Countdown to Daytona: Remembering Dale Jr.’s first 500 victory

The 59th Daytona 500 is now a mere 8 days away. On Feb. 26th at 2 p.m. ET on FOX, 40 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers will roll off at Daytona International Speedway to kick off the Great American Race.

So today’s look back takes us to 2004, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the first of his two Daytona 500s, as he thundered to victory in the No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet.

Earnhardt qualified third for the race behind the Fords of pole-sitter Greg Biffle and Elliott Sadler. But when Biffle’s team had to replace an engine prior to the 500, Earnhardt was elevated to the pole position.

On Lap 72 there was a caution flag for a 12-car crash on the backstretch that took out two-time Daytona 500 winners Michael Waltrip and Sterling Marlin, along with Jamie McMurray, among others.

Remarkably, though, once the track went green on Lap 81, it stayed green the rest of the way, with the final 120 laps running caution-free.

Tony Stewart led a race-high 98 laps, but once again was thwarted in his hopes for a Daytona 500 victory, as Earnhardt passed him on Lap 181 and held on from there to win by 0.273 seconds.

With 58 laps led, Earnhardt was the only driver other than Stewart to lead more than 20 laps in the race. But in the end, it was Earnhardt and the No. 8 Chevrolet for the win on NASCAR’s biggest stage.