BY GEORGE DIAZ
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is enjoying the ride. “Late Show with David Letterman?” Check.
“Good Morning America?” Check. ESPN? Check.
The media blitz has been a bit of a magical mystery tour for Earnhardt, who has had little time for anything else other than celebrating and answering questions since winning the Daytona 500 late Sunday night.
“Been so busy, haven’t even had a chance to eat anything,” he said during a teleconference on Tuesday, yet another pit stop on his hectic schedule.
Get the guy a cheeseburger, please. In any case, Junior is cool with all of that. He gets it.
This is a big deal for NASCAR Nation. Kinda like the Miracle on Ice for stock-car racing.
It wasn’t an upset of the same magnitude by any stretch — Junior always has been solid on super-speedway tracks — but it most certainly rises to the same level emotionally when you consider the fan base.
Drawing new fans
Now Junior is definitely roping in some new bloods, too.
“The new fans? I heard a couple people tell me they’re fans now,” Earnhardt said. “Never watched a race. Now they’re a NASCAR fan. The race was fun and crazy to watch; now they’re fans. I think we turned on a lot of people Sunday. I think that race was destined to do that for some reason. It had kind of that feel — that ’79 Daytona that was the first live flag-to-flag broadcast that really turned the world on to what we were doing through network television.”
Junior has been all over your TV set since winning the race. He shared a good rapport with Letterman, who asked him about the selfie Junior took outside Daytona International Speedway. Junior was in front of a statue of his late father, celebrating his first and only Daytona 500 victory in 1998.
“I’ve walked by that statue and I’ve seen it before — been by it before — and it hit me that I should take that picture; if not for myself, then to share with my fans,” he said.
‘Priorities in better shape’
Earnhardt also shared some laughs with Letterman, explaining how he turned his car on and off during the laps under caution to conserve fuel before the two-lap green-white-checkered finish.
“All you kids in drivers ed, there it is,” Letterman said.
Now 39, Earnhardt has been through the NASCAR 101 educational grind. He’s gathered an inordinate amount of attention, both good and bad.
“I’ve been pretty vindicated, but I’m in a good place now,” he said. “I got my priorities in better shape. I feel, like I said, we’re embarking on a season that could be something really special for me. Whether we win the championship or not remains to be seen, obviously. But I had one of my greatest years last year, and I think we can top that this season.”