Everybody knows Dale Earnhardt Jr. has more fans than anybody in NASCAR. Even the drivers are fans.
They were quick with praise and congratulations after Earnhardt’s victory Sunday night in the Daytona 500.
“I’m happy for him and happy for all those guys,” said Brad Keselowski, the 2012 series champion who finished third, a tick behind Earnhardt and runner-up Denny Hamlin. “Dale, obviously, gave me my big opportunity. He’s probably my best friend in the garage outside of my teammate, Joey Logano.”
Keselowski, who used to drive for Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports in the Nationwide series, said he was happiest that there was nothing fluky about the win.
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“The great thing about Dale winning today, there’s no drama. There’s no feeling, I think, anybody could legitimately have that there’s voodoo magic that he won,” Keselowski said.
Earnhardt had been second in three of the previous four Daytona 500s.
“He’s been knocking on the door in the 500 here for a lot of years,” Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon said. “Got the job done. What an awesome job.”
The victory for Earnhardt came 10 years after his previous Daytona 500 victory, and in the first Daytona 500 with the No. 3 entered — driven by rookie Austin Dillon — since the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. in 2001.
Dillon congratulated Earnhardt on the victory, also, and said it would have been harder to race the No. 3 without his support.
“I’ve gone to him for a lot of advice lately. I can’t thank him enough,” Dillon said. “he’s been awesome to me. It made this whole transition a lot easier. If we didn’t have him on board, it would have definitely been tough to do this.
“For me, he’s been a little bit of a bigger brother. It’s been pretty cool.”
Runner-up Denny Hamlin had a chance to run down Earnhardt but couldn’t make the right move at the right time, in part because his radio stopped working during parts of the race.
But a win is a win, and an Earnhardt is an Earnhardt at Daytona, he said.
“You’re going to have a tough time getting around an Earnhardt in a green-white-checkered at Daytona, anyway,” Hamlin said. “It’s obviously a significant day for their family and great for the race team.”
Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone, in response to being called “arrogant” by Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage for scheduling the United States Grand Prix in Austin on the same day as the NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Fort Worth, said his series and NASCAR won’t be competing for the same motorsport fans in Texas when they hold races 190 miles apart in November.
“I’ve also spoken to the people that run the race at [Circuit of the Americas in Austin] and their position is that they believe the NASCAR crowd is a different crowd to Formula One, different people, different customers,” Ecclestone said. “At the end of the day, they run a domestic series in America — we run a world championship.”
Jeff Gordon’s car will have a Texas A&M paint scheme when it runs at Texas Motor Speedway in April. The track will host 20 engineering students from College Station on race weekend April 4-6, an outing arranged by Gordon sponsor Axalta Coating Systems. The company’s CEO is A&M alum Charles Shaver.
Two-for-two: Since 1982, when the Daytona 500 became the season-opening race, only two drivers have won it and won the next week. Matt Kenseth did it in 2009 by winning at Phoenix, and Jeff Gordon in 1997 at Rockingham.
Rookie struggles: Five of the seven rookies in the series, the most in 20 years, failed to finish the Daytona 500. Austin Dillon was ninth, and Alex Bowman was 23rd. An eighth rookie, Ryan Truex, did not qualify.
Close one: Regan Smith’s victory over Brad Keselowski at Daytona last week, by .013 seconds, was the seventh closest in series history and the second closest in the series at Daytona.
JGR streak: Joe Gibbs Racing has won the past three events at Phoenix, one by Joey Logano in 2012, both by Kyle Busch last year. Roush Fenway has also won three Nationwide starts in a row.
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Daytona sweep: Kyle Busch’s win last week made him the first driver to win in the Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup series at Daytona.
Season opener: The series opens March 30 at St. Petersburg, Fla., where James Hinchliffe is the defending race winner. Scott Dixon is the defending series champion.
Female winner: Alexis DeJoria became the fourth woman to win a Funny Car event, and the 14th in any event in Mello Yello series history. Two weeks ago at the Winternationals, she became one of only nine drivers, and the first woman, to record a sub-four second pass.
Almost two: Brittany Force had a chance to win the Top Fuel final, giving NHRA another female winner, but Antron Brown came through at the end.
44 Percent drop in viewers from last year’s Daytona 500 to this year. The race had a 10.0 rating last year; it was 5.6 this year, perhaps because of the 6-plus-hour delay and going up against the Winter Olympics closing ceremony.
They said it
“My thoughts are toward the future. I don’t like to think about what happened on Sunday in Daytona, but a postrace Phoenix headline that reads, “From Last to First” would be just fine with me.” — Martin Truex Jr., who blew an engine in his backup car at the Daytona 500