By Chris Caraveo
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.—winner of Sunday’s Daytona 500—stopped in Austin for the first time in his life on Tuesday and received a huge welcome from the city’s fans.
The Texas capital was not the only destination for Earnhardt, Jr. on the day. He spent the morning on several ESPN shows in Bristol, Conn. such as SportsCenter and Mike & Mike. By the afternoon he landed in Austin and arrived at Scholz Garten to speak with the media and fans.
Earnhardt, Jr. reflected on the 10-year gap between his first and second Daytona 500 wins. When he first came into the Cup Series, he wondered when his first would come. Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace, two NASCAR icons, never won there. His father, Dale Earnhardt, took 20 years before he won it.
“Would it be eluding me like it did these other guys? Would I never win it?” he questioned himself. “So when I won it early it was a huge shock. And the feeling that I had wasn’t really joy it was more relief that I had that put out of the way.”
But after the first, winning the second time became the goal.
“I felt grateful to have won it once but I was a bit selfish, I wanted to win it again. And rightfully so, it’s the greatest feeling you could have.”
After nine years without winning it and finishing second three times in the last four seasons, this year’s win produced the joy that he did not feel in 2004.
He has also had fun as a result of winning the race. He created a Twitter account that same night and has since gained more than 500,000 followers, not too surprising for NASCAR’s 11-time most popular driver.
And he personally controls his account.
“I’m definitely a rookie,” he said.
He also has a guideline he follows for dealing with fans.
“Just being grounded, being genuine, being yourself. When you got an opinion, I want to hear your honest opinion, and that’s the way I try to work with my fans. And I feel the same way with them; I want them to be honest with me about what they’re thinking.”
Reveling in the win won’t last long though. Once adversity strikes Daytona will become a distant memory.
“You forget all about Daytona. You forget all about what you just did and you’re just like everybody else again. You’re off the cloud, off the mountain, back in the pool with the rest of the drivers trying to win a race.”
As far as entering the Hall of Fame one day, he said he has some work to do.
“I think that I have been an asset to the sport, and I hope the sport is better off because of me having been involved in it,” he said. “But I don’t know if that gets you in the Hall of Fame. Winning two Daytona 500’s might. Hopefully we can win the championship this year. I think that might lock me up.”
He even put a timetable on how long he may have to get that title.
“I’d love to drive for another five or 10 years at least,” he said. “I want to run as long as I can be in competitive cars. That I feel I can be competitive personally as a driver. It won’t be any fun to be out there and not be competitive. If I can’t be in a car that’s capable of winning and I can’t do it as a driver then I don’t want to be out there.”