DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - It had been 85 points races since Dale Earnhardt Jr. made it to Victory Lane.
The end of the drought finally came Friday night at Daytona International Speedway, in the famed No. 3 car, in a race that honored his late father and stirred emotions to even the most stoic NASCAR fan.
Earnhardt raced to his first victory since 2008, driving a tribute car to his father in the Nationwide Series race.
His celebration was subdued.
"I was just relieved," he said. "Victory Lane's like when you're a little kid and you've got a tree house or you and your buddies got a clubhouse in the woods. That's what Victory Lane is to me, and I like going there. You miss it really bad, but you know it's there and you can get back there again if you try really hard.
"It's not gone, but it's very difficult to get into. Every time I win, I just soak it up like a sponge."
Earnhardt took the lead on pit road under caution with 26 laps to go in the Nationwide race. Running the No. 3 Chevrolet with a Wrangler paint scheme to honor his father's induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Earnhardt brought his loyal fans to their feet for the final sprint to the flag.
"I was so worried that I wasn't going to win, because nothing but winning was good enough," Earnhardt said. "If you didn't win, what a waste of time. I worked hard to try to win it, not only for Daddy, I am proud of him going into the Hall of Fame, and he would be proud of this, I'm sure.
"Just all his fans. He had so many great fans. Not just mine. This is for his fans. Hopefully, they enjoyed this."