Dale Earnhardt Jr. made a promise and a promise he kept; he sent out his first tweet shortly after he captured his second Daytona 500 victory.
After rain delayed the 56th Annual Daytona 500 for 6 hours and 22 minutes after just 38 laps of racing, Earnhardt Jr. climbed in to his National Guard Chevrolet and drove it to victory, holding off Denny Hamlin in the closing laps.
Leading six times for a total of 54 laps, the 39-year-old had to not only battle Hamlin, but Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and teammate Jimmie Johnson as well.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling you can feel in the sport, aside from … accepting the trophy for the championship,” Earnhardt Jr. said in Victory Lane.
Earnhardt Jr. has finished second in three of his last four Daytona 500 starts including last season when he made a last lap move to come in second behind Johnson. This season, the spotlight was all his since his last victory in Michigan in 2012, 56 races ago.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling you can feel in the sport, aside from … accepting the trophy for the championship,” Earnhardt Jr. said in the winner’s circle.
“I didn’t know if I’d ever get a chance to feel that again and it feels just as good if not better than the first because of how hard we tried year after year, running second all those years and wondering why and what we needed to do.
“We got a little help from Jeff (Gordon) to get away on that restart and tried to take care of if from there. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I’ll never take it for granted because this just doesn’t happen twice.”
Teammates and drivers alike were happy to see Earnhardt Jr. get the win.
“The world is right, right now. Dale Jr. just won the Daytona 500 to kick off 2014. That is a sign that the NASCAR season is going to be a good one,” said teammate Jeff Gordon.
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth was also glad to see Junior take the checkered flag. “I’m glad Dale got the win – he needed that. That was good for him and Denny — Denny was super fast all week and it looks like he almost pulled it off, too.”
Earnhardt Jr. could hardly put into words what this win meant to him.
“It’s hard to put into words what winning this race really means to you,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I felt lucky (in 2004) because I was with a lot of family back then. What makes this (race) special is the people that you have with you when it happens.”
“I just didn’t want him to be second again, you know?” Earnhardt Miller said.
“On a (nervous) scale of 1-10, I was about a 20,” Reimann told USA TODAY Sports.
In a Speedweeks filled with talk of the No.3 returning to the track, the Earnhardt family thought this was the perfect way to top it off.
“I just think it adds to our family heritage for Dale to pick up this win,” Earnhardt-Miller said. “It gives us something else to talk about besides the 3 being on the racetrack.”
Winning the Daytona 500 the year that his fathers famed No.3 returned to the Sprint Cup Series, Earnhardt Jr. will be talking about this race for years to come.
“It just seems like it’s too good to be true, really.”