AUSTIN (AP) — Dale Earnhardt Jr. is all over the place. No time at all to process the significance of his second Daytona 500 victory.
Earnhardt has been traveling almost non-stop since he won NASCAR’s premier race Sunday night. He made a couple of national TV appearances before arriving in Austin for a stop on behalf of Texas Motor Speedway on Tuesday afternoon.
NASCAR’s most popular driver snapped a 55-race losing streak dating to 2012. He also won the Daytona 500 a decade ago.
“When I won it early, it was a huge shock,” Earnhardt said at a restaurant in downtown Austin. “The feeling that I had wasn’t really joy. It was more relief that I got it out of the way. Then, after another couple years, you wonder if you’ll ever win another one. As those years have turned into 10 years, you’ve really got to wonder if you’ll ever feel that again.”
Earnhardt got his answer last weekend, when he led six times for a race-high 54 laps after a rain delay of 6 hours, 22 minutes. He was the runner-up three of the last four years at Daytona International Speedway, where his father was killed in an accident on the last lap of the 2001 race.
“I want to think I have an idea of what the value of that win is, but it’s hard to measure,” Earnhardt said. “I did a poor job of measuring when I won it the first time. I was younger and I thought, ‘Man, this is a big deal.’ And before I knew it, we were at another track trying to win another race and forgetting about Daytona. I just missed it.”
Earnhardt’s slump-busting victory also was a big one for NASCAR.
“That’s our Michael Jordan, our Tiger Woods,” Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said. “He realizes he’s in his late 30s. He’s gotta do it now. I don’t mean to put any more pressure him but, he doesn’t have to do it this year, but he’s got to do it soon. The window isn’t very large.”
Earnhardt also made good this week on his promise to join Twitter if he won the Daytona 500 again. He tweeted early Monday morning: “Tonight seemed like as good a night as any to join Twitter. How is everyone doin?” The tweet had a 2XDaytona500 hashtag and included a photo of Earnhardt with the trophy.
He had almost 500,000 Twitter followers by Tuesday night.
“I felt like I was very genuine and believed in myself. I think they appreciated that and my down-to-earth personality,” Earnhardt said. “When I started racing, I really was adopted by (my father’s) fan base and had a huge fan base before I really had any accomplishments to really justify it. I walked on my toes for a while because I wasn’t him. I wasn’t a carbon copy of him. I was someone completely different.”
The Austin stop was a strategic one for Earnhardt and NASCAR. The city is home to the only Formula One course in the country.
“That’s why I’m here,” Earnhardt said. “To tell people to see us race because we put on a better show. NASCAR is where it’s at.”
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