DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Daddy would have been proud.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., taking a page from the old man, barreled past Tony Stewart and won the Daytona 500 Sunday on the same track that claimed his father's life three years ago.

Junior showed the impatience of youth, needing only five tries to win the race that bedeviled his late father for 19 years.

"He was over in the passenger side with me," the 29-year-old Earnhardt said during a jubilant celebration in Victory Lane. "I'm sure he was having a blast."

The race was attended by President Bush, launched the Nextel Cup era and came six years to the day that the Intimidator won his first — and only — Daytona 500 on his 20th try. It's still one of the sport's most cherished scenes: the black No. 3 car rolling down pit road while every rival crew lined up to congratulate Earnhardt before he pulled into Victory Lane.

Three years later, he was killed on a last-lap crash in the 500, depriving the sport of a seven-time champion and its most famous driver.

Well, the next generation is in good hands.

In a move that must have been borrowed from the Intimidator, Earnhardt Jr. dipped to the inside without any drafting help and went past Stewart in the trioval with 20 laps remaining.

"I can't believe I passed him by myself," Junior said. "I don't know what was going on. It was like a magic trick."

Stewart tried valiantly to catch up, briefly pulling beside Earnhardt coming out of turn two. But Junior showed his muscle on the backstretch, keeping Stewart in the rearview mirror.

That's where Stewart stayed the rest of the way. Earnhardt pulled away on the final lap, winning by about four car lengths while the crowd of 180,000 — many of them wearing Junior's red and white colors — erupted in celebration.

Earnhardt came back around and stopped his car at the checkered finish line. He pumped his fist and jumped into the arms of his crew, who lifted him on their shoulders for all to see. Then he climbed back into the No. 8 Chevrolet, turning doughnuts in the grass — just like his father after the 1998 race.

"I was taught so many lessons by this place before I ever got behind the wheel," Earnhardt said. "I'm glad I don't have to worry about (winning the 500) anymore. That's awesome."

Stewart led 97 laps — nearly half the 200-lap event — but he didn't have enough to hold off Earnhardt, who set the pace for 59.

"It's nice to see him get his victory, too," Stewart said. "I think his father is proud today. I wanted to win the race. Trust me, if I could have held him off, I would have.

"But there was no holding that kid back. Today was his day."

A frightening crash on lap 72 took out defending race winner Michael Waltrip, whose car flipped at least three times and wound up landing on its roof in the backstretch. He wasn't injured.

Rookie Scott Wimmer held on for a surprising third-place finish. He briefly held the lead after gambling on his final pit stop — taking only two tires — but he didn't have enough grip to hold on.

Wimmer still faces drunken-driving charges after crashing a team truck last month. NASCAR, which has a zero-tolerance policy on substance abuse, hasn't decided whether to punish the driver.

"I understand I made a major mistake," Wimmer said. "I embarrassed a lot of people."

Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five.

Pole-winner Greg Biffle had to start from the back of the 43-car field after changing an engine Saturday. That allowed Earnhardt to take the green flag from the pole.

Biffle made up a lot of ground in an overheating car, running near the front late in the race. But he faded to 12th.

Waltrip was running three-wide when rookie Johnny Sauter got loose coming off turn two and sparked a chain-reaction wreck that took out 12 cars.

Waltrip got smashed in the side by Robby Gordon, a tire shredded and the No. 15 car burrowed into the grass on the inside of the track, softened by rain that washed out Saturday's Busch Series race.

With dirt flying everywhere, Waltrip's car came to a stop upside down. Rescue workers spent nearly 10 minutes making sure he was OK.

, then flipped the car over to let the 6-foot-4 Waltrip climb out. He waved to the cheering crowd and then went to the infield care center for a quick check. Waltrip had won two of the last three Daytona 500s, but not one he could truly celebrate. His 2001 victory was overshadowed by the crash that killed Earnhardt. Last year, Waltrip was declared the winner when rain shortened the race.

"That grass on the backstretch is just a real dangerous deal," Waltrip said. "When the car stopped, I was pinned real bad. I couldn't get out."

Mark Martin was the first driver to go out, his Roush Racing Ford spewing smoke just eight laps into the race. Another Roush driver, Jeff Burton, was doomed by engine problems, too — not a promising debut for the team that joined up with Robert Yates Racing during the offseason to give Ford a greater edge.

About 45 minutes before the race, while the drivers were being introduced, Air Force One swept over the speedway. Bush's aircraft circled around and landed at the airport just behind the back straightaway.

The president was driven onto pit road, where he peered into the cars and met a group of drivers who have made no secret of their GOP leanings. They crowded around the president near Stewart's No. 20 car, shaking hands and chatting.

Black-clad snipers hovered on the roof of a nearby building, peering through binoculars, as Bush said, "Gentlemen, start your engines."

With that, the cars roared to life for the Great American Race.

Bush said he'd like to take a spin around the high-banked oval, but the Secret Service wouldn't let him. "I like speed," he said.

The president watched half the race from a suite above the start-finish line, but left early to beat thousands of revelers pouring out into the Daytona Beach streets. While the cars circled the 2 1/2-mile track, the 747 lifted off from behind the second turn.

Too bad he didn't hang around for end. He missed quite a finish.