The 2008 Daytona 500 was the 50th annual running of the event. It was held on February 17, 2008 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. The race was the 50th to be run since the first in 1959, won by Lee Petty. To commemorate the event, the Harley J. Earl Trophy, which goes to the winner of the race, was plated in gold instead of silver. In addition, the winning car was placed on display for one year at the Daytona 500 Experience attraction just outside Turn Four. The race also played host to a 56 year old Dale Earnhardt, Sr., who decided that after years of absence he was going to try qualifying for the 50th running of Nascar's biggest race and the 10th anniversary of Dale's 1998 victory. In the last race that Dale Earnhardt would ever participate in, he qualified 31st for the race. After being notified of the idea, GM Goodwrench, very supportive of the idea, came back to sponsor the car again for this one race.
DEI driver Kevin Harvick, just for this race, would have his number changed from #3 to #4 so Earnhardt could race the #3. This was the first time in Harvick's career in the top-tier NASCAR series since 2003 that he's ever raced a number other than #3, and the last time he would race a number outside of #3.
In the beginning of the race, Jimmie Johnson and Michael Waltrip started on the front row. For the first 151 laps, there were only two caution flags, both thrown for debris. Jeff Gordon went to the garage after leading a few laps due to a broken suspension. On lap 161, David Ragan tried to block Matt Kenseth but brought out the 3rd caution when Ragan squeezed Kenseth into the wall. The next caution flew on lap 176, when Johnson spun out on the backstretch, and Martin Truex Jr. spun because of the shuffle in the field.
Clint Bowyer led the next two laps, but was shuffled through the field and was eventually spun by Juan Pablo Montoya, bringing out the 5th caution. However, he did not have any damage from the crash. The biggest crash occurred on lap 189 when Kevin Harvick knocked Dave Blaney into the wall, collecting Mark Martin, Michael Waltrip, Casey Mears, Denny Hamlin, Travis Kvapil, and Carl Edwards. Mears did not pit and wound up 4th in the field despite minor damage.
Dale Earnhardt gradually, yet suprisingly quickly, worked his way from 21st to 3rd over the course of 9 laps. On lap 195, Dale Earnhardt had taken the lead after running third the last half a lap, doing so on the highside off of turn 2 and to the inside down the backstretch, even pulling out to over a 1 second lead, thereafter leading the last 6 laps of his time in NASCAR (there are some who believe the other drivers let him lead 5 of those laps out of respect) until on lap 201 he had to get out of a very fast Casey Mears' way or risk a crash. On lap 204 Mears tried to block Tony Stewart, who went with Burton, but turned himself into the wall, bringing out another caution.
Burton had a fuel problem on the restart, resulting in Stewart passing him on the outside, bringing Ryan Newman, Kurt and Kyle Busch and Reed Sorenson. Stewart led the next two laps. On the last lap, Ky. Busch jumped to the inside, bringing Stewart with him. Newman was on the outside now. It was a shootout going into the final turn between Newman, Stewart, and the Busch Brothers. Out of nowhere Kevin Harvick held it down out of Turn 4 making it 3 wide, without flinching as he went down without lifting the gas on the front-stretch apron to pass Ky. Busch before he could jump to the inside of Stewart, which had been Kyle's plan. Ku. Busch pushed Newman on the highside, allowing him to race Harvick being pushed by Kyle Busch to the line, but he got beat by Harvick by 5 one thousandths of a second.
Dale Earnhardt in his last race managed to avoid all of the wrecks (although narrowly on the Lap 176 wreck when Johnson came down almost right in front of him and Casey Meers, who would wreck a few laps later) and finished his last race 15th. At the end of the race Dale did seem considerably more exhausted then years prior, but he was still energetic enough give his crew chief a playful shove as he talked about his final race experience to TV reporters. "Man, sometimes you wish you were younger. (playful shove to crew chief) At least I still have the endurance to finish relatively well." That's what Earnhardt had to say that day before going to see his driver, Kevin Harvick, in victory lane.