Following his victory in Sunday night’s Daytona 500 Dale Earnhardt Jr. floated into the speedway’s media center around midnight grinning like a Cheshire cat. He shouted out a huge cry of joy that pretty much stopped all the quiet work of the reporters gathered there.
“Bet that doesn’t happen too much in here does it,” Earnhardt questioned.
On Wednesday’s conference call with members of the NASCAR media family Junior sincerely expressed how much he enjoyed the call. Quite a difference from many drivers who just view those calls as another media obligation.
You could feel the emotion in Earnhardt’s voice. Instantly you know why this man is NASCAD’s most popular driver year after year.
The Daytona 500 trophy is the biggest prize in motorsports. And when Dale Earnhardt Jr claimed it then it became that much bigger.
Not long after the race Dale Earnhardt Jr made good on a promise to Michael Waltrip by sending out his first tweet. The deal was that if Junior won the 500 he would join Twitter. Here’s what he had to say.
“I just started using my Twitter handle that I’ve had for several years. Haven’t had a chance to follow anybody yet,” Junior said.
At the time Earnhardt had 213,000 followers on the social media site despite having never made the first tweet. At last count he was up to 528,000.
Earnhardt was still bubbling with enthusiasm when he appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman Monday night.
A driver who is consistently finishing races in the top 5 is bound to win sooner or later. The same goes for Dale Jr who with his win Sunday has finished either first or second in 4 of the past 5 Daytona 500s.
When one reporter asked him about the intensity level of the Daytona 500 Dale Earnhardt Jr had this to say:
“I could feel it. It was electric, man. I don’t know what the hell was going on or why it was like that. I wish I knew because that’s what NASCAR wants to bottle and sell.
It felt so different than any other race I’d ever been in, any other Daytona 500 I’d been in for sure. The intensity level was at a max. Races usually have a lull in the middle, don’t get going till the end when it’s time to put money on the line, people start picking up the intensity. We sustained it from the time we started, restarted, all the way to the end. I couldn’t believe it.
I think people were enjoying themselves. I think everybody was having fun with each other, putting each other in difficult situations, bringing out the best in each other. There was really something special going on.
I know everybody thinks it’s the greatest race they ever saw because Dale Jr. won it. Taking that out of the equation, I think it really was an exciting race and one of the most exciting Daytona 500s I’ve ever been in and one of the most intense races I’ve ever been in.
The drivers were really feeding off each other out there. It was a really weird kind of deal. But it was fun. We were really having fun.
I cannot wait to watch it. I bet I watch it three times in a row back-to-back. I can’t wait.”
With the win Earnhardt became the championship points leader and is virtually a lock to be in the Chase. The pressure is off now. He can simply race to win.
It would not be a surprise to see Earnhardt run the table at this point. He has momentum and confidence on his side.
How would you rate this year’s Daytona 500, was it one of the greatest races you have seen?
Do you know that Dale is actually his middle name – and that Dale Earnhardt Jr’s first name is actually Ralph?
Ralph Lee Earnhardt was Junior’s grandfather and a true racer in his own right. Ralph Earnhardt began his racing career in 1949 after deciding that a lifetime working in North Carolina cotton mills was not for him.
Born in Kannapolis North Carolina in 1928, that is where he made the family home. Ralph and his wife Martha lived in a modest home at the corner of Coach and Sedan streets with their children Dale, Randy, Danny, Kaye and Cathy. And it was there in a small garage behind the house that he built race cars. Ralph made a living by racing and preparing race cars for other drivers and car owners.
Ralph Earnhardt’s cars were considered bullet-proof and race-ready. When he showed up at the track he was ready to race – while other drivers were fiddling with their engines and tuning their cars.
He won over 350 races in his career and was NASCAR’s Sportsman Division champion – what is now called the Nationwide Series in 1956.
Driving for legends Lee Petty and Cotton Owens, Ralph Earnhardt competed in the NASCAR Grand National series, now known as Sprint Cup from 1956 to 1964. Ned Jarrett described him as “absolutely the toughest race car driver I ever raced against.
Ralph Lee Earnhardt died on September 26, 1973 while preparing his car for the next race.
Do you have a Ralph Earnhardt story? Please share it in the comments.
For the first 8 days of his diet Dale Earnhardt Jr drank prune juice. Then he switched to carrot juice. For the record he likes the prune juice better.
Earnhardt noticed he was gaining a few pounds last year when he began having trouble getting onto his firesuits. Like most of us he thought the suits were shrinking. “Man, something is wrong with the washer,” Earnhardt said. But the scales were telling a different story.
In the past Earnhardt has been able to eat what he wants without giving much thought to his waistline. But at the end of last season he realized it was time to slim down a bit. During the NASCAR off-season he did just that. “I lost a lot of weight. 15 or 20 pounds. Just trying to do a better job of managing my calories and stuff like that”
Besides counting calories and watching what he eats. Junior spent 15 days on a de-tox diet suggested by a friend. No steaks. No burgers. Just veggies, chicken and fish. For 2 days it was nothing but fruit and vegetables. Prune juice to drink for the first 8 days, then carrot juice for the last 7. “It was pretty tough too. I was surprised I was able to make it,” said Dale .Jr
Did you notice Junior was gaining weight? What diet recommendations do you have for him?
Here is one of 6,788 Dale Earnhardt Jr Dark Knight Batman cars. Junior won at Michigan in this car.
Taking time off now would give him a chance to make a complete recovery and begin fresh in 2013′s Daytona 500. But Daytona is four months away and that is a long time for a racer to be out of a race car. Racing tends to keep the edges sharp.
It is a tough decision either way. What should Dale Jr do?
Dale Earnhardt Jr will not compete in Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race at Charlotte. He will also skip the following race at Kansas.
Earnhardt suffered a concussion in the last-lap 25 car crash at Talladega last Sunday.
Dale Jr and Rick Hendrick have made the right decision in withdrawing from the 2 races, even though it means an end to Earnhardt’s championship hopes and an end to his 461 consecutive Cup starts.
Regan Smith will be behind the wheel of the No. 88 during Earnhardt’s absence.
This is not Earnhardt’s first concussion. The last time he did not reveal it to anyone until months later and continued to race even though he knew he was not at 100 percent.
This time he is putting the safety of his fellow competitors, as well as his own health and safety first. Even though it may mean fewer people attending the races and fewer people tuning in to watch on TV.
Dale Earnhardt Jr has done the right thing, and he will be back.
What do you think about Earnhardt’s decision, and how will it affect the race Saturday night?
Not if you ask Junior. He walks through the Sprint Cup garage with an extra bit of confidence today. His head a bit higher and a spark in his eye. Earnhardt knows he has what it takes to be a Sprint Cup Champion.
Today at Chicagoland Speedway he took the No. 88 Chevrolet from a 42nd place starting position to a solid 8th place finish. He is now 7th in the standings, 17 points out of the lead.
Not if you ask Steve Letarte, Crew Chief on the No. 88. Letarte has given Dale Earnhardt Jr consistently fast and well-handling cars all year long. He has given Dale Jr a reason to be confident.
Not if you ask the media. Not long ago reporters who would regularly ignore Earnhardt or question his will to win are now talking about Junior’s chances after a very consistent series of top 5 and top 10 finishes in 2012.
Not if you ask a Dale Earnhardt Junior fan. His fans are ever confident and feel that he has a shot to win almost any race.
What about you? Who are you picking for the 2012 Champion?
Here is a Dale Jr retro diecast car from the first Kentucky race in 2011.
Dale Earnhardt Jr did not have the fastest car at the start of the Quicken Loans 400. But 400 miles later he did as the No. 88 displayed in the No. 1 position on the scoring pylon. Earnhardt started the race 17th and quickly fell back to 25th.
But 11 laps into the race crew chief Steve Letarte called for a spring rubber and a chassis adjustment on the black, Batman sponsored No. 88 and the car came to like after that.
By lap 70 Earnhardt passed pole-sitter Marcos Ambrose for the lead and quickly pulled away.
Earnhardt took the lead for the final time on lap 172 and never looked back for the final 28 laps.
The crowd in the grandstands roared their approval until there were only 5 laps to go. That’s when an eerie silence fell over the speedway except for the sounds of the engines. Fans seemed to be holding their breath waiting for something bad to happen. It didn’t.
With the confidence Dale Jr has been showing in 2012, along with the consistent finishes, it seemed that he was on the verge of winning. Today he closed the deal.
The win sets Earnhardt up for a championship run as he now sits 4 points out of the lead.
With the “when are you going to win again” question answered by Junior his fans have another question to ask.
“When are you going to win again?”
What do you think of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s latest win?