Newsmaker: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Posted: Monday, February 23, 2004

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his first Daytona 500 on Sunday.The third generation driver stopped long enough to talk about the victory.

Question: Tony Stewart finished behind you last Sunday. Are you two becoming closer friends.

Earnhardt Jr. : Yeah. We got to be real good friends over the last year or so. When he was catching all that stuff in the press about being crazy and wild, I just knew that wasn't the truth. I tried to stick up for him a couple of times. He appreciated that. We just got to be good friends and began hanging out a little bit.

Question: How did that relationship begin?

Earnhardt Jr. : I'm not real sure. I was trying to think back. We ran into each other in the Busch Series a couple of times. We had some pretty colorful arguments. At Pikes Peak, we got to beating and banging on each other. And I ran into him about six or seven times trying to get by him. He sent me into the fence on the restart. We ended up in the Busch hauler trying to get at each other and hollering and cussing and carrying on. And then the next week, we were in Milwaukee. He walked up to me and said he just wanted things to be cool with each other. He said, 'I think you're cool and your dad is a good man and he's raised you well. I do have a lot of respect for you and I just want you to know that if you want to be friends, we can be friends.' I just thought that was cool. That's kind of when it started. That was back in '98 or '99. Ever since then, we've just gotten to be better friends year after year.

Question: Daytona is one race. Will you have to do well this week to prove you're a championship contender?

Earnhardt Jr.: The season is so dang long. But I'd like to go in there and get a top 10 finish if we could. That would be great. I feel like we're definitely geared up for that and can make it happen. We had a top-5 car last time we were there and ended up 13th. We got a lap down due to something that happened on pit road. But I feel pretty good about going there.

Question: Can you describe what it meant to win the Daytona 500?

Earnhardt Jr.: It was pretty crazy. Those last five laps, I was as nervous as a long-tailed cat under a rocking chair. And then finally when you cross the finish line and know you've got the win, it's kind of a relief. I wanted to pull down there and enjoy the fans and get to see my team and just thank everybody. It's so much work. I want everybody to enjoy it. It's not just something I did. There is a lot of motivation from my fans and a lot of work done behind the scenes by a lot of guys who never get the credit. They'd done great pit stops all day long and they're just as much a part of it as I was. Ever since then, it's been pretty much of a blur. I got in the Busch car and finished it up and winning it too. It's just kind of been one thing after another.

Question: You spent two days in New York doing interviews since the win. What has your schedule been like?

Earnhardt Jr.: I've always been pretty satisfied with the exposure I've gotten. And yeah, maybe there is a point where there's too much and we're overdoing it. But I did win the Daytona 500. I know people want to hear what I think about that. So I'm cool with it all the things we're doing. We got up at 6:45 a.m. to do the Today Show. After that, we did Regis and Kelly. And they we did two deals with CNN. After this, we're going to have a quick lunch and maybe take a couple-hour nap and do the Late Show with David Letterman from 5:30 p.m. on, and then we can head to the house about 8 o'clock (Tuesday night). We had a satellite news conference two hours long after the Busch race. Before the Busch race we were in Daytona 500. It's been pretty busy. I haven't had a whole lot of sleep. That's probably been the main thing. If I had been a little bit more aware of how much rest I would have needed, I probably would have taken a little more care in getting it. But it's been fun.

Question: What do yo say to people who think the Daytona 500 was fixed to get new series sponsor, Nextel, off to a good start?

Earnhardt Jr.: My fans? I think they know better. I think it's a shame that people don't have anything better to do. But I guess you'll have that with anything anytime somebody succeeds with anything. There are going to be some doubters and some people that criticize it no matter what. Some people just can't leave well enough alone and enjoy their own life. They've got to try to mess and screw with somebody else's. I get upset about it, but there isn't much I can do about it except to keep on winning and keep on enjoying my own life.

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