Michael Waltrip won the 43rd Daytona 500 here Sunday
Waltrip finally wins first NASCAR race on 463rd try

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida, Feb 18 (AFP) - Michael Waltrip won the 43rd Daytona 500 here Sunday, capturing the most popular auto race in the United States to snap a record winless streak in his 463rd race.

The younger brother of three-time champion Darrell Waltrip captured the season opener for the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), the closed-cockpit oval series that is the most popular form of US auto racing.

Waltrip won the race in dramatic fashion as he held off his teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jnr, as his team owner, Dale Earnhardt, crashed in the fourth turn wall after he was tapped from behind by Sterling Marlin.

The elder Earnhardt's sent his Chevrolet up the track and into the fourth turn wall. Ken Schrader had nowhere to go and was also involved in the crash.

As the car he owns celebrated victory, the team owner remained trapped in his car as safety workers took the seven-time NASCAR champion out of his car.

Earnhardt Jnr drove to the scene of the crash to check on his father, who was taken to Halifax Medical Center by ambulance.

Michael Waltrip led for the final 17 laps of the race to score the biggest victory of his career.

"It's just unbelievable," Waltrip said. "I would have been oh-for-463 if it hadn't been for Dale Earnhardt Jr. This is the Daytona 500, that's all I know. I won the Daytona 500. I thought we were being a little bold, a little boisterous, thinking we could win this race. And we did."

The crash on the final lap was the second big crash that had a dramatic impact on the outcome of the race, which had 50 lead changes among 14 different drivers. Last year, there were just nine lead changes.

The race was stopped for 16 minutes and 25 seconds following a major 19-car crash.