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article imageNASCAR: Junior waits out rain, becomes two-time Daytona 500 champ

By John Duarte     Feb 24, 2014 in Sports
Daytona Beach - It started off as a grey day for NASCAR fans as a rain storm put a hold on the signature race of the Sprint Cup Series. When it was all said and done, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the 56th running of the Daytona 500.
The day had started off somewhat fittingly as the No. 3 made historic by Earnhardt Jr.'s late father, Dale Sr., returned to NASCAR's top series and led the field from the pole position to start the 2014 version of the Great American Race.
The elation of the days events was evident on Earnhardt Jr.'s face in Victory Lane. Not only did he snap a 55-race winless drought, he just won the fabled Daytona 500 for the second time in his career after finishing second in the race three of the last four years.
“Man, winning this race is the greatest feeling you can feel in the sport, aside from obviously accepting the trophy for the championship,” he said. “This is amazing. I can't believe this is happening. I'll never take this for granted, because this just doesn't happen twice, let alone once.”
Earnhardt Jr. admitted that, after winning his first 500, the feeling of winning his second has extra meaning because of the hard work the team put in “year after year after year,” and especially coming as close as a racer can get to winning, finishing second three times in the last four Daytona 500s.
“I didn't know if I'd ever get a chance to feel that again,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “It feels so good.”
He also thanked his fans for the support over the years before adding, “We can get that off our chest and we are two-time Daytona 500 champion.”
The win didn't come easily by any means and the day was a long one.
The Daytona 500 was barely underway when a rainstorm parked cars for six hours and 22 minutes. Once track activity resumed, drivers were not only racing each other, but they were trying to beat more threatening weather headed their way.
The race ran trouble-free for almost 100 of the 200 laps around the Daytona International Speedway, until a 13-car wreck ended the day for several notables including Danica Patrick, who was looking to improve on last year's eighth-place finish. She was at a loss for works as her car sat on the rain-soaked infield grass and could only utter, “What the hell happened?”
Sixteen laps after racing resumed, another wreck, involving 11 cars, brought out the yellow flag and then, six laps from the end of the race, a seven-car accident signaled the 2014 Daytona 500 was going to be a sprint to the finish.
During the caution laps, Earnhart Jr. ran over a piece of tape left on the track and it became stuck on part of the radiator intake grille. As cars made their way around the track under yellow-flag conditions, Earnhardt weaved back and forth inches behind the pace car in a futile attempt at trying to dislodge the obstruction.
On the final lap and with less than a mile to go in the race and the leaders in an all-out sprint for the checkered flag, another wreck ensured the 2014 running of the Daytona 500 would end under caution-flag conditions. With the clock closing in on midnight, Earnhardt Jr. was a car-length ahead of Denny Hamlin as he crossed the finish line. Brad Keselowski was third, followed by Jeff Gordon and reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson.
At the end of day, and despite the prestige surrounding the Great American Race, the Daytona 500 is just the opening round of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Round 2, the Profit on CNBC 500, is one week away and will race at the Phoenix International Raceway on March 2.
More about Nascar, Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr, denny ham, Brad Keselowski
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