DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 16 (UPI) -- The familiar car No. 3 returned to victory lane at Daytona International Speedway as Dale Earnhardt Jr. led for 62 laps and won Saturday's 300 NASCAR Busch series race.
It was the first Busch Series race for Earnhardt in three years and he won the race at the same track where his father was killed in the final lap of last year's Daytona 500.
Just like last July's Pepsi 400, Earnhardt finished in front of his Winston Cup teammate, Michael Waltrip.
Earnhardt was driving a car prepared by Richard Childress Racing -- the team that his father drove for and won six of his seven NASCAR Winston Cup championships.
Earnhardt celebrated the victory by spinning out on the tri-oval grass before driving the car into victory lane at a track where his father is the all-time victory leader.
Earnhardt gambled on a fuel-only pit stop and drove the final 57 laps of the race on the same set of tires.
"I just drove as hard as I could," Earnhardt said. "I had my buddy Michael Waltrip behind me and I have to thank him for helping me today. It's hard to tell what was going on there those last few laps.
"This is a good tribute. I try to downplay my father's death and No. 3, but I know Daddy would be real happy. I know Richard Childress is happy about this all the guys at RCR who miss my daddy, this is one last hurrah."
Waltrip said he didn't want to show his hand Saturday and would rather show it in Sunday's Daytona 500.
Joe Nemechek, who started on the pole, dropped out of the race early with an engine problem.
Jeff Fuller and Kerry Earnhardt crashed on the backstretch on the 23rd lap to bring out the first caution flag of the race.
The green flag waved on lap 28 with Waltrip leading Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jamie McMurray with Keller and Jimmy Spencer following. Waltrip's car suffered a bad vibration and he fell back in the pack with Spencer taking the lead on lap 34 followed by Keller and Earnhardt Jr.
Johnny Sauter ran into the back of Mike McLaughlin in the second turn on the 56th lap to bring out the second yellow flag of the race.
A major crash on the frontstretch on lap 76 brought out the third caution flag. There were seven cars involved including Hank Parker, Jr., Christian Elder, Tony Raines, Lyndon Amick, Ashton Lewis, Casey Mears and Andy Kirby.
In the ensuing pit stops, Earnhardt decided to take a fuel only pit stop which put him in the lead when the green flag waved on lap 82 of the 120-lap race.
With six laps remaining, Casey Mears spun out on the backstretch, but was able to keep the car rolling to the pits so no yellow flag was shown to the field.
But with three laps to go, Jeff Purvis spun out on the backstretch while running fifth. NASCAR, did not throw the yellow flag so the race continued to the finish with Waltrip trying to hunt down his Winston Cup teammate.