Daytona Beach, Fl
Late Saturday night, in the media center at Daytona International Speedway, felt more like a comedy club than a post-race interview.
Car owner, Rick Hendrick, who has had a personal life with as much drama as old Will Shakespeare could imagine, turned into a straight man for his newest driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who had just won the Bud Shootout. It was like a great weight had lifted off Hendrick who had suffered many personal tragedies in the past.
Fans and media alike had anticipated that the Bud Shootout would be a continuation of the back to the old days of rough and tumble driving after the Friday night fights involving Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart in night practice. Instead it was a pretty clean race.
In the media center Junior was asked if he thought there would be more leniency from NASCAR for aggressive behavior he responded “I think they’re going back to let us run over each other.” Then with a wicked look he added,“so, get ready, I’m going to walk around with my dukes up all day long. You got to watch both hands.”
Hendrick looked out at the audience, spied Jim Hunter, NASCAR’s vice president for corporate communications, and the NASCAR spokesman who addressed the Busch and Stewart altercation of Friday night and said “Jim, you want to come up here?”
Rethinking his statement Junior wanted to make something clear, changing the tone of his voice “all of it was a joke. Didn’t mean a word of it -- Jim.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
Later Junior was talking about sending high fashion sunglasses to US troops in Iraq, again Mr. Hendrick said, slightly under his breath, “how about some Junior shirts?”
The best laugh came about after a serious question concerning the pressure to win at Hendrick. Junior said he didn’t feel pressured until after the checkered flag fell. He (Rick) said ‘do something different.’”
The only problem was Junior didn’t know how do a different kind of burnout. By the way it was a very good burnout. Still he was worried “I said ‘dang’” noting -- if he didn’t do something different -- Hendrick would be angry.
He really didn’t have anything to worry about, Hendrick interrupted again “ I don’t know why I said that,…it was kind of stupid wasn’t it?”
Other than the late hour it was a very amusing way to end the night, I made sure to tip the waiter on the way out.
Even a commercial press conference, usually one of the dullest events of the day, resulted in a laughs in the afternoon. The Gillette Young Guns program debuted their 2008 advertising campaign with a television commercial with WWE star John Cena, that promised to surpass their 2007 version.
That was the one where drivers woke up with Mohawk haircuts done surreptitiously by Ryan Newman. Newman, who had been one of shyer drivers in the garage, at least to some of the media, volunteered how last year’s was done. Body doubles (actually just the heads) of actors with similar physiques were cut and pasted the drivers.
Then a female reporter asked how difficult it was keeping their five o’clock shadows were hard to prevent. Newman looked out at the audience and blurted out in her direction “jealous?”
Hope that there are funny shows next Thursday.