Dale Earnhardt Jr. outlasted a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay and the rest of his competitors to capture victory Sunday night in the 56th running of the Daytona 500.
It was the longest Daytona 500 in history starting in the sunlight and ending shortly before midnight. However, the long delay didn't dampen the spirits of the race winner as Jr. celebrated with his team and fans well into the night.
"You realize at that moment there's countless people watching on television, there's countless sitting in the grandstands with your shirts and hats on, your team over on pit wall, your crew chief, your family back home watching," said Jr. on what this victory means to him. "There's so many people pulling for you that want to see you win."
When asked to put into words what he thought about NASCAR's biggest star winning NASCAR's biggest race, Earnhardt was a little speechless.
"It's the greatest feeling you can have as a driver in NASCAR at a single event in a single day," continued the race winner. "Just trying to explain what that feeling is to people, I've been trying to tell people for 10 years what that felt like. It's just hard to put it into words what winning this race really means you."
Team owner Rick Hendrick didn't have any trouble expressing what this victory meant to his team.
"This race is so big and it is our Super Bowl, so it will carry us, this team," said a proud Hendrick after the race. "I'm excited to watch them. Now you're in the Chase, just go race hard and have fun."
Earnhardt's competitors knew it was a special kind of night for NASCAR's brightest star and didn't seem too disappointed to see him claim that elusive second victory.
"He runs restrictor plates as an elite driver, probably in the top three," said third place finisher, Brad Keselowski. "Hasn't got the win that he probably deserved a couple times from a whole bunch of circumstances out of his control. He was due. Today was his day."
Under NASCAR's new rules, a victory is the first checkmark in qualifying for the Championship Chase at the end of the season. Earnhardt can now focus on winning more bonus points as the season progresses. With his crew chief leaving at season's end, I'm sure that Jr. would like to send him off in style with a Sprint Cup Championship under his belt.
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