Dale Earnhardt Jr. rallied on the last lap to bring home his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in the runner-up slot in Sunday’s Daytona 500, this time to teammate Jimmie Johnson, who won NASCAR’s biggest race for the second time.
It was the third time in the last four years Earnhardt finished second in the 500.
For most of the race, Earnhardt ran in the middle of the pack, but in the final two laps, he got a strong push from former teammate Mark Martin to sprint into second place at the checkered flag, pulling Martin with him into third.
“I couldn't have done much without Mark helping me here at the end,” said Earnhardt. “I was hoping he was thinking what I was thinking as we come off of Turn 2 on that last lap. I felt like we needed to make the move a little earlier than off of (Turn) 4.”
Earnhardt said he waited for Martin to come to him as a drafting partner at the end of the race.
“I kept backing up, backing up, trying not to let guys get racing behind us too much,” Earnhardt said. “If somebody ducked out of line a couple rows behind Mark, I was going to have a gap. Me and Mark could take off, not get hung up with those guys. Once we come off of (Turn) 2, mashed the gas, got a run on Danica, side drafted her a little bit. I don't know why them guys didn't pull down in front of me besides Jimmie, but we got through 3 and 4 with a pretty good run. Once we come to turn 4, we kind of run out of steam, didn't have enough to get a run on Jimmie.”
Martin said the agreement to work together was set up during the race’s final caution.
“The spotters did have a discussion before the restart,” Martin said. “Obviously I knew Junior had a fast car and is one of the masters here, certainly would trust his judgment. I was in a position where I needed to pass a bunch of cars in order to get in contention to win. So we did that. If things would have got crazy enough, maybe we could have got the big trophy. That's how it went.”
Though neither man won, they both professed to be pleased with the outcome.
Asked if he was frustrated that he still hasn’t won NASCAR’s biggest race, Martin said he wasn’t.
“I've told you guys over and over again, I'm not bitter about the things I haven't accomplished,” said Martin. “I'm pretty damn proud of the things I have. That's how I feel about it.”
Earnhardt said he’s hungry to win again.
“Running second over and over is great and all for our team, a good start to the season, but I would love, even having to go through all the hassle that Jimmie is about to go through this week, it's worth it,” said Earnhardt.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.