By Tim HippsFebruary 11, 2008
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Army News Service, Feb. 11, 2008) -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. saluted National Guardsmen and women worldwide after winning the Budweiser Shootout Feb. 9 at Daytona International Speedway.
Mark Martin, in the No. 8 U.S. Army Chevrolet car, finished eighth in the race. But the glory went to Earnhardt, who said he was proud to represent the work done by Guard men and women.
"I'm proud of the commitment and devotion that it takes to be in the military and in the Guard and to devote yourself to do and go anywhere, anytime, at any moment's notice to do any job," Earnhardt said after making his debut in the National Guard/Mountain Dew AMP car. "That takes an unbelievable amount of sacrifice from your family and friends and just to be out of the norm individually -- just to be in a situation and know what to do next."
The victory was Earnhardt's second in the preseason NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. With the win, he became the seventh driver with multiple Budweiser Shootout trips to Victory Lane. In eight starts in the event, he has five top-five and seven top-10 finishes.
Earnhardt coincidentally left the former No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet, owned by Dale Earnhardt Inc., during the off-season to drive the No. 88 Chevrolet owned by Rick Hendrick, who was relieved to see Earnhardt win his first race in the car. Many of Earnhardt's fans vehemently questioned the move to a rival team.
"He has answered the question to me with a bold statement," Hendrick said. "He is as hungry and committed as anybody that has ever sat down in one of my race cars. That question has been answered."
In a dazzling race that featured eight leaders, Earnhardt led seven times for a Budweiser Shootout record 47 of 70 laps around the 2.5-mile trial. Nobody else made it to the front of the record 23-car field more than twice. But Earnhardt needed drafting help from Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon to win the race.
"The teammates that helped us out so much there towards the end of the race were a big, big help," said crew chief Tony Eury Jr., Earnhardt's cousin. "We knew we weren't going to be able to beat them alone. Our car was good all night and Junior just drove his butt off."
Earnhardt was quick to defer credit.
"We had a lot of help at the end from Jimmie," he said. "That really was half the credit to the win. The other half was the car being capable of being up there in the first place. I had a great handling package. It was really fast. I had great runs up off the corner and had a great motor. The car was just really good."
On the high banks of Daytona, however, the fastest car rarely wins without a little help from drafting partners.
"That was great, looking up in the mirror and seeing teammates and seeing them pushing you and helping you," Earnhardt said. "Jeff got a couple of runs and went around us but that's what I would have done. Those guys work just as hard as they do at DEI. I learned this. And they go out to win just as hard as you do. You can only expect so much dedication when it comes to being a teammate and you've got to work together and we did. I got a lot of help tonight."
Earnhardt talked at length about what it means to represent the National Guard.
"I'm proud to be doing what I'm doing here and I'm glad that they chose me to carry their name on our race car and I'm glad that they are happy that we've paired together," he said. "I hope that I can bring them more success. I've worked with the military before and I've heard nothing but great things about the Guard prior to working with them and how they do the motorsports program."