DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It was early Monday morning by the time Sunday night’s rain-delayed 400 miles at Daytona International Speedway were complete, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. found himself in Victory Lane.
The green flag waved at 11:42 p.m. EDT, and by the time a green-white-checkered finish closed out the race, it was nearly 2:45 a.m. EDT the next day.
Just as Earnhardt took the checkered flag, a large, multi-car incident took place behind him that tempered the celebration.
“I had a lot of fun tonight. You hate to see that kind of wreck at the end – you don’t want to see anybody be put in danger like that. So I’m just so thankful that all the drivers are OK,” Earnhardt said. “I’m more thankful that everyone’s OK than to be standing here in Victory Lane, that’s for sure.”
Jimmie Johnson was just behind Earnhardt in second. The two drivers were the top two lap leaders in the race.
Jeff Gordon rounded out Hendrick Motorsports’ three drivers in the top six with his sixth-place finish. Kasey Kahne, who ran near the front for much of the race and led five laps, was involved in a multi-car incident with less than 60 laps remaining and ultimately finished 32nd.
Earnhardt now joins his father – Dale Earnhardt Sr. – and Jeff Gordon as just the third driver to have 10 or more restrictor-plate wins.
See below for a detailed look at how all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers fared at Daytona.
KASEY KAHNE, NO. 5 GREAT CLIPS/SHARK WEEK CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: Kahne rolled off the grid 10th, but made his way to second by Lap 11. He continued to run inside the top five, battling teammate Johnson for the lead on Lap 39, but settling for second. On Lap 45, however, Kahne was caught on the outside of the track and shuffled to the back of the top 10. But he kept working, a speedy pit stop during a caution on Lap 53 put him back up to fourth place. Kahne’s trip to pit road during the next caution flag allowed him to take over the lad on the ensuing restart on Lap 93, becoming the third Hendrick Motorsports driver to lead at least one lap in the race. But he fell back to sixth at Lap 100, and five laps later he was involved in a multi-car incident that caused damage to the No. 5 Great Clips/Shark Week Chevrolet SS. He returned to the track several laps down and ultimately finished 32nd.
JEFF GORDON, NO. 24 AXALTA CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: Driving the No. 24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, Jeff Gordon began Sunday night’s race in 23rd. But he was already inside the top 10 by the first caution of the race on Lap 3. He found fourth place on Lap 12, which is where he remained after a quick pit stop during the competition caution after 25 laps. On the ensuing restart, he was caught on the top of the track and shuffled back to 20th position. He continued battling, however, and found the top 10 once again on Lap 46. On Lap 67, he was back in fourth place behind teammates Earnhardt, Johnson and Kahne in first, second and third, respectively. He was once again in fourth for the restart following a caution on Lap 105 and continued to race inside the top 10. Through a green-white-checkered finish, Gordon took home a sixth-place result.
JIMMIE JOHNSON, NO. 48 LOWE’S PATRIOTIC CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: A 12th-place start didn’t keep Johnson out of the top 10 for long. By Lap 12, he was already in third, and after a Lap 25 competition caution, a quick pit stop won him the race off of pit road and allowed him to move into the lead. He maintained it until a caution on Lap 53, at which point he returned to the track from pit road in second, just behind teammate Earnhardt. He found the lead once again, however, and even after losing it, continued battling for it past the halfway point of the race. He was back in 10th on Lap 99 with 61 laps to go, and was back up to second behind Earnhardt when a multi-car incident caused a caution on Lap 105. He retook the lead on the ensuing restart, but Earnhardt took it right back and the teammates continued to battle until Johnson got caught by himself and pushed back to ninth. He was once again raced all the way to the runner-up spot behind Earnhardt, and that is ultimately where he would finish.
DALE EARNHARDT JR., NO. 88 NATIONWIDE STARS AND STRIPES CHEVROLET SS
RECAP: Leading the field to the green flag, Earnhardt found himself in second place when the first caution flag of the day came on Lap 3. But he retook the lead on the restart, and held it until the competition caution after 25 laps, at which point he moved back to second behind teammate Johnson. After battling for the lead, he was shuffled back to ninth place on Lap 41. He made it back to third on Lap 51, and after a quick pit stop by the No. 88 team during a caution on Lap 53, he returned to the track as the leader. Though he lost it, he continued battling for it, finding himself in fifth on Lap 100 with 60 laps remaining. He retook the lead on Lap 103, and maintained it by winning the race off pit road during the caution on Lap 105. Earnhardt and Johnson continued to battle for the lead on the ensuing restart. Through a green-white-checkered finish, Earnhardt held on to take home the victory.