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Earnhardt Leads Late Before Accident Ends Night Early

By Tyler Overstreet, JR Motorsports | Race Report Published 2/15/2014
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Race: Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway
Track Specs: 2.5-mile superspeedway
Weather: Clear, 55 degrees
Race Winner: Denny Hamlin
Dale Jr.’s Finish: 9th

Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked poised to win his third career Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway when a wreck with 10 laps wiped away his chances, ending his night early in ninth position.

Based on a fan vote, the starting lineup was determined by final practice speeds meaning Earnhardt Jr. started 14th of 18 cars. He wasted little time using the outside lane to work his way to as high as sixth before dropping to ninth when teammate Jimmie Johnson spun off turn four at lap 29 to end the race’s opening segment.

Earnhardt Jr. took evasive action to narrowly avoid an eight-car pileup at lap 36 when Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano made contact in the tri-oval sending Kenseth’s No. 20 car spinning and leaving other competitors with nowhere to go. The multi-car accident reduced the field to nine cars. After a brief red-flag period, Earnhardt Jr. climbed his way to the runner-up spot in the second segment before being shuffled to seventh on the final lap.

Another fan vote called for the final 20-lap stretch’s lineup to be determined by the crews on pit road. Knowing the mandatory stop only needed to be two tires, crew chief Steve Letarte chose to give the No. 88 fresh left-side tires only. The move gained Earnhardt Jr. three positions to restart the final segment fourth.

Knowing he had to make a move quickly, Earnhardt Jr. went on the offensive, charging to the inside of Jamie McMurray on lap 56 to take the lead. The No. 88 sat atop the leaderboard for seven laps before sliding back several positions while racing with Logano and Brad Keselowski. As the field headed towards turn one on lap 66, Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 was hooked hard into the outside wall by Marcos Ambrose’s No. 9 car. The damage sustained was enough to end the night early for the National Guard team and relegated Earnhardt Jr. to a ninth-place finish.

Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 88 team will be back at the 2.5-mile superspeedway Sunday for Daytona 500 qualifying at 1 p.m. on Fox. He is scheduled to take to the track first of 49 cars.

DALE JR. QUOTES
“It looks like I was trying to get down a little bit there and Marcos (Ambrose) went to the outside. I didn’t know he was out there; so you know, it was hard racing and I hate that it happened. I was upset with him but you can’t say it was really his fault. He was just going to the outside and I didn’t know he was up there. I thought he was staying with me because he had been pushing me down the straightaways, so I thought he was kind of committed to that situation and a lot was happening right there. We just got turned around.”

Daytona Race Report
Start 14th
Finish 9th
Laps Completed (Led) 65 of 75 (7)
Condition Accident

 

Standings
After Ford EcoBoost 400
Rank +/- Driver Points Behind
1 +3 Kevin Harvick 5043 0
2 +1 Ryan Newman 5042 -1
3 -2 Denny Hamlin 5037 -6
4 -2 Joey Logano 5028 -15
5 -- Brad Keselowski 2361 -2682
6 -- Jeff Gordon 2348 -2695
7 -- Matt Kenseth 2334 -2709
8 +2 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2301 -2742
9 -- Carl Edwards 2288 -2755
10 -2 Kyle Busch 2285 -2758
11 +2 Jimmie Johnson 2274 -2769
12 +2 Kurt Busch 2263 -2780
Full Standings