DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Jamie McMurray’s heart sank when he saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. lurking in his rearview mirror. Of all the guys bearing down on me, he thought, it has be one who seems destined to win the Daytona 500.
Then McMurray looked up at the finish line. I don’t think he can beat me to it, he thought.
The truth — the hole truth — is that McMurray won the Super Bowl of NASCAR on Sunday in a spectacular finish. Race officials just hope it makes fans forget about a pothole on the track that required two stoppages and delayed stock car racing’s greatest spectacle by more than two hours.
“I can’t really put it into words the way it feels,” said McMurray, who broke down in tears several times after the race. “I’m trying to be genuine and as sincere as I can and not sound cliche: as a kid growing up, this is what you dream of, of being able to win the Daytona 500.”
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McMurray did it with a push from former teammate Greg Biffle to move past leader Kevin Harvick on NASCAR’s second attempt at a “green-white-checkered” finish — a two-lap overtime policy that was tweaked this week to create exciting finishes.
Once out front, McMurray still had to contend with Earnhardt, who was bearing down on his rear bumper. When he beat him to the finish line by .119 seconds, McMurray climbed from his car, sprinted to the race logo in the infield grass, and dropped to his knees in a tear-soaked celebration.
“Fans deserve probably more of a show, so that’s what they got,” said Earnhardt, who settled for second.Because the drivers weren’t positive the patch of pavement between turns 1 and 2 could hold, they couldn’t risk holding back after the second repair. It was possible that the track would split again over those final 80 miles, and the race would be called before its conclusion.
So the drivers beat and banged their way through the field in a white-knuckle final 32 laps.