Most memorable Daytona 500s: No. 5 – Like father, not like son

Jay Hart
Yahoo! SportsFebruary 10, 2008

Editors note: In celebration of the 50th running of the Daytona 500, Yahoo! Sports asked you to vote on the most memorable 500s of all time. More than 37,000 of you chimed in to select the top five. All this week we're counting them down to No. 1, beginning today with No. 5.

He didn't have to wait 20 years to win, like his father. In 2004, Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Daytona 500 in only his fifth try – or 15 fewer attempts than Dale Earnhardt Sr. needed.

Junior won using a Senior-esque move when, with 20 laps to go, he left the comforts of the draft, dipped below leader Tony Stewart and blew right by as the two came down Daytona's frontstretch. Stewart never could catch up as Junior went on to win by four car lengths and, in the process, exorcised a demon that haunted his father for most of his adult life.

Coming in at No. 5 in the readers' vote for most memorable Daytona 500s of all time is Earnhardt Jr.'s victory in 2004. Here, in his own words, is how Junior remembers winning that day:

"I was relieved that I had won it in my fifth year. I was so relieved. To know for sure that I wasn't going to have to wait 20 years, and maybe not win it. There are a lot of great names in this sport that didn't get the chance to get into that victory lane. … I feel so lucky.

"I get asked all the time to explain what it feels like to win in that race, and you struggle really hard. That's probably one of the hardest questions to answer for me, because there aren't words to describe that feeling.

"I got an average vocabulary when it comes to Mooresville, North Carolina. I feel like I do pretty good. It's hard to answer that question. It is hard to try to tell someone that hasn't ever been there what it feels like, 'cause it's just the craziest thing. It's a great, great feeling. You ride that for days and days. You know, it's just amazing.

"I've won races, and by the next Sunday, you practiced, qualified, things have happened to where you're back to zero. The emotion and the high is gone. You're proud, but the high is gone. You're just back to zero, trying again.

"But when we won the Daytona 500, I carried that feeling for months. I didn't even have to try. It's so hard to win. There's so many great drivers that never won it, that deserve it. So the wave of relief was apparent.

"But, you know, the feeling that you have and the gratification that you have – because we try really hard. I don't know why. You know, the races in the season are so important at every stop. You tell me why we focus so much on that race and why we test so hard and why we massage those cars more than any other car that we'll race the rest of the year?

"I mean, (teams) spend hours on them damn things, and it don't make one bit a sense that it's more important than the other races. But it is, and it always will be."