"If you look at how happy I was Sunday after winning that race,
you'll know how bad I want to win," Earnhardt told reporters on a
conference call on Tuesday.
"You'll know how much winning means to me, and you'll know from now
on that there's no questioning my killer instinct or drive, whatever
term you want to use."
NASCAR's most popular driver for 11 years running, Earnhardt made
good on his promise to finally join the social media world should he
win Daytona, and his selfie, posed in front of a statue depicting
his late father holding his own Daytona 500 trophy, went to more
than 400,000 followers.
"Look who I ran into at the Daytona Experience. Dad's Happy!"
tweeted a beaming Earnhardt to his legion of fans.
The Hall of Fame driver's son, of course, was over the moon by his
thrilling victory in the rain-interrupted race that finished late in
the night and gave him his second Daytona 500.
"I don't think people realized how much winning mattered to me,"
said Earnhardt, who had suffered through a fallow period with only
two victories since 2006 after winning 15 times in his first five
"When you look at the critics and you look at their comments, aside
from people saying I was overrated, they would always say I didn't
have killer instinct, I didn't have the stuff that I needed to drive
to win a championship, I didn't want it bad enough," he listed.
"When people really pick at your determination, your drive, your
hunger, that bothered me more than anything else did, because I grew
up around the sport and I love it to death."
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Earnhardt had no explanation to cover his difficult stretch.
"I don't know why, in '09, '10 we were 20th, 25th every week. I look
at that now, I can't even imagine it," he said about his early
struggles after joining powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports. "It's such
a long ways from where we are now.
"I've been pretty vindicated."
Earnhardt said the Daytona 500 could launch him to even greater
"We're embarking on a season that could be something really special
for me. Whether we win the championship or not remains to be seen,
obviously. But I had one of my greatest years last year, and I think
we can top that this season."
Earnhardt scoffed at the notion that as NASCAR's most popular
driver, he carried the weight of the sport on his shoulders.
"I don't really feel that way. I feel like I represent Junior
Nation," he said. "I represent my fan base and the people that
support our team.
"I don't carry the whole sport on my shoulders. We have enough
personalities in the sport to do that individually."
One thing on his agenda he hoped to tick off as soon as possible was
a viewing of his Daytona 500 win.
"I think it really was an exciting race and one of the most exciting
Daytona 500s I've ever been in, and one of the most intense races
I've ever been in. We were really having fun," he said, including
his rival drivers.
"I cannot wait to watch it. I bet I watch it three times in a row,
back-to-back. I can't wait."
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Gene Cherry)
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