Jeff Gordon emerged Sunday in front of about six cars that each had a chance to win the 47th Daytona 500 as they bumped and shoved each other at high speed. Four lead changes highlighted the last nine laps. Dale Earnhardt Jr. came from as far back as 30th place to grab his first lead of the race briefly before Gordon passed him.
The race went three laps beyond the scheduled 200-lap distance because of accidents and caution laps. Gordon stayed in front over two final laps of full racing to beat Kurt Busch by two car-lengths while Earnhardt placed third. Gordon said the win was shared with his team, especially the people who take care of the car. "I knew for 500-miles that the pit crew of that team, and hopefully with some patience, would pay off there at the end. And it certainly did," he said.
Gordon is the fifth driver to win three or more Daytona 500s, joining seven-time champion Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough with four victories and Bobby Allison and Dale Jarrett who won three each.
Unlike other sports that end seasons with their biggest contest, the NASCAR season opens with its premier event at Daytona. The so-called Great American Race began on the hard sand of Daytona Beach itself before the speedway was constructed. The track is narrow compared to other stops on the NASCAR circuit, making passing more difficult and spectacular crashes more likely.