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February 24. 2014 12:23AM
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. held off a late charge by Denny Hamlin to win his second Daytona 500 late Sunday night at Daytona International Speedway. With a big push from Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon on the final restart with two laps to go, Earnhardt was able to get a big enough lead to earn the win 10 years after his first 500 victory. The race was red-flagged for six hours and 22 minutes due to rain, and it looked as if the weather might force the event to be stopped before the full 200 laps. However, the rain held off, and Earnhardt was able to stay in front despite three caution flags in the final 20 laps. Gordon finished third. He was followed by Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Matt Kenseth, rookie Austin Dillon (the pole-sitter), Greg Biffle and Casey Mears. Dillon was involved in two wrecks but was able to score his top-10 finish in the return of the 3 car. With the crew chiefs telling their drivers that rain wasn't that far away, the racing really started heating up with 60 laps to go. The result was a 12-car accident on lap 145 with both Danica Patrick and Paul Menard slamming hard into the frontstretch wall. Both drivers were unhurt. The accident was triggered when Kevin Harvick clipped the left front fender of Brian Scott, sending Scott into Aric Almirola. The cars involved were Patrick, Menard, Scott, Almirola, Parker Kligerman, Michael Waltrip, David Gilliland, Dillon, Kasey Kahne, Marcos Ambrose, Justin Allgaier and Josh Wise. All of the leaders pitted for fuel with 50 laps to go. Biffle came off pit road first, followed by Earnhardt, Carl Edwards, Johnson, Kenseth, Keselowski, Joey Logano, Hamlin, Reed Sorenson and Gordon. Dillon was able to continue after being involved in the accident, but he obviously was having trouble. His car slid back and forth across the track before it clipped fellow rookie Kyle Larson to trigger a 10-car accident on lap 161 in turn four. Before that accident, the racing at the front was quite heated, with the first 28 cars running side-by-side, led by the duel between Earnhardt and Biffle for the lead. Earnhardt held a slight edge when the fourth caution flag of the long evening came out. However, the outcome was definitely in doubt as the green flag was waved again with 32 laps to go. After the long red flag caused by rain, the cars returned to the track and treated the fans who returned to their seats to a great battle for the top spot as they raced two- and sometimes three-wide. Kyle Busch, who was leading at the time of the lengthy delay, suffered a stop-and-go penalty for a pit-road infraction during a routine pit stop on lap 73, severely damaging his hopes of winning his first Daytona 500. He dropped a lap down. Kahne spun as he exited pit road when his front splitter hit the pavement, dropping him a lap back, too. Paul Menard was the leader at the halfway mark of the race, but defending Daytona 500 champion Johnson grabbed the lead two laps later with teammate Earnhardt on his bumper. The top 10 with 90 laps to go were Johnson, Earnhardt, Menard, Kurt Busch, Keselowski, Logano, Brian Vickers, Harvick, Edwards and Hamlin. As the 500 moved into its second half, the race started developing into a pit-strategy affair with several of the leaders operating on different fuel plans. For example, Johnson and Earnhardt pitted for fuel right after the race was restarted after the long rain delay, while most of the leaders decided not to pit before the green flag came back out. As a result, Johnson and Earnhardt were able to run 13 more laps than Menard and Harvick, putting them in position to make one fewer pit stop. However, with rain supposedly in the area, the question became whether the race would go the full distance. With 60 laps to go, Earnhardt was leading. He was followed by Edwards, Biffle, Johnson, Kenseth, Logano, Hamlin, Keselowski, Harvick and Scott. At that point, Tony Stewart was behind the wall due to fuel pump problems, while Clint Bowyer was sidelined by engine failure. NOTES: The first yellow flag came out on lap 22 when rookie Kyle Larson spun in turn two. Larson hit the wall on lap three. ... Another yellow flag flew on lap 30 when Martin Truex Jr. suffered a blown engine. "I went to bed thinking this was the best shot I've ever had at winning the Daytona 500," Truex said. "We had such a great car. That is why this is such a shame. Something knocked the fuel pump off." Truex finished 43rd.