The Ottumwa Courier

AP Sports

February 24, 2014

Junior back in Victory Lane -- at Daytona 500

(Continued)

"It was tough and disappointing because I definitely could have used my spotter there at the end," Hamlin said. "I'm trying to look up at the scoreboard, trying to figure out how many laps are left. I'm so 50-50 on whether I'm (mad) or I'm happy. I just don't know. Any other year, I probably would have been jumping up and down."

Keselowski finished third in a Team Penske Ford, and said after watching a replay he knew he had no chance to win once drivers behind him committed to their moves and Hamlin came charging alongside him.

"I don't feel like there's anything I could have done differently," Keselowski said.

But as a driver who got his break when Earnhardt hired him to drive for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series, Keselowski was able to deal with his disappointment.

"If there's ever a guy who is due, it's the guy who finished second three out of the last four years. He was due," Keselowski said. "So I'm happy for him and happy for all those guys. He's probably my best friend in the garage outside of my teammate."

Hendrick took fourth and fifth with Gordon and last year's race winner, Jimmie Johnson, in what quickly became a company-wide celebration.

"He's been knocking on the door of the 500 for a lot of years. He got it done tonight — did an awesome job," said Johnson, who beat Earnhardt to the finish line a year ago.

The win means Hendrick already has one of his four drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Under the new win-and-get-in format announced last month, Earnhardt is now eligible to race for the title and can spend the next 25 races preparing for the postseason.

"We might be in the Chase — I ain't going to worry about that," Earnhardt said from Victory Lane. "Trust me, man, we're going to have a blast this year."

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