DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Jamie McMurray couldn’t hold back the tears.
He captured the 52nd annual Daytona 500 victory in a gripping finish on Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
McMurray survived a green-white-checkered finish and was able to hold off a hard charging Dale Earnhardt Jr. to win NASCAR’s most prestigious race.
McMurray, whose previous win at Daytona came in the 2007 Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola, led only the final two laps of the race – the fewest amount of laps led by a Daytona 500 champion – but it was enough to capture the coveted Harley J. Earl trophy.
“It’s unbelievable,” said an emotional McMurray. “I can’t really put it into words the way it feels. As a kid growing up, this is what you dream of -- being able to win the Daytona 500.”
McMurray, who first came to Daytona as a kid to participate in kart racing, didn’t know if he would have a ride in 2010 until his former car owner Chip Ganassi gave him a call and put him in a car for the second time.
“Coming off of Turn 4, knowing…you’re going to be the Daytona 500 champion, I can’t explain it to you,” McMurray said. “It’s very emotional. I don’t know that I’ve cried like that. I kept trying to compose myself, but I couldn’t hold it back.”
McMurray was able to hold off Earnhardt Jr., who went from 10th to second in the final two laps of the Daytona 500.
“It was all a blur,” said Earnhardt. “I was just going wherever they weren’t. I really don’t enjoy being that aggressive, but if there was enough room for the radiator to fit, you just kind of held the gas down and prayed for the best.”
The race, which was slowed by two red flags for track repair, was highlighted by a record 21 different leaders who exchanged the lead 52 times.
As always, the stars came out for the Daytona 500 Pre-Race festivities. Country music superstar Tim McGraw kicked things off with a Pre-Race show before Harry Connick Jr. sang the National Anthem.
Junior Johnson, the 1960 Daytona 500 champion, served as Grand Marshal, seven-time Daytona 500 champion Richard Petty drove the pace car and the Wood Brothers served as the Honorary Starter.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will return in July for the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola on July 1-3. For tickets, call 1-800-PITSHOP or visit www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com