Nighttime proved the right time for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. The Hendrick Motorsports driver finished first in a race that featured downpour delays, multiple crashes, twenty different leaders, and forty-four lead changes.
Earnhardt had waited ten years to win the Daytona 500 again. A multi-hour delay forced him to wait a little longer.
With rain falling and a possible tornado encroaching, NASCAR stopped the race after 38 laps with Kyle Busch in the lead. The rain delay left Fox scrambling for content. The network showed last year’s race, which left confused fans believing that Jimmie Johnson had repeated as champion. “I hear I won the #Daytona500?” Johnson tweeted. “Haha! I also have friends confused and texting congratulations to me.” Johnson wound up finishing fifth.
After the six-hour rain delay, the race resumed at around 8:30 p.m. Eastern time. Three major crashes from fifty-five laps-to-go to the seventh-to-last lap impacted more than thirty cars. The smash-ups all involved, to varying degrees, Sprint Cup Series rookie driver Austin Dillon.
Earnhardt’s victory, his first in fifty-five races, took on added significance given his father’s death on the same track thirteen years ago. Newcomer Dillon also raced the number three car for the first time since Dale Earnhardt, Sr.’s fatal crash.
Denny Hamlin finished second and Jeff Gordon third. The crash at lap 146 knocked Danica Patrick from the racetrack into the garage.