Earnhardt feels vindicated by Daytona 500 triumph

Tue Feb 25, 2014 4:41pm EST
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By Larry Fine

(Reuters) - After enduring 55 races without a win and doubts from critics about his competitive fire, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was still bubbling with excitement from his Daytona 500 triumph, a victory he said had vindicated him.

"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 full seasons.

"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.   Continued...

NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr (88) inshrines his hands in cement after winning the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports