14 from ’14, Day 1: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s greatest win

2014 Daytona 500Running down my favorite stories/photos/assorted strangeness from 2014. Today: the best race I’d ever seen in person…up to that point.

We’re not supposed to root for individuals or teams when we’re writing; we’re supposed to root for a good story. NASCAR’s best story — hell, one of sports’ best stories — is that of Dale Earnhardt Jr., the son of a seven-time champion who can’t seem to measure up to his father in some ways, but has far superseded him in others. It’s Shakespearean drama at 200 mph, and it hit a high point in February of this year at the Daytona 500, when Junior outran everyone else on the track to win the biggest race of his career.

I was there, a bit bleary from a six-hour rain delay and too much media center steam table food, and snapped that photo above in the middle of victory lane as champagne and beer sprayed in every direction. Here’s the first part of the story I wrote:


Dale Earnhardt Jr., fresh off his victory in the Daytona 500, strode into the Daytona media center, normally a staid workplace where open displays of emotion are frowned upon, and bellowed in celebration.

“I bet nobody’s yelled like that in here in 30 years,” Earnhardt said as he sat down, grinning through his red beard. “People used to yell like that all the time when they won.”

It was a slick, if perhaps unintentional, bridge to NASCAR’s past, a past that has dogged Earnhardt like an extra passenger in his car … or, more accurately, like a cinder block tied to his rear bumper. Earnhardt, because of his surname, can’t ever escape the past, but with this triumphant victory, at long last he appears to have wrestled it at least to a draw.


Check out the rest here. I think I’ve still got some confetti from that victory lane jammed in my ears.


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