Dale Jr’s last Daytona was a disappointment, but he certainly hasn’t retired yet

Lucy Atkinson

Daytona races are always a chaotic affair. The weekend had its precedent set nicely by the Xfinity drivers who all put on a great race that was jam packed full of speedy action. The Monster Energy Cup Series embarked on the second race here this season in the Coke Zero 400. On the pole for this race was fan favourite Dale Earnhardt Jr after a mind blowing qualifying run. Hoping to win his final full-time cup career race at this legendary track, the pressure was certainly on.

Unfortunately for Dale Jr, it was not meant to be. After leading for a while, he felt a flat tyre on his car around 55 laps into the race. He lifted off the throttle but ended up being hit by Menard and had to head to pit road where he ended up going down by a couple of laps. Cautions were thrown and Dale ultimately ended up back on the lead lap after getting the “free pass.” He’d even made it as high as seventh place again until Harvick span out due to a flat tyre and took Dale with him. This was the end of his day with only 54 laps to go in the race.

Talking about the race, Dale had this to say:

“I definitely had enough race car, it was just a matter of getting back up toward the lead. We were going to have to be real aggressive. The car was good — it was shaking and … it wasn’t straight all the way around, but it would still run pretty good. I know everybody thought this was our best shot to win, but things like this give us a little more fuel to work hard and try to show people where we can win at some of the other race tracks.”

The action didn’t stop with Dale though, as the race saw a whole array of incidents and brought many surprises, including two cautions. Keselowski, Elliott, Harvick and Dale Jr all took turns at leading, with Keselowski taking the stage for his third of the season.

Later on, the young guys showed what they were capable of; Blaney, Ty Dillon, Erik Jones and Bubba Wallace Jr all ran up front midway through Stage 3.

The record number of cautions for a summer Daytona was 12, and this was matched with 30 laps to go. The big names were out–Dale Jr, Harvick, Austin Dillon and Martin Truex Jr– and when Kyle Larson got up into the air, the 13th cautioned eclipsed the record.

The race restarted with three to go and shortly after we saw Erik Jones and Hamlin slide out onto the infield, triggering the 14th caution flag. The race was going to end in overtime. David Ragan led for the first of the two final laps, but it was Stenhouse who got the victory here at a chaotic Daytona under green – despite Elliott sliding out on the final lap.

Dale Jr ended on this note:

“It was as lot of fun — we were really aggressive, banging doors and sliding against the fence. It was pretty wild. It was like a little short-track race tonight. … The heat and the Fourth of July, everything is pointing in the direction of getting all the drivers really on edge, on the chip. There was a lot of carnage out there. It was really aggressive in the pack. That was fun as long as we didn’t get taken out or take ourselves out. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it through the race.”

Have we seen the last of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s success this season? Absolutely not. According to the man himself, not winning his final full-time Daytona race is not the be all and end all. After all–in true NASCAR style–it’s not over until it’s over.