Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Daytona 500 race-winning car is No. 1 NASCAR die-cast seller in 2014

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For those who may have thought die-cast replicas of NASCAR cars had faded away from the height of their popularity in the 1990s and up to about 2005, guess again.

Lionel Racing, which is the Official Die-Cast manufacturer of NASCAR, announced Friday that Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Daytona 500 Race Win die-cast was the best-selling car of 2014.

Not only that, that same car is now the best-selling die-cast in the company’s history.

Wait, there’s more, particularly for members of the Junior Nation:

Six of the top 10 best-selling NASCAR die-casts this year are tied to Earnhardt in one form or other. He earned the No. 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 10 spots on the top 10 list, several due to special paint schemes for particular races.

“When the NASCAR season kicks off with Dale Jr. winning the Daytona 500, it’s a safe bet that die-cast sales across the board will skyrocket,” Lionel Racing president Howard Hitchcock said in a media release. “His win really set the tone for our year overall – we have had a very good season.”

Among the most notable was Earnhardt’s National Guard/Superman paint scheme, Lionel said.

Austin Dillon bringing back the iconic No. 3 Chevrolet to the Sprint Cup Series for the first time since the death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500 ranked fourth-best, preventing Junior from sweeping the top 5 spots.

“The story of the #3 car’s return to Cup competition really resonated with both long-time and new NASCAR fans,” Hitchcock said. “It’s great to see a rising star like Dillon make our top 10 list.”

Also of note, 2014 Sprint Cup champ Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet ranked eighth on the top 10 list.

Here’s the list of this year’s top 10-selling NASCAR die-casts:

1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. No. 88 National Guard/Daytona 500 Win Chevrolet.

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr. No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. No. 88 National Guard Hall of Heroes/Superman Chevrolet.

4. Austin Dillon, No. 3 Dow Automotive Chevrolet.

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. No. 88 National Guard/Pocono Win Chevrolet/

6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. No. 88 Michael Baker/Pocono Win Chevrolet.

7. Jeff Gordon No. 24 AARP/Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet.

8. Kevin Harvick No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet.

9. Tony Stewart No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet.

10. Dale Earnhardt Jr. No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet.

Also, here’s the best-selling drivers of 2014:

1. Earnhardt. 2. Gordon. 3. Harvick. 4. Jimmie Johnson. 5. Austin Dillon. 6. Chase Elliott. 7. Stewart. 8. Kyle Busch. 9. Brad Keselowski. 10. Kyle Larson.

“It’s exciting to see the rising stars of the sport make such an impact on the core fan,” Hitchcock said. “Austin, Chase and Kyle Larson beat out some heavy hitters when it comes to merchandise sales, and that only bodes well for the future of NASCAR.”

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Meyer Shank Racing wins Petit Le Mans to take final DPi championship in dramatic finale

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Meyer Shank Racing outdueled Wayne Taylor Racing to win the Petit Le Mans and clinch the championship in a thrilling final race for the DPi division.

Tom Blomqvist, who started from the pole position, drove the No. 60 Acura ARX-05 to a 4.369-second victory over Pipo Derani in the No. 31 Action Express Cadillac.

“That was incredible,” Blomqvist told NBC Sports’ Matt Yocum. “I’ve never dug so deep in my life. The adrenaline. I did that for the guys. I was so motivated to win this thing this weekend. But I’ve got to thank everyone on the whole team.”

With co-drivers Oliver Jarvis and Helio Castroneves, Blomqvist helped MSR bookend its season-opening victory in the Rolex 24 at Daytona by winning Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale at Michelin Road Atlanta.

In between those two victories, the No. 60 earned five runner-up finishes to stay in the thick of the championship hunt and trail WTR’s No. 10 Acura by 14 points entering Saturday’s race.

WTR’s Filipe Albuquerque had a lead of more than 10 seconds over Blomqvist with less than 50 minutes remaining in the 10-hour race.

But a Turn 1 crash between the Chip Ganassi Racing Cadillacs brought out a yellow that sent both Acuras into the pits from the top two positions.

Though he entered in second, Blomqvist barely beat Albuquerque out of the pits, and he held the lead for the final 45 minutes.

Blomqvist said he gained the lead because of a shorter fuel fill after he had worked on being efficient in the second-to-last stint.

“The team asked a big job of me with the fuel; I had a big fuel number to hit,” Blomqvist said. “We knew that was probably our only chance. The yellow came at the right time and obviously we had a bit less fuel to fill up, so I was able to jump him and then it was just a matter of going gung-ho and not leaving anything on the line. And obviously, the opposition had to try too hard to make it work. I’m so thankful.”

Albuquerque closed within a few car lengths of Blomqvist with 14 minutes remaining, but he damaged his suspension because of contact with a GT car in Turn 1.

It’s the first prototype championship for Meyer Shank Racing, which also won the 2021 Indy 500 with Castroneves.

“We’ve had in the last four years, three championships for Acura, the Indy 500 win and the Rolex 24, it doesn’t get any better,” team co-owner Mike Shank told NBC Sports’ Kevin Lee.

It’s the third consecutive runner-up finish in the points standings for Wayne Taylor Racing, which won the first Daytona Prototype international championship in 2017. The premier category will be rebranded as the Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) class with the LMDh cars that will establish a bridge to racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Kamui Kobayashi finished third in the No. 48 Cadillac of Action Express that also includes Jimmie Johnson and Mike Rockenfeller.

The podium showing marked Johnson’s last scheduled race in IMSA’s top prototype division. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion has raced in the No. 48 Ally Cadillac lineup as the Action Express entry has run the Endurance Cup races.

Johnson said a lack of inventory will preclude him having a 2023 ride in the top category. But he still is hopeful of racing the Garage 56 Next Gen Camaro in next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and possibly running in a lower class for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I’d love to be at Le Mans next year,” Johnson told NBC Sports’ Dillon Welch after his final stint Saturday. “I’d love to be at the Rolex 24. The series is going through a shake-up with the reconfiguration of the rules and classes, so I don’t have anything locked down yet, but I’m so thankful for this experience with Action. The support Ally has given us, Mr. Hendrick, Chad Knaus, all of Hendrick Motorsports. It’s been a fun two years, and I certainly hope I’m on the grid again next year.”