Dale Earnhardt Jr. began a week of media activities Monday that might make another NASCAR Sprint Cup series driver cringe. Earnhardt Jr. however didn’t mind a bit. Fresh off his second Daytona 500 win only hours before, Earnhardt began the day at Daytona International Speedway, the site of Sunday’s rain delayed victory. Although “fresh” might be the wrong word.
“I was taking pictures and doing media until about 3 a.m.,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “The team was having most of the fun. When I got over there, they were out of spirits so we found some more and we just sat around and talked about how cool it was – just punching each other in the shoulder until about 4 a.m. and then I had to hang it up.”
Monday morning began with a breakfast and the installation of his No. 88 National Guard Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet inside the Daytona International Speedway Ticket and Tours Building. The car will be part of the Daytona International Speedway tours program and will be returned to the team at the 2015 DAYTONA 500, a tradition that has been in existence since 1996.
During the Champion’s Breakfast, Speedway President Joie Chitwood presented all three DAYTONA 500 champions with their leather jackets, team owner Rick Hendrick with his Harley J. Earl DAYTONA 500 trophy and crew chief Steve Letarte with the Cannonball Baker trophy. Chitwood and Earnhardt Jr. also unveiled the logo for next year’s 57th annual DAYTONA 500.
“This race is such a big deal,” said Letarte. “The whole thing felt pretty surreal. What races do you still celebrate the next day? You have a breakfast and keep getting trophies and jackets. I’m proud of the team we’ve assembled. They’re a great group of guys and deserve most of the credit. They built a great race car, Dale drove a great race and we’re excited.”
“That was a perfect race,” added Hendrick, who is enjoying his eighth DAYTONA 500 win as an owner. “That was a perfect race. Dale – I’ve never seen anybody drive a car (like that). He drove the wheels off the car every lap. Stevie called a perfect race, pit stops were perfect and TJ (Majors) did an unbelievable job up there spotting. I’m so proud.”
The festivities though had just started. From Daytona Earnhardt flew to New York; there he appeared on the David Letterman show Monday night after spending the afternoon visiting other media outlets in the area. Tuesday and Wednesday Earnhardt will continue his media tour with stops at ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut Tuesday and Los Angeles the following day.
“I’m looking forward to it and I want to enjoy it,” said Earnhardt “We won a big race, we put a lot of effort into it and I’m going to make sure everybody hears about it.”
Before leaving Monday, Earnhardt summed up his feelings about winning NASCAR’s biggest race at Daytona.
“This place just has a lot of great history,” he said. “It’s a great race track. You drive into it and you get a special feeling you don’t get anywhere else. As soon as you drive through the tunnel you know where you’re at. There are some great facilities and unique tracks and places we go that I have a lot of appreciation for, but nothing like Daytona.
“Once you win it, it’s like a color TV – once you watch color TV for the first time, you don’t want to go back to black and white. When I won it for the first time (in 2004), I just couldn’t wait to get back to Victory Lane.”