Dale Earnhardt Jr. rules Daytona 500 without win

Dale Earnhardt Jr.DAYTONA BEACH -- The "big one" refers to the crash unlike any other in a given restrictor-plate race fans long for in pack racing. But that crash didn't come during the green flag, but during a caution where Juan Pablo Montoya crashed into a jet dryer at seemingly full speed trying to catch up with the lead lap drivers.

Fortunately, Montoya walked away from the fiery crash and the driver of the jet dryer vehicle was released from Halifax Medical Center with minor injuries. This Daytona 500 had all the drama a race fan could ask for and then some which made the wait for the dryer fuel to be cleaned off worth it.

Like any true drama, the best was saved for last, even if a clear majority of the fans here in the stands and those in front of TVs at home or at sports bars were let down by the last-lap win of Matt Kenseth over the hard-charging Hendrick-powered Chevy wheeled by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Had Earnhardt won, this might have gone down as one of the greatest 500s of the the new century. It had all of the intrigue. The return to pack racing from the boring tandem racing.

The race itself being called off from its traditional Sunday afternoon start until Monday night under the lights of Daytona International Speedway. Jimmy Johnson getting knocked out on lap No. 2. Not that big of a deal. Danica Patrick in her first Daytona 500 start? Ant--climactic. Jeff Gordon blowing an engine. A mild surprise. Tony Stewart getting caught up in a late wreck. He hasn't won the 500 so that too was a mild surprise.

Montoya's fiery wreck? A big surprise and a major bummer since the race was delayed 2 hours, 5 minutes and 29 seconds. This was almost s bad as the year NASCAR had the embarrassment of the big pothole a couple years back.

None of it, though, compares to Dale Earnhardt Jr. challenging for the won on the final lap and trying to end his winless streak at 129 races. Nothing comes close to Junior's popularity with NASCAR fans. The Old Man would be proud, even with Junior now at 130 races without a win. After all, he gave it his all.

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Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet newspaper serving the Daytona Beach-New Smyrna Beach / Sanford-Orlando metropolitan region via HeadlineSurfer.com. Florida's first around-the-clock newspaper was launched April 7, 2008, in New Smyrna Beach, initially as NSBNews.net and VolusiaNews.net. Headline Surfer is a registered trademark of NSB News LLC. Headline Surfer® Publisher Henry Frederick, is recognized as one of Florida's top award-winning cops & courts reporters, who has received more awards for such coverage than any other reporter working in Central Florida. He's the top journalist in the Florida Press Club two years running with seven journalism awards for 15 breaking news and investigative stories, three blogs and top internet site. He's the only reporter to win awards for coverage of the Trayvon Martin slaying as well as the subsequent George Zimmerman murder trial acquittal in Sanford. He's also won state, regional and national journalism awards for his coverage of cops and courts fear 8 1/2 years at the Daytona Beach News-Journal, where he witnessed and reported on the execution of serial killer Aileen Wuornos and covered the civil trial brought by NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt's widow to keep his autopsy files sealed. Before that before he covered cops & courts for Gannett Suburban Newspapers / The Journal News in Westchester and Rockland counties in New York, where he won a highly-coveted Associated Press Award for breaking news. Before launching the 24/7 internet newspaper in 2008, he was an award-winning city editor for the Taunton Daily Gazette, in his native Massachusetts for two years, winning a national investigative award on municipal corruption. The first of Frederick's three books, for which he has secured publishing rights, is called "Creepy Ass Cracker" (840 pages, Xlibris), which will hit bookstores in September. His second book, "Wrestling ReWind," is expected to be published in January 2015. The third book is not yet titled.
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