Dale Earnhardt, Jr. took home Sunday’s rain-shortened Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500.
The race was also a celebration of NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon, who is set to retire from racing after this season. The four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion made his penultimate appearance as a driver in the race.
When asked on NBC-TV about Gordon’s contributions to the team and to NASCAR as a whole, team owner Rick Hendrick stated, “He’s done so much for our organization and for the sport in general. It’s going to be a sad day.”
That “sad day” will come on Sunday, when Gordon is set to compete in his final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. However, on the anniversary of his first career Sprint Cup start, at Atlanta in 1992, Gordon was focused on the goal at hand.
When the race began, Kurt Busch quickly took command. However, NASCAR later reasoned that Busch had passed Jimmie Johnson before the two drivers reached the start-finish line, violating a rule in which the number two starter must not drive past the number one starter at the beginning of the race. Busch was penalized for crossing the line too early. This penalty forced him to fall back to the final position in the running order.
Before the race, Gordon was the only driver to advance into the final round of the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup. Three other drivers – Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. – also advanced to the final round after their stellar Phoenix performances. When asked by the NBC broadcast team about how his team had managed to potentially advance to the Championship Round for the NASCAR Chase, Truex said, “It’s all about putting our best effort on the racetrack,” referring to his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team based in Denver, Colorado.
Although Harvick dominated the event, leading a total of 152 laps on the night, Earnhardt remained in hot pursuit. The perennial “Most Popular Driver” found himself in the lead during a late caution flag, as rain once again doused the Valley of the Sun and halted the race that had been postponed almost seven hours from its scheduled start time by inclement weather. After 219 of the race’s 312 laps, the race was declared official with Earnhardt flagged as the winner. The win marked Earnhardt’s 26th career victory in the Sprint Cup Series and the third-generation’s third win of the 2015 season.In another interview with Fox Sports reporter Kaitlyn Vincie, Earnhardt said, “We had a good car. That gave us the opportunity to be in position for the win. The circumstances worked out on that last caution. We were pitting, and I didn’t have far to go to cross the finish line to be scored, and the 4 and 22 had to slow down because of the caution.”
Because his competitors had to slow down, Earnhardt was able to pass them and was, therefore, scored ahead of Harvick and Logano when the race was declared official.