Daytona 500 Preview: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Author:
Publish date:

AT DAYTONA: After winning the Feb. 9 Budweiser Shootout, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has 11 wins at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. Notably, he won the Daytona 500 in 2004, the Pepsi 400 in 2001, two Budweiser Shootouts (2003 and 2008) and five NASCAR Nationwide Series events. Earnhardt also won his Gatorade Duel qualifying races in 2003 and 2004.

STELLAR RECORD: Earnhardt has recorded six top-five finishes, nine top-10s and has led 319 laps during 16 Sprint Cup races at Daytona. His average start is 11.9, and his average finish is 14.3 at Daytona in NASCAR's elite series. He recorded his only DNF last year when he was involved in a crash on Lap 195 of the 202 laps it took to complete the 2007 Daytona 500.

DRIVING EMMA: The No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet that Earnhardt will drive in the 2008 Daytona 500 is Hendrick Motorsports Chassis No. 88-475, but it goes simply by "Emma." The car is named after the original Emma, which was built by Earnhardt's maternal grandfather, legendary fabricator Robert Gee, and raced for Hendrick Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide Series by drivers Geoff Bodine and Tim Richmond in the 1980s. Both Bodine and Richmond won with the car, which Gee nicknamed after his mother.

'88' FASTEST IN TESTING: Earnhardt and the No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard team posted the fastest overall lap (48.434 seconds and 185.820 mph) during January's Sprint Cup Series "Preseason Thunder" testing at Daytona International Speedway.

AMP ENERGY COMMERCIAL TO DEBUT: Earnhardt filmed two commercials for sponsor AMP Energy during the off-season. The first, which aired prior to the Super Bowl, involved a camel (view it at www.AMPEnergy.com). The second new spot will debut during the Daytona 500 telecast and involves a pesky gorilla that reminds Earnhardt just how much energy, focus and control it takes to get his job done on the track. Media members may view the commercial here (link not for public posting).

GOING GREEN: AMP Energy wants to see how fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr. are "going green" this season. Fans can win a chance to go to the AMP Energy 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in October and meet Earnhardt by showing AMP Energy how JR Nation is going green. Log onto www.AMPEnergy.com for more information or to submit photos or videos.

BUSY OFF-SEASON: In a matter of months, Earnhardt has launched a clothing line through adidas, a candy bar ("Big Mo") and a television documentary ("Dale Jr. - Shifting Gears" presented by the National Guard). With a few close friends, he also managed to squeeze in an off-season trip to Australia in December.

CLOTHING LINE HITTING STORES: Earnhardt's JR Nation adidas clothing line, which makes its debut Friday, will feature the same adidas ClimaCool technology that allows him to stay cool on the track. The first items will be available Feb. 15 at 9 a.m. local time at Sports Authority in Daytona Beach. The first 88 people to purchase adidas JR Nation gear will receive an autographed hat. Fans can text "88" to "adidas" from their mobile phones to receive updates on the latest adidas gear.

FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY: On Friday, Earnhardt will appear live on QVC's "For Race Fans Only" show, which will feature Earnhardt merchandise and other officially licensed NASCAR products. Earnhardt will appear on the broadcast from 8-10 p.m. ET. The show will air live from the Mary McLeod Bethune Performing Arts Center in Daytona Beach.

*****

DALE EARNHARDT JR., DRIVER OF THE NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET (ON QUALIFYING 15TH IN SUNDAY'S DAYTONA 500 TIME TRIALS.): "It felt good to come back to the track after the Shootout. We got that first win. Now we have to concentrate on the next one. That wasn't a bad lap for us, but it was jumping around out there in the wind pretty good. Now we will just keep working on that thing to get it where it will drive good in the qualifying race, and it'll be all good. Just got to make sure it works in traffic, work on the travel and the springs and stuff to make sure there isn't stuff dragging all over the track."

EARNHARDT (ON HIS SHOOTOUT WIN HELPING HIS 500 PERFORMANCE.): "I think being able to run with the Impala SS in the Shootout will give us great input on what to expect from the car in the early part of the 500."

EARNHARDT (ON HAVING AN ADVANTAGE AT DAYTONA THROUGH EXPERIENCE.): "I always love racing at Daytona and have a good bit of confidence going in there. The anticipation is there, but it is the same anticipation I have always had as a driver, no more and no less. I am just ready to do a good job."

EARNHARDT (ON HIS CAR'S NICKNAME.): My grandfather (Robert Gee) named one of his favorite race cars 'Emma.' It's a tribute to him and the Gee family. It makes me proud (to drive it)."

EARNHARDT (ON POTENTIALLY PUTTING "EMMA" IN VICTORY LANE.): "Any win this early in the season would be great. We are just looking forward to having that chance, especially with the 50th running of the Daytona 500."

EARNHARDT (ON HIS CONFIDENCE AT DAYTONA AFTER SUCH SOLID TESTING.): "I feel pretty comfortable with our chances at winning some more races in Daytona. We will have one of the top cars for sure."

EARNHARDT (ON RUNNING HIS FIRST POINTS RACE FOR CAR OWNER RICK HENDRICK.): "I feel like I'm at a better place for work and in my life. I feel like I have a better opportunity. I feel fortunate and thankful -- that is the emotion I feel. I definitely have to be in a better place if that is the feeling I get about being here in his race cars."

TONY EURY JR. CREW CHIEF OF THE NO. 88 AMP ENERGY/NATIONAL GUARD CHEVROLET (ON WHAT NAMING THE CAR "EMMA" MEANS TO HIM.): "It's a fitting tribute to my granddaddy (Robert Gee). He had a big part in getting me into this sport, but my dad (Tony Eury Sr.) also taught me a lot. I can remember going to Charlotte Motor Speedway (now Lowe's Motor Speedway) with my granddaddy, and we had the car 'Emma.' It was really cool when we were able to see Emma down in the Hendrick Motorsports museum. That car is a tribute to my great-grandmother, my grandmother and Rick Hendrick. This organization is and always has been about family, and now it's like the family is all back together. I hope we win with Emma. It would be a great tribute."

EURY (ON HIS OUTLOOK AFTER TESTING WELL IN DAYTONA.): "I think we have as good of a chance as anyone. The test went exceptionally well, but it's a long week in Daytona. We have to survive the 150-mile Gatorade Duel races and the pit crew is going to have to be on their game. But I think we're going to be in good shape."

EURY (ON HIS CONCERNS ABOUT THE NEW SPRINT CUP CAR AT DAYTONA.): "The bump stops are definitely different. We want to make sure the car is handling good in traffic. We had a chance last year to look at how the Impala SS would race at a restrictor plate track, but Talladega is a different beast. There, a driver can just hold the pedal to the mat and just flat-foot it all the way around (the track). At Daytona, the car needs to handle. I think what happened in the Shootout is a good indicator of how the 500 will play out. Winning these races and doing well in them is all about being at the right place at the right time."

FRANK EDWARDS, AN ORIGINAL HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS EMPLOYEE (ON THE ORIGINAL "EMMA."): "Robert Gee's 'Emma,' she was a beautiful race car. He would spend as much time making the bumper look right as he would putting the engine in it. It had several different front ends for the car. Tim Richmond won races in it, and Geoff Bodine won Darlington in it. That car has a soul to it. That's one of the few cars I've ever seen that you just have a different feeling about it. Even if I didn't grow up around here, which I did, I would still feel like there's just something when I'm around that car. And it just feels like, you know, when someone's around you, and you can just feel that presence? That's how I feel around that car. It's like it's alive. Like there's something there."