Dale Earnhardt Jr. claimed victory in a delayed NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Daytona, that ended with a massive crash that sent Austin Dillon flying into the catch fencing.
The accident occurred as the cars crossed the finish line, with Austin Dillon’s Richard Childress Chevrolet launching into the fencing and flipping over. Dillon walked away unscathed, but NASCAR said three fans in the grandstands were being treated for minor injuries having been hit by debris.
The event had been scheduled to start on Sunday night at 7:45 p.m. local time and was delayed by four hours due to constant rain before finally finishing in the early hours of Monday morning.
Earnhardt commanded the majority of the race, as he led 95 of the 160 laps to take his second victory of the season, the other having also come in a restrictor-plate race at Talladega in April. He edged out Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, while Kurt Busch and championship leader Kevin Harvick completed the top five for Stewart-Haas.
Earnhardt had controlled the race in the early stages, which included David Gilliland sparking a a multi-car pile-up as early as lap three, which accounted for Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano’s Penske Ford sustaining severe damage. After Earnhardt and Johnson exchanged the lead continuously until halfway, Earnhardt tumbled down the order during the fifth caution of the race on lap 87 of 160, as a slow pit stop dropped him to 10th.
That allowed Johnson to assume the lead, but Earnhardt patiently made his way back through and was in front again within 16 laps.
The safety car was called minutes later as Matt Kenseth lost control of his car and hit Kyle Larson, causing both men to spin and trigger the race’s second big crash. Last year’s July Daytona winner, Aric Almirola, was a victim of the incident as he suffered damage and was forced into retirement, along with Furniture Row’s Martin Truex Jr.
Earnhardt made his final pit stop during that caution, and from there he kept his cool and led all the way to the finish.
“I had a lot of fun tonight,” a somewhat subdued Earnhardt who admitted the crash was foremost in his thoughts. “We have such great motors and good cars. We ran very fast. I had to block a lot, get a lot of pushes from everybody. I had to run real hard to win this race here. We got shuffled back a few times.”
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