Really, this story isn't about a race.
Now, sure, Saturday night's epic finish at Daytona International Speedway will be talked about ad nauseam for hours, days — maybe even weeks to come.
We'll discuss how Erik Jones, the 22-year-old kid with a greasy mullet and overflowing enthusiasm, somehow outdueled NASCAR's reigning champion, Martin Truex Jr., in a two-lap dash to the finish. We'll talk about strategy and all the wrecks that predated their thrilling finish — and, boy, were there plenty — and how NASCAR's youth movement finally has a spark. All those things are fine and fair, sure.
But they're not what this is really about.
That's because Erik Jones wasn't thinking about any of that as he approached the finish line. All that nothingness in front of him as the checkered flag flew, and it wasn't the glory or the money or the status on his mind.
It was his dad.
Really, it was missing his dad.
Terminal cancer stole Dave Jones' life a little more than two years ago, back when Erik was still on the cusp of breaking into the Cup Series. Dave was 53, Erik 20. And while two years is a long time professionally — Jones now has 57 Cup races under his belt, not to mention winning the 2017 Rookie of the Year award — personally, it's nothing.
That wound is still fresh. It still hurts.
Death. Loss. Never being able to hug your dad again.
Are you surprised that was the first thing out of Jones' mouth after he won?
"I was thinking about my mom and dad after the checkered," Jones said seconds after climbing out of his car. "My dad would have been so proud of the work we did to get here."
And not just because Erik had finally reached the summit either. No way. Dave was as instrumental in Erik's racing career as a dad could be, even selling his Corvette when Erik was a kid to help finance his son's dream.
Now that is love.
"I was able to buy that car back actually, about a year and a half ago, and that was pretty cool," Jones said. "Always wanted to give it back to him, but sure feels good to have it in my hands now."
As for the actual finish? It would have made Dad proud. Heck, it made his fellow drivers — even Truex, who ultimately finished second — proud. After staying relatively under the radar for most of Saturday's race, Jones did the one thing essential to winning at Daytona: He didn't wreck.
So as car after car turned into a mangled, mashed-up mess, Jones quietly slipped through the carnage, staying the course and staying alive. And as late accidents caused restart after restart, that meant Jones naturally rose to the front of the pack. At last, with two laps to go, it turned into an all-out dash between him and Truex.
And Jones, with one final burst along the wall, came out ahead.
"We were laying back and dropping back and at one point had to repair quite a bit of damage," Jones said of the way the race played out. "As the race started winding down, we just kind of kept bumping up. We were 15th, and then we were 12th and then seventh, and then we were fourth and then second, and it just kind of kept inching forward.
"And on the last restart, I was like, 'Well, we've got a legitimate shot at this point.'"
In the grand scheme of things, at least as far as racing is concerned, it was an impressive victory. Jones now becomes just the seventh race winner this season, clinching a spot in the playoffs at the same time. He's the first of NASCAR's so-called "young guns" to reach Victory Lane this season.
But again, for as much as Saturday was about winning a race, it was really about much more than that, too.
It was about a father's love for his son and making good on a lifelong dream.
"You know, this was step one of the ultimate goal (of a Cup championship)," Jones said. "It would've sure been special to see his reaction to that last lap and his excitement, because it probably would have been off the charts. I think he would have succeeded me on my excitement crossing the start-finish line.
"Definitely wish he could have been here to see this one."
So as Jones walked from his car to Victory Lane, as he lifted the trophy, as the confetti and beer coalesced and soaked his dirty white fire suit, fireworks lit up over Jones' head. They were colorful, vibrant, pops of energy — of excitement — to coronate the driver's first big win.
It was almost as if his dad were watching down, after all.