From the drop of the green flag to the drop of the checkered flag, Sunday’s Daytona 500 was a historic one.
Young Alex Bowman put Dale Jr’s former No. 88 car on the pole for “The Great American Race.”
Yes, it did feel kind of weird not seeing Dale Jr. making laps in the Daytona 500, but for the 40th straight year, an Earnhardt raced in the Daytona 500. Dale Jr’s nephew Jeffrey Earnhardt kept the streak alive, racing the No. 00 Chevrolet for StarCom Racing.
We also said farewell to one of NASCAR’s most popular drivers as Danica Patrick took the green flag for the final time in a NASCAR stock car. She ended her career by wrecking out of the Daytona 500 and was not able to see the checkered flag wave as she crossed the start/finish line, but she will be missed in our sport.
Some can argue that she did not have much success in NASCAR but she touched many lives and will always be known as an inspiration and hero to many NASCAR fans.
How about the prize that everyone was racing for?
Those 40 drivers all had one goal, it was to hold up the famous Harley J. Earl trophy and forever be remembered as a Daytona 500 champion.
February 18, 2001, the same date this race was raced on, NASCAR lost a legend driving his famous No. 3 car. Dale Earnhardt left this world doing something he loved to do, which was to race, on a track that gave him so much trouble to win the biggest race of his life.
Twenty years ago, Earnhardt took his No. 3 car to victory lane at the Daytona 500.
After so many years of trying and frustration, the No. 3 car conquered the Daytona 500 and whether you liked him or not, you felt some compassion that he finally won that race.
Twenty years later, the No. 3 made it back to victory lane.
The No. 3 car was doing donuts on the grass like it did twenty years ago. Richard Childress’s grandson Austin Dillon did it, he won the Daytona 500.
“It’s so awesome to take the No. 3 car back to victory lane. This one is for Dale Earnhardt and all those Earnhardt fans,” Dillon said.
After his controversial pass on the last lap, he won the biggest race of his career.
Dillon did what he had to do, he wanted that win just as bad as Aric Almirola, who was leading the race with less than a lap to go.
If you are a racer that wants to win the Daytona 500, a race that many drivers dream of winning, you probably aren’t going to lift off the throttle on the last lap of the Daytona 500.
Almirola finished the race in the infield care center, heartbroken that his dreams of winning the Daytona 500 had vanished on the last lap.
“My heart is broken,” he said, “but the beauty is we’ll go to Atlanta and we’ve got an incredible race team here at Stewart-Haas Racing and we’ll have another shot next week.”
How about the runner-up finisher of the Daytona 500? It was the famous No. 43 car, driven by rookie Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr.
It felt a little like there were two winners at the end of the race.
Not only did emotions take over Austin Dillon, Bubba showed tons of emotion after the race that many of us did not expect Bubba to ever show.
During his press conference, Bubba broke down and could not contain his emotions after his mother hugged him and told him, “I’m so proud of you, baby.”
Bubba made history by finishing second which made him the highest finishing African American in Daytona 500 history.
Trying to hide his emotions, Bubba said “I just try so hard to be successful at everything I do,” “And my family pushes me each and every day, and they might not even know it. But I just want to make them proud.”
The 2018 season began with the No. 3 and No. 43 finishing one, two in the Daytona 500.
Two numbers that have seen so much success and carry so much history.
The future of NASCAR looks bright and this Daytona 500 truly defined it.