DAYTONA BEACH, Florida, 17 February 2004 — Dale Earnhardt Jr. clinched an emotional win at the Daytona 500 Sunday, claiming victory on the track that took the life of his revered father.
Earnhardt arrived in Daytona as the clear favorite and produced an inspired, near-perfect drive to join his father, seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt Sr., as a winner of the Great American Race.
Stalking Tony Stewart for much of the second half of the 200 lap race, Earnhardt made the decisive move with 19 laps to run powering his Chevrolet into the lead then holding on to win as over 200,000 spectators stood and roared their approval.
After a victory lap around the 2-1/2 mile oval, Earnhardt coasted to stop on the finish line and climbed out of his car punching his fists in the air in wild celebration as his team, founded by his father, charged across the infield to mob him.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. won 34 different races here but only one Daytona 500 and that came in 1998 on his 20th attempt.
While Sunday’s win was worth $1.4 million it was priceless for Earnhardt, who had watched his father die in a crash on the final turn of the last lap of the 2001 event.
A bronze statue of Earnhardt Sr. stands in front of the Daytona International Speedway, serving as a constant reminder and inspiration for his son, who had said earlier that he did not want the 500 to become a haunting obsession.