Two-time Daytona 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. is ready to tell the world the story of his victory in Sunday night’s 56th annual event at Daytona International Speedway.
Running on only one hour of sleep, Earnhardt embarked on a week-long whirlwind media tour this morning, after installing 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.
Earnhardt, crew chief Steve Letarte, team owner Rick Hendrick and the crew of the No. 88 car enjoyed a breakfast with the media and participated in interviews and pictures on Monday morning.
“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.”
During the Champion’s Breakfast, Speedway President Joie Chitwood presented all three Daytona 500 champions with their leather jackets, Hendrick with his Harley J. Earl Daytona 500 Trophy and Letarte with the Cannonball Baker Trophy. Chitwood and Earnhardt Jr. also unveiled the logo for next year’s 57th annual Daytona 500.
The Champion’s Breakfast isn’t the only obligation that comes with winning “The Great American Race.” Earnhardt Jr. will fly across America this week, making stops in New York City, the ESPN complex in Bristol, Connecticut and Los Angeles.
“I’m looking forward to it and I want to enjoy it,” said Earnhardt Jr., who will be appearing on the Late Show with David Letterman on Monday night. “We won a big race, we put a lot of effort into it and I’m going to make sure everybody hears about it.”
“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,” agreed 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.”
“This place just has a lot of great history,” said Earnhardt when asked to sum up the feeling of winning the Great American Race 500 for a second time. “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.”