FORT WORTH, Texas (Feb. 26, 2014) – Newly crowned Daytona 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. received a rousing Texas-sized welcome Tuesday as he was greeted by more than 1,000 members of “Junior Nation” at the iconic Scholz Garten restaurant in the state capital of Austin to celebrate his thrilling victory in NASCAR’s marquee season-opening race.
Fans, arriving as early as 9 a.m. CT and more than seven hours before his appearance, packed the outside commons area and lined the streets and garage decks of downtown Austin as the two-time Daytona 500 champion received a wild ovation while driving the city streets and arriving in a Duck Commander 500-wrapped Team Texas stock car.
For Earnhardt Jr., the reception he continuously receives when visiting the Lone Star State – even when it is more than 200 miles from Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth – is rewarding even to NASCAR’s 11-time most popular driver.
“There are a lot of things I like about Texas Motor Speedway,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “One of the things I like about TMS, and this is genuine, is the fan support.
“When we first built that race track, to be frank, we (NASCAR) were struggling west of the Mississippi to really draw crowds. For whatever reason, when they built this race track, people really latched on to it. It’s been a great market for us. It’s been very successful. There’s a great staff out there that does a lot of cutting-edge stuff and does a lot of unique promotion that you don’t see at other places. It makes it a lot of fun to come here. Especially when the fans show their support to the track itself, it makes you want to race in front of them. It makes you excited to be here when they’re, in turn, excited to see you.”
Earnhardt Jr., who has been showered with praise for his thrilling victory in the 56th Daytona 500, may have received his most unique reward of the week. The Daughters of the Republic of Texas President Karen Thompson presented him with the Texas flag that flew over Texas’ most iconic landmark – The Alamo – the same day as his victory in the Daytona 500.
The presentation of the flag was part of a fan friendly event where he posed for photos with fans from a radio promotion, signed a slew of autographs and participated in a Q&A session where he shared his thoughts on relishing his second Daytona 500 triumph.
"When I won it early, it was a huge shock," Earnhardt Jr. said of winning his first Daytona 500 in 2004. "The feeling that I had wasn't really joy. It was more relief that I got it out of the way. Then, after another couple years, you wonder if you'll ever win another one. As those years have turned into 10 years, you've really got to wonder if you'll ever feel that again."
Earnhardt Jr.’s visit to Austin has been part of a whirlwind Daytona 500 Champion’s Tour by NASCAR. His appearance in the Lone Star State came on the heels of media tours in New York and Bristol, Conn., that included an appearance on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and a stop at ESPN’s broadcast headquarters, respectively, and continued today in Los Angeles.
Fans were not the only ones packing into Scholz Garten, as all the major media outlets from Austin, as well others traveling from San Antonio and Waco, took advantage of Earnhardt Jr.’s visit.
Despite being on the turf of Formula One’s new venue in Austin, Circuit of the Americas, Earnhardt Jr. reminded racing fans and the media which motorsports series in the United States and which track in the state of Texas provides the most intense racing action.
“I’m here to tell people that they (fans) need to see us race because we put on a better show and as exciting as it is to have Formula One back in the United States, NASCAR is where it’s at,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “NASCAR is the best motorsports in the country for sure and possibly in the world. To see the best show they need to come to Texas (Motor Speedway).”
Legendary Formula One driver Michael Schumacher provided a reason for Earnhardt Jr. to keep tabs on the global series in the past, but since his departure from Ferrari he has found little reason to follow the series.
“He was considered one of the best race-car drivers the world has ever seen,” Earnhardt Jr. said of Schumacher. “I definitely followed it back then, but ever since then I’ve not had a personality really intrigue me that runs in that sport. When it comes to sports, even in baseball, basketball, or football, it’s the individuals that I latch onto. I pull for particular people to do well. I haven’t found the one that I relate to yet.”
Earnhardt Jr.’s next visit to Texas will be in the more familiar confines of Dallas/Fort Worth when he returns to Texas Motor Speedway for the Duck Commander 500 NASCAR Sprint
Cup Series race on Sunday, April 6.
Tickets for the Duck Commander 500, which begin as low as $30 on the frontstretch and will feature the debut of the world’s largest HD video board at a sporting venue, are available by calling the Texas Motor Speedway ticket office at (817) 215-8500 or by visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com.