DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Driving a car he believes is unbeatable, Dale Earnhardt Jr. added to his family legacy at Daytona International Speedway on the anniversary of his father’s death.

Earnhardt won the first qualifying race Thursday night for the Daytona 500 to earn a starting spot on the second row for NASCAR’s biggest event.

It was Earnhardt’s 17th career win at Daytona International Speedway.

The late Dale Earnhardt leads all drivers with 34 career victories at Daytona. He was killed on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

“It’s another win at Daytona for the Earnhardts, adding to the legacy,” Earnhardt said in victory lane. “We’re up here in the 50s now.”

The No. 88 Chevrolet that Hendrick Motorsports brought to Daytona won three times last year, and Earnhardt admitted after the qualifying race that he allowed himself to dream about winning as a tribute to his father.

“I try not to make too big a deal – I told all you guys how much I like people to remember dad and talk about dad,” he said. “I’m guilty of daydreaming a little bit, about winning this race tonight because of the day. That’s very special to me. I was glad that nothing bad happened and we didn’t tear our car up because that would have been embarrassing on a day like this.”

Kyle Busch, the reigning Sprint Cup champion, won the second qualifying race, but several contenders wrecked their prized cars in a last-lap accident.

Busch was trying to hold off Jamie McMurray on the final lap and briefly blocked him. McMurray moved up the track for another try, but Jimmie Johnson was in the same space and Johnson bounced off the wall to trigger a multi-car accident.

Among those who wrecked strong race cars were Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr., who will all have to go to backup cars for the Daytona 500. Kenseth had earned a front row starting spot for Sunday’s season-opener, but he’ll now forfeit it because of the crash.

It wasn’t clear how much damage Kurt Busch and McMurray sustained, but Stewart-Haas Racing said it would not go to a backup for Busch.

FIFTEEN YEARS after Dale Earnhardt’s death at Daytona, NASCAR drivers are still clamoring for safety improvements.

“There’s a fix for everything,” driver Ryan Newman said. “It’s just a matter of spending time, money and effort to do it right.”