DAYTONA BEACH — Driving a car he believes is unbeatable, Dale Earnhardt Jr. added to his family legacy at Daytona International Speedway on the anniversary of his father's death.
Earnhardt won the first qualifying race Thursday night for the Daytona 500 to earn a starting spot on the second row for NASCAR's biggest event.
It was Earnhardt's 17th career win at Daytona International Speedway. The late Dale Earnhardt leads all drivers with 34. He was killed on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
"It's another win at Daytona for the Earnhardts, adding to the legacy," Earnhardt said in victory lane. "We're up here in the 50s now."
The No. 88 Chevrolet that Hendrick Motorsports brought to Daytona — nicknamed "Amelia" for famed aviatrix Amelia Earhart — won three times last year, and Earnhardt said after the qualifying race that he allowed himself to daydream about winning as a tribute to his father.
"I try not to make too big a deal. I told all you guys how much I like people to remember Dad and talk about Dad," he said. "I'm guilty of daydreaming a little bit, about winning this race (Thursday) because of the day. That's very special to me. I was glad that nothing bad happened and we didn't tear our car up, because that would have been embarrassing on a day like this."
Reigning Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch won the second qualifying race under caution after several contenders wrecked their prized cars in a last-lap accident.
Busch was trying to hold off Jamie McMurray on the final lap and briefly blocked him. McMurray moved up the track for another try, but Jimmie Johnson was in the same space, and Johnson bounced off the wall to trigger a multicar accident.
Among those who wrecked strong cars were Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr., who will all have to go to backup cars for Sunday's Daytona 500. Kenseth had earned a front-row starting spot for the season opener, but he'll now forfeit it because of the crash and start from the rear.
Also involved in the accident were Danica Patrick and Kurt Busch. It wasn't clear how much damage Kurt and McMurray sustained, but Stewart-Haas Racing said it would not go to a backup for Kurt.
Only two spots were up for grabs in the 500, one in each qualifying race. Michael McDowell earned the spot in the first race, and Robert Richardson Jr. earned the other transfer spot.
The first race set the inside row for the Daytona 500. Earnhardt, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin will line up third, fifth, seventh, ninth and 11th behind pole winner Chase Elliott.
McMurray, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Ty Dillon finished second through fifth in the second race and will line up behind Kyle Busch in the outside lane, provided none of those drivers has to go to a backup car, and provided Elliott chooses the inside lane for the start of the race.