Brad Keselowski has known Dale Earnhardt Jr. would one day be nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame since 2014. In fact, the realization hit when Keselowski tried — and failed — to take the lead from Earnhardt in the Daytona 500 that year. Earnhardt was just too good.
In this “Brad Keselowski breakdown,” the 2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion analyzes film of the 2014 season opener at Daytona International Speedway, solely focusing on the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
“There’s no bigger race in NASCAR than the Daytona 500,” Keselowski said. “It’s quite simply ‘The Great American Race.’ We’ve seen some great Daytona 500s over the last few decades. A couple of them stand out to me. The 1979 Daytona 500? One of the best.
“But then, there’s another one that stands out to me as one of the toughest and one of the grittiest: the 2014 Daytona 500. At the end of the day, it’ll go down as one of my favorites, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. taking home his second win in a race that was quite simply action packed from start to finish. With rain on the way, the drivers really stepped up their intensity.”
The current driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford chose four key moments in the race to break down. Keselowski starts with Earnhardt’s pass on Carl Edwards for the lead with 18 laps to go, analyzing it from the broadcast angle and from the in-car camera.
There was then a late-race restart that allowed Earnhardt to line up next to Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski explains how Earnhardt took the top lane, with Johnson on the bottom, and used the partnership to his advantage. Earnhardt ended up on the inside with Johnson behind him, the two strongly leading the line.
The final two key moments both involved the race’s final restart on Lap 199 of 200. First, a random piece of debris landed on Earnhardt’s grill “perfectly.” Keselowski said that kind of coverage would give the car extra speed and the extra heat didn’t matter at that point. So, as the green flag waved, Earnhardt immediately pulled ahead by a full car-length. It was actually Keselowski who was originally beside Earnhardt, so he had a first-person view of Earnhardt’s acceleration.
Keselowski had one more chance to pass Earnhardt in Turn 2 — a side draft off Jeff Gordon and a push behind from Kyle Busch — but before his run could pay off, Earnhardt blocked him.
“He’s going to earn himself a Daytona 500 win with that move,” Keselowski said. “And, in my mind, he’s going to make his way into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as a two-time Daytona 500 winner. Well done, Dale. Although I’m still mad at you, nice move.”