps to go, Earnhardt battled leader Greg Biffle for the top position, taking the lead on the inside with 40 laps to go. After losing the lead for a moment, Earnhardt retook the lead with Johnson at his heels at Lap 183. At Lap 197, he acquired a piece of debris on his grille and was unable to remove it. Nevertheless, he prevailed and crossed Victory Lane for his second career Daytona 500 victory. This also marks the first Daytona 500 victory for Earnhardt's crew chief Steve Letarte.