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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Dale Earnhardt Jr. extracted a storybook triumph from the tragic scene of his father's death Saturday night, winning the Pepsi 400 and producing the most poignant turn yet to this bittersweet season.

Driving a white car on the same track where Dale Earnhardt's famed black machine hit the wall five months ago, Earnhardt Jr. dominated Daytona the way his father used to, proving he may indeed be ready to step in for NASCAR's fallen hero.

Pushed back to sixth place after a late yellow flag, Earnhardt regained the lead after just a lap and a half. A few laps later, teammate and Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip took the second position, then protected Earnhardt as he closed out the dramatic victory.