DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The post-race celebration was fitting for NASCAR’s most-popular driver.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who snapped his 55-race winless streak by winning Sunday night’s Daytona 500, did multiple burnouts as his legion of fans, known as Junior Nation, lined the fences at the Daytona International Speedway.
After saluting the fans, who braved heavy rains and a more than six-hour delay, Earnhardt made his way to victory lane, stopping just long enough to pick up car owner Rick Hendrick.
“Man, it feels incredible,’’ said Earnhardt. “It’s the greatest feeling you can have as a driver in NASCAR at a single event in a single day.’’
That emotion was quite evident as Earnhardt sprinted into the media center for his post-race news conference, nearly two hours after the race had ended, covered in beer and champagne. With his arms raised, Earnhardt screamed “Woo!”
“I bet someone hasn’t come in here and screamed in 30 years,” he said early Monday morning. “They used to!”
This is the second time that Earnhardt has won the Great American Race, with his first Daytona 500 victory coming in 2004.
So, which one is better?
“I was thinking about that when I crossed the finish line,’’ he said. “I was relieved that I’ve done it again and I’ve done it with the people I’m with. Initially the reaction was, this is better because I’m back in Victory Lane.
“It’s different because it’s the people, you know. It’s better because you had a taste of it before. To win it the first time, you are blown away and sort of overwhelmed. The experience is a blur. It doesn’t sink in. You don’t absorb much of the whole thing. I can’t even remember half of it even after the fact, what we did that week. It was just all so much of a flash.’’