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So Close! Dale Jr. Finishes 2nd in the Daytona 500

By Mike Davis, JR Motorsports | Race Report Published 2/28/2012
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Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, survived multiple cautions and an extended red flag period to score a second-place finish in the Daytona 500.

Race: Daytona 500
Track Specs: 2.5 miles; superspeedway / 200 Laps
Weather: Mostly Cloudy; 80 deg.
Race Winner: Matt Kenseth
Dale Jr.'s Finish: 2nd

In a truly bizarre race that featured a 36-hour rain delay, a fiery inferno from a wreck with a jet blower, and a green-white-checkered finish, Dale Earnhardt Jr. survived it all to finish second in the 54th running of the Daytona 500. It was Earnhardt Jr.'s third runner-up finish in the Daytona 500 in 13 career starts to go with his one win (2004) and five top-5s.

Already delayed a full day-and-a-half from rain, the race started Monday evening and ended Tuesday morning thanks to 10 caution flags and a two-hour red-flag stoppage. The red flag waved when a freak accident under caution with 40 laps to go saw Juan Pablo Montoya lose control of his ailing car and slam into a jet blower full of diesel fuel. With the drivers safely out of harm's way, both vehicles erupted into a fiery blaze that engulfed the area in turn three and required heavy clean-up and track repair.

When the race resumed some two hours later, Earnhardt Jr. slipped the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew / National Guard Chevrolet back into its second-place standing and jockeyed inside the top-five for the duration. A six-car accident involving Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and others set up a green-white-checkered sprint to the finish. Trailing Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, and Denny Hamlin, Junior drove the 88 into third and rode Biffle's bumper anticipating a two-car strategic attack on Kenseth. But Biffle never moved from beneath Kenseth's bumper. With the checkered flag in site, Earnhardt Jr. darted to the outside of Biffle's Ford on the short chute and beat him to the stripe by half a car length.

The Daytona 500 victory was Kenseth's second in four years. Hamlin and Jeff Burton rounded out the top-five finishers behind Earnhardt Jr. and Biffle.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. / Driver No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet
"I sure would have liked to win that one. I just told Greg (after the race) that I was going to push him on that last restart. I kept waiting and waiting and waiting. It looked like he was going to try to make a move on the back straightaway, but nothing materialized there. Then we came off four, and I kind of waited till the last second for him to have his opportunity to pass Matt and nothing happened so I just pulled out and went around him. The Roush guys were really quick all week. I was proud of the horsepower we had in our Hendrick car. We had great speed in our car all week down here. The guys did a great job on the body. I want to thank all the guys that worked on this car at the shop. The craftsmanship – the inside and outside – it looks so good every time it comes down here. It performed well, the team did a great job, Steve (Letarte) did a good job calling the race.

"It was unfortunate what happened over there in turn three tonight. I'm glad everybody's OK, and I hate it for the fans to have to wait around for the finish so late. But they stuck around, and that's why NASCAR fans are the best. Hopefully they enjoyed it."

Daytona 500 Race Report
Start 5th
Finish 2nd
Laps Completed (Led) 202 of 202 (0)
Points 42
Standings 2nd
Pitstops Laps 15, 60, 65, 83, 130 and 158
Condition Running

 

Standings
After MyAFibStorycom 400
Rank +/- Driver Points Behind
1 -- Brad Keselowski 2059 0
2 -- Jeff Gordon 2052 -7
3 +2 Joey Logano 2049 -10
4 +2 Kevin Harvick 2047 -12
5 -2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2042 -17
6 -2 Jimmie Johnson 2041 -18
7 +1 Kyle Busch 2041 -18
8 +1 Denny Hamlin 2041 -18
9 +1 Kurt Busch 2039 -20
10 +1 Kasey Kahne 2034 -25
11 +3 Matt Kenseth 2034 -25
12 -5 Carl Edwards 2030 -29
Full Standings