DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—Dale Earnhardt Jr. came out of nowhere to nearly pull off a surprise Daytona 500 victory.
Earnhardt somehow charged from 10th to second in the final two laps Sunday, but couldn’t run down winner Jamie McMurray as they raced to the finish line.
“It was all a blur,” Earnhardt said. “I was just going wherever they weren’t. I really don’t enjoy being that aggressive. But if there was enough room for the radiator to fit, you just kind of held the gas down and prayed for the best.”
Earnhardt’s runner-up finish at Daytona isn’t necessarily an indication that he’ll be good at other tracks. But it was a healthy shot of momentum for a driver facing intense pressure to perform for Hendrick Motorsports this season.
“It’s great for our team to have a finish good anywhere no matter what,” Earnhardt said. “I was happy. I’m happy for the finish and it validates the changes they made and the hard work they’ve done over the offseason to get better.”
Earnhardt won the Daytona 500 in 2004 and the July Daytona race in 2001, but had finished 27th or worse in four of his last six Sprint Cup races at the track where an accident claimed his father’s life in 2001.
Earnhardt said he drove more aggressively Sunday.
“I figured, ‘What do I have to do to finish one of these things and finish it good?”’ Earnhardt said. “I might have been a little too careful, you know?”
It was NASCAR’s second attempt at a “green-white-checker” finish, an overtime-like provision intended to make it less likely that races will end under caution. The rule was tweaked during Speedweeks to allow for up to three attempts at a green-flag finish -- instead of just one.
Earnhardt said he was in 22nd place going into the final laps of regulation.
Still, Earnhardt said the strong finish didn’t exactly dull the financial pain from Saturday’s Nationwide race. Earnhardt flipped and completely tore up his car, and teammate Danica Patrick heavily damaged her car when she got caught up in a crash.
Earnhardt said Saturday that JR Motorsports’ bill to replace his Nationwide car and repair Patrick’s could total approximately $200,000. The total bill for bringing a pair of Nationwide cars to Daytona was even more.
“No, no, nothing will dull that—unless someone has a $600,000 check they want to give me,” Earnhardt said.