DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Aric Almirola grew up two hours from Daytona International Speedway, attended countless races as a kid and even "dreamed about what it would be like to have a chance to race at the highest level at this racetrack."
He found out Sunday, after two days of thunderstorms, three red-flag stoppages and dozens of wrecked cars.
As a bonus, he also accomplished the feat on a milestone anniversary for his car owner, NASCAR legend Richard Petty.
Almirola won the delayed and rain-shortened Sprint Cup race at Daytona, putting Petty's famed blue No. 43 back on top for the first time since 1999.
The 30-year-old Almirola's first Cup win came on the same weekend Petty celebrated the 30th anniversary of his 200th career victory.
"The 43 car is without a doubt the most famous car in our sport's history," Almirola said. "And to have that opportunity to drive that race car has been really special from the day that I stepped foot in it. All I wanted to do from the very first time I drove it was get it to Victory Lane. It took 2 1/2 years I guess, but I finally did it."
Petty wasn't around for the festivities, having already left Daytona during one of the many delays.
The Coke Zero 400 was supposed to start Saturday, but steady rain forced it to be postponed a day. When it did finally get going, it was interrupted several more times.
There were seven cautions and three red flags, two of them because of huge accidents that took out most of the 43-car field. Top contenders Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle and Kyle Busch were among those knocked out.
Only seven drivers avoided both crashes. Not surprisingly, Almirola was among them.
He became the first Cup driver other than Petty to win in the legendary No. 43 at Daytona. The previous time the 43 won was with John Andretti behind the wheel at Martinsville in 1999. So Petty's renowned car went 543 races without a victory.
"Everybody always asks me, 'How, how much pressure is it to drive The King's car?'" Almirola said. "To be honest with you, there's nobody that can put any more pressure on me than me because I want to win for myself. I know this sounds terrible, but it's more about winning so that I can feel a sense of accomplishment more than just winning to give Richard Petty another win. He's won enough races."
Here are five other things to know about the Daytona race:
NO SWEEP: Dale Earnhardt Jr. had hoped to become the sixth driver to sweep the season at Daytona.
His chances were shot just 20 laps into the race when he was collected in a 16-car accident that caused serious damage to his No. 88 Chevrolet. He fell a lap down during repairs, eventually got back on the lead lap and finished 14th.
The Daytona 500 winner was particularly annoyed because he'd actually avoided the accident, but got hit from behind.
"We were going to be fine on that first wreck, but we got run over," he said. "I can't believe all of the cars we have wrecked today."