Earnhardt Jr. led the final 18 laps in winning the Great American Race, while Florida native Denny Hamlin made a final surge in the final laps to finish second and three-time Daytona 500 winner finishing in third. NASCAR 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowsk took fourth and Jimmie Johnson, the six-time Sprint Cup Series champion ended in fifth.
Of the 43 cars that started Sunday’s 56th Daytona 500, 32 were able to finish the 200 laps over a total elapsed time of 3:45:25. Among the notable drivers who were unable to finish were Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick who was involved in a 13-car crash on lap 145, Michael Waltrip on lap 144 and Clint Bowyer the 127th lap.
After a more than six- hour rain delay, the race finally started at 8:30 p.m. EST, when both the NASCAR drivers and the estimated 250,000 people in the stands were growing weary. Yet it was Earnhardt Jr.’s 88 that managed to hold off Hamlin, Gordon and Keselowski to snap a long losing streak. Dating back to 2012.
In accepting the coveted trophy, Earnhardt Jr. said “Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship” as he celebrated with his Hendrick’s Motorsports crew before saying ““ didn’t know if I’d ever get the chance to feel it again and it feels just as good.” And it felt good for millions of fans of NASCAR’s most popular driver, whose father Dale Sr. died on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Despite the long rain delay, many of those in attendance can agree that it was well worth the wait.