The seven-time Winston Cup champion had won 30 races at Daytona and had four second-place finishes in the 500 since 1984. He was heavily challenged this year before clinching the race with a caution flag on lap 198.
Earnhardt has gone the longest without winning the race, topping Buddy Baker's mark of 18 races before taking the checkered flag.
Earnhardt took advantage of a caution flag to pit with 27 laps remaining. He regained the top spot coming out of the pits and never relinquished the lead after that.
Daytona is Earnhardt's first Winston Cup victory since March, 1996, when he won in Atlanta.
After winning the race, he wasn't just met by his crew, pit crews from every driver lined up to shake Earnhardt's hand.
He did a few donuts on the infield grass before jumping atop his car on victory lane.
Earnhardt had won 30 races at Daytona but owned an 0-and-19 record in the 500. The long stretch had included four second-place finishes since 1984.
The seven-time Winston Cup champion also had gone 59 Winston Cup races before he finally earned his 71st circuit victory. His last Winston Cup win came nearly two years ago in Atlanta.
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