DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were the top three lap leaders in the Daytona 500.
But a trip to Victory Lane eluded the trio of teammates.
"All the Hendrick cars were real fast. I was trying to help Jeff lead a little bit and I wanted to lead some, too," Earnhardt said. "It was a fun day out there. Just came up short and a little disappointed about that."
All three drivers felt they had a shot at the win, and all three pointed to restarts as the culprits for what kept it just out of their grasp.
"Really the last two restarts just didn't work for us. I was ahead of one lane and the guys behind us just weren't bumper-to-bumper. Then on the last restart the same thing on the bottom," Johnson said. "With about 10 to go, I thought we were in position to win the Daytona 500. I wish we were in Victory Lane right now, but with plate racing you honestly have no clue what's going to happen."
For Earnhardt, it was one specific restart – or rather a move he attempted just after the green flag waved – that proved the difference.
"I made a really bad decision on that restart with 19 to go. I made a poor choice and you can't afford to do that. I got shuffled back and lost a ton of spots," he explained. "We had a really fast car -- maybe the best car here. So I had a lot of confidence to keep digging and we got some of those spots back. Just a little disappointed I let the guys down."
Gordon said it was tough to get back toward the front of the pack after he fell back to the bottom of the top 10 on a restart. But he was still all smiles after the final Daytona 500 of his storied career.
"For some reason I'm still smiling and enjoying every moment of it," Gordon said. "I am just in a different place that is so foreign to me, but so incredible. To just be taking it all in and enjoying every moment. Yeah, right now I'm a little bit sad this is my final Daytona 500, but I'm more upset we didn't have a shot at winning there at the end."
In the end, all three drivers wished they were hoisting the Daytona 500 trophy, but they were proud of Hendrick Motorsports' three top-10 finishes. Earnhardt and Johnson recovered to finish third and fifth, respectively, while teammate Kasey Kahne battled his way to a ninth-place result. Johnson was also proud of the type of racing that fans were able to enjoy all day long.
"I'm just excited that we are sitting there three-wide, however many deep, with five (laps) to go putting on a killer show," he said. "A fun day here in Daytona, of course I wish I was in Victory Lane right now, but we had a very strong day. Nothing to be embarrassed about."
Just like that, the 2015 season is officially underway. And the Hendrick Motorsports drivers are ready for even more success moving forward.
"We are ready to go to Atlanta," Earnhardt said. "It's going to be a fun year."