DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. held off Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon to win the Daytona 500 on Sunday night after a rain delay of nearly 6 1/2 hours.
It was the second Daytona 500 victory for perhaps NASCAR’s most popular driver; his first came a decade ago.
“I cannot believe this!” Earnhardt, 39, exclaimed over his car radio.
Hamlin was second, Gordon -- Earnhardt’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports -- was third and Brad Keselowski finished fourth.
It was Earnhardt’s first Sprint Cup Series win since mid-2012 at Michigan -- a winless spell of 55 races.
The victory also almost assured that Earnhardt would earn a berth in NASCAR’s Chase for the Cup title playoff in the fall, under new rules implemented this season that put a greater emphasis on wins to reach the playoff.
Earnhardt kept his No. 88 Chevrolet in the lead after a restart with only two laps left in the 200-lap race at Daytona International Speedway.
The restart was set up by a multi-car crash involving Ryan Newman and Terry Labonte, among others.
There were two other major crashes earlier in the race.
With 54 laps left, a dozen cars were damaged as the field came out of Turn 4. The drivers involved included polesitter Austin Dillon, Danica Patrick, Michael Waltrip, Aric Almirola and David Gilliland, among others.
There was another pileup 16 laps later in the same turn when Dillon, who had returned to the race, touched the Chevrolet of Kyle Larson. That wreck also collected Kasey Kahne, Brian Vickers and Marcos Ambrose.