Earnhardt returns to form at Daytona


Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to keep the lead at the Winn-Dixie 250 auto race in Daytona Beach.

The Associated Press
Published: Saturday, July 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
DAYTONA BEACH - Dale Earnhardt Jr. returned to Daytona's Victory Lane for the first time in more than two years, winning the Busch Series race Friday night.
Earnhardt took the lead early and dominated the rest of the way, holding off Brian Vickers after a late restart in the Winn-Dixie 250.
Vickers finished second, followed by series point leader Kevin Harvick, pole-sitter J.J. Yeley and Carl Edwards.
Earnhardt led 88 of 103 laps and picked up his 21st Busch Series victory, tying his late father and Harry Gant for seventh on the career list.
It was Junior's first victory at Daytona since Feb. 16, 2004, when he won the rain-delayed Busch Series event a day after taking the checkered flag in the Daytona 500. It also was the 19th victory by a Nextel Cup regular in the last 21 Busch Series races.
Nextel Cup drivers won the first 15 Busch events this year. David Gilliland ended the streak two weeks ago in Kentucky, and Paul Menard made it two in a row for non-Nextel Cup drivers last week in Wisconsin.
But things returned to normal at Daytona - for the series and maybe for Earnhardt, who has 10 victories at Daytona.
Earnhardt moved in front of Denny Hamlin on lap 16 and opened up a 7-second lead before the first of several cautions, two of them caused by multicar crashes.
Reed Sorenson and open-wheel driver Paul Tracy made contact with 45 laps to go, causing damage to three other cars.
A few laps later, Edwards bumped Michael Waltrip's car four times before sending it spinning into the wall. Five others were caught in the melee that happened directly behind Earnhardt.
Edwards was penalized a lap for aggressive driving, but rebounded to finish fifth.
Clint Bowyer was sixth, giving Cup drivers the top six spots. Mike Wallace was next, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Greg Biffle and John Andretti.

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