A total of 85 points races is a long drought for any NASCAR driver to be in without making it to Victory Lane. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was one of the drivers who was experiencing this, but it all ended on Friday night.
Earnhardt finally got his first points win since 2008 in the Nationwide Series race yesterday at Daytona International Speedway. It was his first Nationwide win since 2006 in Michigan and ironically did it in a race which paid tribute to his father. He won it in the famed No. 3 car and is finally glad to be back in Victory Lane.
“I was just relieved,” he said. “Victory Lane’s like when you’re a little kid and you’ve got a tree house or you and your buddies got a clubhouse in the woods. That’s what Victory Lane is to me, and I like going there. You miss it really bad, but you know it’s there and you can get back there again if you try really hard.
“It’s not gone, but it’s very difficult to get into. Every time I win, I just soak it up like a sponge.”
With 26 laps remaining, Earnhardt took the lead on pit road under caution. A wreck by Paul Menard with four laps to go left the outcome kind of shaky. Earnhardt opted not to pit under the caution and held off Joey Logano and a few other drivers to seal the win. He drove the No. 3 Chevrolet with a Wrangler paint theme to honor his father and his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. As he raced in the final sprint toward the checkered flag, his loyal fans rose their feet in celebration.
“I was so worried that I wasn’t going to win, because nothing but winning was good enough,” Earnhardt said. “If you didn’t win, what a waste of time. I worked hard to try to win it, not only for Daddy, I am proud of him going into the Hall of Fame, and he would be proud of this, I’m sure.
“Just all his fans. He had so many great fans. Not just mine. This is for his fans. Hopefully, they enjoyed this.”
Logano finished second on Friday after making a strong run to pass Earnhardt in the final laps. Despite the loss, he felt good about the outcome and knows that beating Earnhardt could have brought about mixed emotions from many NASCAR fans.
“I probably gained a lot of fans tonight by pushing the 3 to victory, but I’d much rather be in Victory Lane,” Logano said. “It’s cool to see the 3 in Victory Lane at Daytona. It’s really neat. A lot of people thought they would never see that again.”