By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. donned his father’s old number along with his former Wrangler Colors in Friday night’s Subway Jalapeno 250 at Daytona. The paint scheme was in honor of his father who was elected into the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame class.
Earnhardt in a partnership with Richard Childress Racing, Dale Earnhardt Incorporated and Hendrick Motorsports, brought back to the track what every race fan has been wanting to see since the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500… The No. 3 car.
Now Earnhardt Jr. actually returned the No. 3 to the racetrack back in 2002 in a couple of Nationwide Series events in honor of his father including a victory in that car in the season opening race at Daytona that year, but that was nine years ago. So you can imagine just how great the anticipation for this moment really was.
The decision to run this car, and paint scheme was all Dale Jr.’s which placed the pressure to perform heavily on his shoulders… and he delivered.
Earnhardt ran a smart race Friday night starting from the third position. In the early stages of the race his car was incredibly loose (as were just about everybody else’s), but he hung in there and didn’t force the car into any silly situations.
Through the first 69 laps of the event it appeared Earnhardt would be the bridesmaid in this race, but on lap 70 the three car roared to the lead for the first time of the night with a pass on Kyle Busch, and he wouldn’t relinquish it the rest of the way. He would have to hold the field off on a green-white-checkered finish after Paul Menard cut a tire late in the race, but he wouldn’t be denied.
Earnhardt dominated every one of the final 33 laps of the race en route to his 23rd career NASCAR Nationwide Series victory.
The 23rd career Nationwide victory is significant because it now means that Earnhardt Jr., who’s career is often unfairly compared to his father’s, has actually passed his legendary father in career Nationwide Series victories. Not only that, but this win is Earnhardt’s first in the Nationwide Series since 2006, and it’s his first in any NASCAR series since 2008.
This also marked Tony Eury Jr.’s first win as a crew chief since 2008. Eury (Earnhardt’s cousin) was of course his crew chief until being removed from the pit box in 2009. Eury was especially emotional to capture victory at the place that took ‘everything’ from their family in 2001.
Earnhardt officially announced in victory lane that this would be the final time he would run his father’s famous number.
“This is it no more three for me.” Earnhardt said.
Add all of this to the fact that this race marked the debut of the new generation Nationwide Series car, and what you have is a recipe for an all-time classic race.
Joey Logano tried to make a charge for the lead on the last lap, but had to settle for second place when it appeared that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. would not pull out with him in his attempt to go for the lead. Logano came up just 94 thousandths of a second short of victory.
Following the race Logano mentioned that it was cool to push the three car back into victory lane like the old days, but that he was disappointed because he really wanted to win bad.
Stenhouse, who has had a rough rookie season had a great night and came home third followed by point leader Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick.
The 55,000 fans in attendance at Daytona International Speedway Friday night definitely got their money’s worth, and were treated to a very emotional and historic night.