Dale Earnhardt Jr. Rejuvenates The Earnhardt Legacy With GEICO 500 Victoryby Hunter Thomas May 3, 2015 0 comments
TALLADEGA, Ala. – With an overheating engine, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to hold off the field and capture his sixth career victory at Talladega Superspeedway in the GEICO 500 on Sunday.
However, the reason behind the excitement on Sunday wasn’t just about solidifying a spot in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. It also wasn’t just about finally reaching Victory Lane at the speedway after an 11-year hiatus. On Sunday, Earnhardt Jr. added to his father’s legacy. All six times Earnhardt Jr. took the lead during the GEICO 500, the crowd erupted into a frenzy, and when he held on for the win, well, that was just excitement overload.
“Yeah, I felt like we had a lot of supporters here because of dad’s success,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “He won so many races here. I think about all the races he won here and at Daytona. I love when we go to Victory Lane because I feel like I add to his legacy there. All I ever want to do is make him proud. I feel like when we win at those tracks where he was successful, that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
After winning at Talladega Superspeedway for the first time since 2004, Earnhardt Jr. appeared to have felt accomplished. Drivers have good and bad finishes, and they also have wins, but some wins hold a little more of a meaning. And when an Earnhardt wins in Alabama, well, that’s quite an event. The fans are part of the celebration instead of just spectators, and Earnhardt Jr. definitely gave the fans that on Sunday when he drove around the track waving the checkered flag in the Alan Kulwicki-style celebration.
“I leave here more disappointed than I do other tracks when we don’t win the race,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I try not to get satisfied with just leading a lot of laps. I feel like the fans want to see us up front. They love to see us win the race, but they want to see us lead every lap. They get excited when we take the lead. They’re happy when we’re up front. They want us up front every lap. I mean, I feel that.”
However, Sunday’s race was also a reminder that Earnhardt Jr. deserved the second opportunity Hendrick Motorsports gave him. The first three years at the organization, he only earned one win, and the highest he finished in the point standings was 12th. Since joining the team in 2008, it wasn’t until 2011 when he finished out the season top-10 in the point standings.
“I think the part I feel I don’t think I deserve is the racing side of it,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “There’s just not many second chances. I feel like if my name wasn’t Earnhardt that I wouldn’t have had the second chance. I feel like I owe my second chance to my dad, his legacy, because the way I ran from ’09 through those years till 2011 or so, I feel I didn’t deserve to be kept around or hung onto.”
Now that those days are long gone, Earnhardt Jr. has since found more happiness and well, love. During the post-race press conference on Sunday afternoon, Earnhardt Jr. opened up a little bit more about his relationship with girlfriend, Amy Reimann. Earnhardt Jr. has been a bachelor his whole life, having girlfriends here and there, hanging out with the guys and spending hours upon hours on simulation video games. Some may even call his past life the ultimate bachelor style of living, but you never know what may be going on in someone else’s life. On Sunday afternoon, Earnhardt Jr. said that he once wasn’t happy and that Amy showed him that there’s much more to life, than racing.
“I mean, I definitely feel fortunate in my personal life,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Amy and I have gotten so close. It sounded like a great idea at the time, but earlier this week we decided she would do some work on the house and stay home. About 9:00 this morning, it was the worst idea. I was miserable that she wasn’t here.
“It just proves to me how much she means to me and how important she is to me. She’s been a big help in getting me out of my shell. We were joking about it with Darrell Waltrip, that I just never come out of the bus all weekend. When I go home, I’d sit on the computer and race online. My buddies would call and text me, we’re going here, going there. I would never go, I’ll see you guys next time.”
“I thought I was having fun, but I was really miserable,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “She’s made my life a whole lot more enjoyable and showed me how to have fun and showed me there’s a lot more to life.”
On Wednesday prior to the race weekend, it was Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s birthday. He would’ve been 64 years old. Earnhardt Sr. recorded an impressive 10 victories at Talladega Superspeedway. Without a doubt, Earnhardt Jr. feels that he once again has rejuvenated the Earnhardt legacy after Sunday’s win. The excitement of the celebration and the emotions of Victory Lane showed that.
“I don’t really get to think about him (Earnhardt Sr.) that much,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “His birthday came and went. Today, it made me think about his birthday, how much I miss him, how much he meant to me and so many more people that I can’t even fathom the number of folks that he had a relationship with in this sport, a connection with, all his fans out there really enjoyed seeing him compete here.”
He isn’t going to let 2014, a season where he recorded four wins but no championship put him down. Now that Earnhardt Jr. has won and moved up three spots to fifth in the point standings, look for he and Greg Ives, along with the rest of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet team ride the momentum all the way to Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images