JR Motorsports |
Race: DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway
Track Specs: 2.5-mile tri-oval / 120 Laps
Weather: Clear, 80 degrees
Race Winner: Tony Stewart
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 4th
Rarely do top-five finishes end in the infield care center, but that is exactly how Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona ended for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Driving the No. 88 TaxSlayer.com Chevrolet, Earnhardt was part of a 15-car lead pack barreling to the checkered flag when the front two cars of Regan Smith and Brad Keselowski made contact. That triggered a chain-reaction melee behind them that collected all but one of the lead-pack cars and left the front tri-oval littered with debris.
Some of the debris – including a motor and tire from Kyle Larson’s Chevrolet – landed in the grandstands. Injuries sustained from the flying debris were not known as of this writing.
The intense finish was set up by a 20-minute red-flag period and a green-flag restart with two laps to go. Earnhardt had been mired mid-pack, but the late caution regrouped the field and put Junior in 11th for the sprint to the checkers.
The No. 88 Chevrolet climbed as high as fifth on the white-flag lap, but the group in front of him – Smith, Keselowski, Tony Stewart and Sam Hornish – put separation on the rest of the field. As they came off turn four, it became a two-car race, as Keselowski made a move to the outside of Smith’s No. 7 JR Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet, and the two lost control 400 yards shy of the finish line. That allowed Stewart to scoot by and claim his seventh Nationwide Series victory at Daytona, tying the record of the late Dale Earnhardt.
Although caught in the accident, Earnhardt Jr.’s Chevrolet crossed the finish line in fourth before coming to rest at the end of pit road. Earnhardt was taken to the infield care center, checked, and released.
DALE JR. QUOTES
What did you see from your vantage point?
“I think those guys up front were kind of going for the win, and somebody got turned around. You know, you’re kind of at the mercy of the guy pushing you coming to the finish line, and making any kind of moves is detrimental to the rest of the guys behind you, and we kind of all piled in there. I just hope everybody’s OK.”
At what point did you get collected?
“I thought we were going to get through there, but I barely clipped the right-front of Regan’s car as he was spinning to the right. It took the steering off my car. Somebody spun across the race track from the apron up just passed the finish line, and we hit real hard on the outside wall. I just hope all the people in the grandstands are OK. I think all the drivers are OK, so I just hope everybody else is fine.”
Have you seen the replay?
“I haven’t had a chance to see the replay, and I didn’t even see what happened with the fence. I’m not really concerned about that. I’m more concerned about the people up there in the grandstands.”
Did it feel like it was a matter of time before something big was going to happen?
“Nope, it happens at the last lap. It always does. You can bet on it.”
Daytona Nationwide Race Report
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