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Daytona 500 journal: Dale Jr.'s day ends early in a crash

Dale Earnhardt Jr., middle, and wife Amy are relaxed before the Daytona 500.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., middle, and wife Amy are relaxed before the Daytona 500.
Published Feb. 27, 2017

DAYTONA BEACH — Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s strong day ended early when he was caught up in the Daytona 500's first multicar wreck.

In his return from a concussion that sidelined him for 18 races last year, Earnhardt led eight laps Sunday before Kyle Busch blew a tire on Lap 104 and sparked a six-car wreck that included Earnhardt.

"Everybody's support to get back to the race track, it meant a lot to me," said Earnhardt, a two-time 500 winner. "Just sorry we weren't able to deliver a better result today for all our fans and everybody that was looking forward to today."

Earnhardt tried to return to the race, but his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet suffered too much damage after driving over the front of Busch's car.

New points system, strategies

The debut of NASCAR's new points system led to interesting strategies.

Some drivers feared that dividing the race into three segments and awarding points for the top finishers in each one would lead to more wrecks as drivers battled for position at each stage. That didn't happen, but drivers did notice a spike in intensity as the end of the first two stages neared.

"Everything kind of amped up there," said AJ Allmendinger, who finished third.

Differing strategies played into it, too.

The Toyota cars pitted as a team on Lap 17, much earlier than the rest of the field but late enough to prevent needing another stop in the first 60-lap segment. The move gave the Toyotas their own pack, and it worked: Kyle Busch won the stage to earn 10 points (plus a bonus point he'll carry through the 10-race playoffs), and defending champion Denny Hamlin finished eighth in it.

Sponsorship shots fired

"These Goodyear tires aren't very good at holding air."

Kyle Busch, unhappy about the blown tire that ended his day. Busch also blasted Goodyear for its tires at Daytona in July after a similar incident led to a hard crash during practice.

How the favorites fared

Denny Hamlin: The defending champion finished eighth in the first segment but fell a lap down in the second, when his team's pit strategy backfired. He was a victim of multiple wrecks and finished 17th.

Joey Logano: The 2015 winner led 16 laps and was banging with Kyle Larson for the lead in the final 40 laps. His decision to stick with the low lane proved costly. He fell out of line and dropped back with 21 laps left. He finished sixth.

Jimmie Johnson: The two-time 500 winner led seven laps but was in the first big wreck of the day after getting bumped by Trevor Bayne. He finished 34th.

Kevin Harvick: The 2014 Cup series champ led six times for a combined 50 laps and won the second stage. But he was one of the 17 cars in Johnson's wreck and finished 22nd.

By the numbers

37

Lead changes

18

Drivers who led at least one lap

4

Finish by Tampa native Aric Almirola, the highest 500 finish of his career

100

Percentage of stage winners who wrecked this weekend: Johnny Sauter in Friday's truck race, Elliott Sadler in Saturday's Xfinity race, and Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick on Sunday

9

Cars not involved in wrecks among the race's 40

18

Wrecks for the weekend, including the Xfinity and trucks races