Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his dad, Dale Earnhardt a.k.a. "The Intimidator", celebrating!
"Going for the gusto"
Concord, NC - It's been a long and devastating week for all those involved in NASCAR, and for the drivers and crews in preparation for the prestigious bragging rights of appearing in the May 20th running of The Winston - let alone winning the event. "Wow - I mean what are the odds of us even making this race and then winning it our first time out? I've watched this race for years as a fan, and if you asked me, I think this one must've been fun to watch. It was (real) exciting from my seat," said the elated first time competitor.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. qualified 5th for the event on Friday. That in itself was a rookie accomplishment. But what he continues to accomplish in this rookie season is amazing. The record books are changing, and rapidly - and that is a good thing if you are a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan.
On Saturday Jr. finished both 30-lap segments in third. Then in the final segment he was running third, then the Brew Crew gambled big time, and brought him in for a four-tire change, when Jr. got back in line he was tenth. He had to overcome many obstacles to get back to the front, but he was successful in doing just that, by gaining one or two positions on every lap. Jr. pulled behind the race leader Dale Jarrett with only two laps to go and made the pass and pulled away with one lap to go. That's how he found himself in victory lane, but it was not all that simple.
In the first segment he hit the wall, had a left rear tire come loose on the hub, and despite the problems still came home a winner. "The car was haulin' butt until I hit the wall, and then it slowed down a bit, but we made some changes and it was awesome fast those final laps," Jr. said. "Yeah, it was a hard hit. I really thought I had more room than I did. We weren't pushing it, the car was so good, I was just cruising. It's like driving home in your pickup and you hit the curb pulling into the driveway. I just messed up and hit the wall," Jr. said of the incident.
"Hey, we're racers, we're not just riders... we were gonna go for the gusto - that's what this race is about. No points, no pressure, just drive it as hard as you can," is what Jr. had to say, and that's exactly what he did.
As in the past, his father, who finished in third place, met him in victory lane. "The highlight of my life is seeing the smile on my daddy's face. I mean that's what this is all about; making people happy. It does my heart good to know how happy he is, how happy my team is! This is great for the fans and for all of my sponsors like Budweiser and Remington and so many that have supported me and supported the team to help make this happen," Jr. said.
Jr.'s Thoughts About Adam Petty
In that makeshift victory lane (The usual victory lane was kept silent in Adam's memory), Jr. commented about Adam Petty who died from a practice crash one week ago at New Hampshire International Speedway "I'm missing my buddy Adam. I've just been thinking of him all week, and I just wanted to dedicate this one to him. I know if he's watching us he's happy because it was a great race, but I really do miss him."
"We used to play football in front of the condos at the track. Me and Jason Jarrett and Adam would get together and play here and there, and when Adam started driving in the Busch Series, I got to know him a little better. We weren't best friends, but we were friends," Jr. said remembering Adam.
"You never know when you're going to be here or not. Plus that deal with the bridge outside the track. I'm standing there cheering and raising hell in victory lane and 11 or 12 people are outside the track fighting for their lives. It really shocked me when I heard about it," Jr. said.
Three Days After The Win
Jr. mentioned that getting through the technical inspection on Saturday night was a lengthy process, and it was late when he got home. "I was tired and I think I slept until about noon on Sunday. I didn't have to pinch myself or anything when I woke up. I remembered what happened the way it happened, and we had to come from the back a couple of times, I think it sunk in quicker. It was cool."
"I haven't been doing nothing much since Saturday night," Jr. said Tuesday morning. "I've just been sitting around the house and hanging out at the shop aggravating everybody."
Earnhardt Jr. On Success
"Everything has worked out pretty cool so far this season. I didn't know if I could win in Winston Cup at all as a rookie. To have two wins and a win in The Winston already really takes away a lot of pressure. It's a relief really," he said. "Success can easily spoil you, and I take advantage of the situation some. I'm shopping a little more than I used to in the past. I bought a 25-foot boat to use on Lake Norman, but it ain't nothing special. You see a bunch of boats just like it on the lake. I bought a new truck and paid cash for it. That was cool. I bought it from my dad, and he gave me a pretty good deal on it, I think."
Jr. On His Dad
"He’s real careful what he says to me in a complimentary way. We're getting closer and closer as it goes. We've both got strong teams, and we both want to run good. I guess it's rare for a father and son to be racing each other, but we have the same ideals and same goals and go about our jobs almost identical. I really don't know how it feels for him racing against me. I know he's happy and proud when his son and his car win, but at the same time, if his son and car win, he doesn't, so that's got to be a little tricky."
His Thoughts On The Upcoming 600
"The 600 is a long race and a lot can happen. I guess we're going for two in a row (after points win at Richmond), but I'd like to think of it as three in a row. If our car is as good as it was in The Winston, I'll get it to victory lane somehow. Everybody on the team is confident, and I think we're going to be hard to beat. I know you've got to stay out of trouble and have a little luck, and I know the track is going to change as the race goes on, but Tony and the boys will be ready. I don't know if Humpy has predicted a winner for the 600. Maybe we'll check with him, and see what he thinks," he concluded.
First rookie to win The Winston
Jr. led only two laps in the final segment - the final two
He has won three Winston Cup events in six weeks
His winnings for the event: $516,410 or $7,377 per lap run or $4,918 per mile raced
Written by Karen Eryou