Dale Earnhardt Jr. charges on final restart, wins at Martinsville

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A decision to pit with less than 10 laps to go has yielded perhaps one of the most emotional victories ever for both Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports.

Under caution, Earnhardt was among several leaders that decided to get fresh tires in advance of a five-lap sprint to the checkered flag. He took the last restart in fifth place, but sliced through his rivals, passed Tony Stewart for the lead with three to go, and won the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

It’s Earnhardt’s first victory ever at NASCAR’s oldest track, and the sport’s most popular driver celebrated as boisterously as we’ve ever seen him do so following a Sprint Cup win.

Earnhardt got out of his car, climbed onto the mobile stage at the start/finish line, and jumped up and down with No. 88 crew members as the Ridgeway grandfather clock – the traditional trophy for all Martinsville winners – wobbled next to them.

“We’ve tried to win here so many years,” Earnhardt told ESPN. “This place is so special to me. I’ve wanted to win here so bad…Real emotional win. This team on pit road was great and [crew chief] Steve [Letarte] and the guys just did a great job all day.

“They gave me a great shot at the end with the call to take tires. I can’t believe we’ve won here. It means so much to all of us.”

The win takes on even more poignancy this weekend as it comes on the 10-year anniversary of the plane crash that took such a heavy toll on the Hendrick team and occurred a short distance away from Martinsville Speedway.

Earnhardt was not a member of HMS at the time of the tragedy. But in Victory Lane, he remembered the environment that emerged following it.

“I just wanted to support Hendrick Motorsports during that time…Everybody in the garage at that time was wearing Hendrick hats. The whole sport had come together,” he said.

“I lost my Daddy a long time ago and I know how hard that is. I can’t imagine losing the magnitude of people that [team owner] Rick [Hendrick] lost. My heart goes out to him during this weekend…This honors them. I’m real proud to be able to win at Martinsville in a Hendrick car.”

Perhaps even bigger for the team, HMS claimed a 1-2 finish this afternoon as Jeff Gordon finished second behind Earnhardt.

The final outcome started to take shape when Kyle Larson and Marcos Ambrose spun out and crashed with 11 laps to go while Earnhardt was in the lead.

NASCAR chose to throw its second red flag of the afternoon for cleanup and to save as much of the remaining laps as possible. But that decision caused the leaders to weigh staying out for track position against pitting.

Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and David Ragan opted to stay out, while Earnhardt, Gordon, and Clint Bowyer chose to go in for service. Bowyer won the race out of the pits ahead of Earnhardt, Denny Hamlin and Gordon, but Stewart, Stenhouse and Ragan moved up to the Top 3 with Bowyer in fourth and Earnhardt in fifth.

With five laps left, the green flag came out again – and Earnhardt and Gordon made their surge. Then with three to go, Earnhardt got by Stewart on the inside off Turn 4 for the race-winning pass.

Chase contender Ryan Newman finished third, followed by Stewart in fourth and another Chaser, Joey Logano, in fifth.

Since a non-Chase competitor won today (Earnhardt was eliminated from the Chase last week at Talladega), it ensures that at least two of the eight remaining Chasers will make the Championship Race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on points.

Gordon assumes the top spot on the Chase Grid with a seven-point cushion over the Championship cutoff. Newman, by virtue of his third-place result today, is now second on the Grid with a four-point cushion. Logano (+3 points) is in third, and Matt Kenseth, who finished sixth today, holds the final spot by two points over eighth-place finisher Hamlin.

Three of the Eliminator 8 swallowed sub-par results and thus got out to tough starts in the Eliminator Round. Carl Edwards’ 20th-place finish sticks him sixth on the Grid at 15 points behind the cutoff, but crashes for Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick have them further down at 26 and 28 points back respectively heading for Texas Motor Speedway next weekend.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT MARTINSVILLE – Unofficial Race Results

Final 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona results, stats

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 2023 Rolex 24 at Daytona overall results were all streaks: two consecutive victories in the endurance classic for Meyer Shank Racing and three in a row for Acura.

And Helio Castroneves became the second driver to win three consecutive Rolex 24s and the first to win in three straight years (Peter Gregg won in 1973, ’75 and ’76; the race wasn’t held in ’74 because of a global oil crisis).

Starting from the pole position, Tom Blomqvist took the checkered flag in the No. 60 ARX-06 that led a race-high 365 of 783 laps with co-drivers Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud and Colin Braun.

RESULTS: Click here for the finishing order in the 61st Rolex 24 at Daytona l By class

Meyer Shank Racing now has two Rolex 24 victories and the 2022 championship since entering the premier prototype category of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2021.

“I think what’s so special about this team is we are a small team compared to some of our opponents, but the atmosphere, the way we work, enables people to get the best out of themselves, and I think that’s why we’re such high achievers,” Blomqvist said. “I think there’s no egos. It’s a very open book, and that just enables each and every one of us to reach our potential. I think that’s why we’ve achieved so much success in really a short time at this level of competition.”

It’s the 16th IMSA victory for MSR.

The 61st running of the Rolex 24 at Daytona marked the debut of the Grand Touring Prototype category that brought hybrid engine technology to IMSA’s top level.

In other categories:

LMP2: James Allen passed Ben Hanley on the final lap and delivered a victory in the No. 55 ORECA by 0.016 seconds. It’s the second IMSA victory for Proton Competition, which last won at Sebring in 2012. It was the first Rolex 24 victory for Allen and co-drivers Gianmaria Bruni, Fred Poordad and Francesco Pizzi.

GTD Pro: Cooper MacNeil won in the last start of his IMSA career as the No. 79 Mercedes-AMG GT3 scored the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for WeatherTech Racing and the team’s fourth career victory.

MacNeil, who co-drove with Maro Engel, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, earned his 12th career victory and first at the Rolex 24.

“Winning by last IMSA race is tremendous,” MacNeil said.

GTD: The No. 27 Heart of Racing Team delivered the first Rolex 24 at Daytona for Aston Martin, which has been competing in endurance races at Daytona International Speedway since 1964. Drivers Marco Sorensen, Roman De Angelis, Darren Turner and Ian James (also the team principal) earned the victory in the English brand’s 13th attempt.

It’s also the first Rolex 24 at Daytona win for Heart of Racing, which has seven IMSA wins.

LMP3: Anthony Mantella, Wayne Boyd, Nico Varrone and Thomas Merrill drove the No. 17 AWA Duqueine D08 to victory by 12 laps for the team’s first class win in IMSA.


STATS PACKAGE FOR ROLEX 24 HOURS OF DAYTONA:

Fastest laps by driver

Fastest laps by driver after race (over the weekend)

Fastest laps by driver and class after race

Fastest lap sequence

Lap chart

Leader sequence

Race analysis by lap

Stint analysis

Time cards

Pit stop time cards

Best sector times

Race distance and speed average

Flag analysis

Weather report

NEXT: The 2023 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season will resume with the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring March 18 with coverage across NBC, USA and Peacock.