DAYTONA BEACH — The No. 3 went back to Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway, where Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned his first NASCAR victory in more than two years and did it in a car that honored his late father.
"I was so worried that I wasn't going to win, because nothing but winning was good enough, for everybody in the world," Earnhardt said. "If you didn't win, what a waste of time."
Earnhardt, winless in any NASCAR points race since a Sprint Cup victory in 2008 at Michigan, took the lead on pit road under caution with 26 laps left in Friday's Nationwide series race. Running a No. 3 Chevrolet with a Wrangler paint scheme to honor Dale Earnhardt Sr.'s recent induction into the new NASCAR Hall of Fame, Junior brought his loyal fans to their feet for the final sprint to the checkered flag in the Subway 250.
"I worked hard to try to win it, not only for Daddy, I am proud of him going into the Hall of Fame, and he would be proud of this, I'm sure," Earnhardt said.
Earnhardt did not pit under the last caution, for Paul Menard's wreck with four laps left. On old tires, Earnhardt held off Joey Logano and a slew of Cup regulars.
Tony Eury Jr., Earnhardt's cousin and crew chief, was overcome with emotion.
"We lost everything here," Eury said softly. "To come back with that number and do this, it means everything."
Dale Earnhardt was killed in a last-lap accident in the 2001 Daytona 500.
CHASE DRAMA: NASCAR is considering tweaking the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship, with chairman Brian France wanting to create more drama to the title-deciding format.
"We're happy with the Chase, (but) if we can enhance it in a pretty significant way, we may do that," France said.
Introduced in 2004 as a radical new system, 10 drivers competed over the final 10 races of the season. The inaugural year was a smashing success, as five drivers went into the finale in mathematical contention to win the title that ultimately went to Kurt Busch, who beat Jimmie Johnson by eight points.
In 2006, NASCAR widened the field to 12 drivers and created a system based on bonus points earned through "regular-season" wins. Johnson began his run of four consecutive titles that year.
France would not talk specifics, but in general, NASCAR might consider eliminations, or a way to ensure that several drivers contend in the finale. In the past several years, Johnson has had to only preserve a decent finish to wrap up the title with little to no competition.
RAIN BRINGS ORDER: Kevin Harvick, the Cup points leader, was awarded the pole for tonight's Coke Zero 400 when qualifying was washed out. The order was set by owner points. Harvick was one of only 12 cars to complete qualifying laps before showers, but the best he would have started was ninth.