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No conspiracy: Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t handed Daytona 500 win, he earned it

Feb 24, 2014, 12:25 AM EDT

Teammate Jimmie Johnson congratulates Dale Earnhardt Jr. after his win in Sunday's Daytona 500. Getty Images

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kyle Busch raised a lot of eyebrows when he said early during last Sunday’s front row qualifying for the Daytona 500 that there might be a conspiracy theory to put both Austin Dillon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the pole and outside pole.

Busch was kind of half-right in the sense that Dillon won the pole. And when Earnhardt rallied to win the actual race Sunday night, there’s the potential that conspiracy theories could light up again.

Forget it, said third-place finisher Brad Keselowski. Earnhardt earned his win in the Great American Race, pure and simple, fair and square, by effort not divine intervention – or gift – from the NASCAR gods.

“This particular race, there’s no drama, there’s no feeling that I don’t feel like anyone can legitimately have that there was some voodoo magic reason why he won. He earned it in every sense,” Keselowski said.

Even though he was disappointed not being able to get past Earnhardt to win the race himself, Keselowski couldn’t have been happier for his friend.

“He did a great job,” Keselowski said when asked by MotorSportsTalk. “If there’s ever a guy who’s due, it’s a guy who’s finished second three out of the last four years. That’s really saying something.

“He’s been right there, he’s knocked on the door, he runs restrictor plate races as an elite driver, probably in the top three, hadn’t got the win he probably deserved a couple times from a whole bunch of circumstances out of his control. He was due and today was his day. I’m happy for him.”

Keselowski probably feels a greater affinity for Earnhardt winning than most other competitors. Earnhardt provided Keselowski his big break to drive the No. 88 for the Earnhardt-owned JR Motorsports’ team in the Nationwide Series in 2007, after Keselowski had lost his main ride midway through the season.

“Dale obviously gave me my big opportunity and is probably my best friend in the garage outside of my teammate, Joey Logano, and his spotter is my neighbor,” Keselowski said. “There’s a lot of cross-pollination there. It’s good for them. I’m happy for him.”

Runner-up Denny Hamlin was especially bummed to finish second, telling reporters several times how disappointed he was.

But when asked by MotorSportsTalk if he was happy for Earnhardt winning his first race in nearly two years and only his third race since the start of the 2007 season, Hamlin seemed to temporarily snap out of his funk.

“It’s big for a lot of reasons,” Hamlin said. “He’s going into the last year with his current crew chief. They’re going to start making Chase plans now early. It’ll be good for the race team. They’re very flexible going forward with what they can do and try.

“It’s very significant if any Earnhardt wins at Daytona,” he added. “You’re going to have a tough time getting around Earnhardt in a green-white-checker at Daytona, anyway. Obviously, it’s a very significant day for their family and it’s great for the race team.”

Seated next to Hamlin on the media center stage, Dillon also chimed in on his thoughts about Earnhardt.

“It’s awesome,” Dillon said. “Junior has been so supportive of me bringing back the 3. … I want to thank him and congratulate him. For me, he’s been a little bit of a bigger brother for me, so it’s kinda cool.”

But perhaps the best quote of the night came immediately after the race from Jeff Gordon, Earnhardt’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate, who finished fourth in the race.

“Congrats to Junior, the world is right, Dale Jr. just won the Daytona 500. That’s a sign the 2014 season is going to be a good one,” said Gordon, who finished fourth in the race.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

  1. manik56 - Feb 24, 2014 at 12:46 AM

    Junior (or anyone) basically clinches his chase berth just goes to show how stupid this new format is.

  2. bender4700 - Feb 25, 2014 at 12:11 AM

    I don’t agree. It’s entirely too soon to say yay or nay of this format.

    Every driver now knows that winning, and winning now, can be a BIG advantage.

    Jr is likely going to be willing to take risks. Now, when pressed with a decision the team is more likely to take a risk, meaning a more exciting finish. Imagine if Jr is next to the leader, he doesn’t pit because they wanna go for the win knowing if they screw up and drop in the spots it won’t cost them as much as it would pay off if they win. Each race that has a new driver adds to the list of guys now willing to take a shot at a win and not worry if it back fires. Jr shoots for a win next week, back fires, doesn’t hurt as much. Wins, holy cow, that would be huge. Meanwhile, every other driver next week is on egg shells as they are every race when one bad race can seriously jeopardize your chase chances.

    Each race in the previous format had some excitement, but teams making LONG TERM plans and decisions made several REALLY boring.

    We don’t know if this format is good or not, one damn race is too soon to call something stupid. People hate change, people hate actually seeing if their initial opinion is right or wrong.

    The fact that every race from now till the chase has at least one driver who knows winning the race is much more appealing than maintaining a spot. How many guys tumbled in the points after a bad race. I think it will be good, but too soon to say for sure. But so far, the same old format leads to boring races through the year. (look at ratings, general fan interest, attendance).

    • bender4700 - Feb 25, 2014 at 12:14 AM

      Each race that produces a new winner adds..**

  3. worknman24hours - Feb 26, 2014 at 11:07 PM

    What Jerry Bonkowski wrote.

    Dale Jr. and the team aced this race.

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