By AMANDA VINCENT
Dale Earnhardt Jr. put on a dominating performance at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in the wee hours of Monday morning, leading 96 laps of the 161-lap Coke Zero 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race that began late Sunday night after a rain delay and was extended a lap by a green-white-checker attempt on his way to his second win of the season and the fourth of his career at Daytona.
“Just great motors; the guys in the engine shops do osuch a good job, so got to thank all those guys,” Earnhardt said. “My 88 boys, all the guys back at the shop, they put together such good cars. This car is the one we won Talladega with. It’s going to get retired one of these days. Hopefully, we get to keep using it. Hopefully, the boss man doesn’t put it in the barn, yet.”
A multi-car wreck broke out right behind Earnhardt, a wreck that saw Austin Dillon flip violently, get into the frontstretch catchfence and fall apart before coming to rest. Dillon emerged from his car uninjured, as did the other drivers involved in the crash
“I am just going to be really sore,” Dillon said. “It got my tailbone pretty good and my arm. Should be fine, just go ice it up and get ready for Kentucky. But just thank the good Lord for taking care of me and for what NASCAR has done to make the sport this much safer. I just hope everybody in the stands is alright. That is the next biggest concern.”
A few fans in the grandstands weren’t so lucky.
According to Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood II, 13 fans were medically examined. Eight of those declined treatment, four were treated at the infield care center, and one was transported to a local hospital.
Having already crossed the start/finish line by the time his car came to rest, Dillon wound up with a seventh-place finish.
Hendrick Motorsports dominated the race. Earnhardt’s HMS teammate Jimmie Johnson finished second after leading 35 laps. There were times in the race when Hendrick cars occupied the top-four spots in the running order before Kasey Kahne was involved in an on-track incident on lap 105. The fourth HMS driver, Jeff Gordon, finished just outside the top-five in sixth.
Denny Hamlin, despite spinning in the final-lap melee, finished third, while Kevin Harvick spun to a fourth-place finish. Kurt Busch rounded out the top-five.
“The 4 (Harvick) was pushing me or trying to push me to the line, and he had us jacked up,” Hamlin said. “We crossed the line, I thought, or we were close. He was trying to help, but it just wrecked a bunch of stuff. None of us were going to win the race for second and third. We all have wins, so at some point, you have to hit the concede button.”
Weather also played into Saturday’s track activity, with Sprint Cup qualifying being cancelled. The grandstands were evacuated for lightning in the area just before qualifying was scheduled to begin, and when rains came, Cup qualifying was called off as the scheduled start time for the evening’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race drew near.
Earnhardt was awarded the pole and Dillon the other front-row starting spot, based on lap times during the first practice session on Friday.
Before the race-ending wreck, other incidents resulted in nine cautions, several of them for multi-car wrecks.
Finishing eighth through 10th were Ryan Newman, Trevor Bayne and Clint Bowyer.
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