Joyful Dale Jr. finishes 5th in return at Darlington

NASCAR

DARLINGTON, S.C. — A joyful Dale Earnhardt Jr. returned to the racetrack Saturday, finishing fifth in the Xfinity event at Darlington Raceway two weeks after he and his family escaped a plane in flames in Tennessee.

The race was a welcome relief from thinking about the crash for Earnhardt and his family. He hopped in his car after kissing wife Amy and 16-month-old daughter Isla, and his driving skills kicked in as he moved up from 14th into the top five.

Earnhardt’s glee was apparent when he told fellow broadcaster Jeff Burton, “I didn’t think I’d be this good.”

It was Earnhardt’s only race this season and his first since finishing fourth in Richmond almost a year ago.

Xfinity Series regular Cole Custer finished second to Denny Hamlin on the track but was awarded the win after Hamlin’s car failed postrace inspection.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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