DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Even though it was approaching 1:30 a.m. on Monday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was happily answering reporters' post-race questions at a now empty Daytona International Speedway.
After a 6 1/2-hour rain delay, Earnhardt had just won late Sunday night his second Daytona 500, and one could almost feel the burden lifted off the shoulders of the enormously popular NASCAR driver.
It was only the second Sprint Cup Series win in the last five years for the 39-year-old son of the late NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt. The younger Earnhardt's first Daytona 500 win was a decade ago.
Earnhardt had finally given his fan base, "Junior Nation," something to cheer about by again winning NASCAR's most prestigious race. He did so with a powerful No. 88 Chevrolet, holding off numerous challengers in a taut, thrilling race.
"I know I got a lot of fans that are really happy" and who "can't wait to go to work tomorrow to brag to all their buddies around the water cooler," Earnhardt said.
"The fans are so supportive," he said. "They stick with you. We put them through so much [by not winning]. Monday is going to be a fun day for a lot of people in Junior Nation."
Then Earnhardt, who long had avoided Twitter, said he would join the social-media site, which he did shortly after his news conference. Within a few hours, @DaleJr had 313,000 followers.
After getting about an hour's sleep, Earnhardt was back at Daytona for the annual winner's breakfast. And he sent out a poignant tweet with a photo of him standing in front of a statue of his father, a seven-time Cup champion who died in a crash at the 2001 Daytona 500:
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