Fastenal Day in the Life of Junior
It's race day for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Texas Motor Speedway, where Dale Earnhardt Jr. will debut the No. 5 Fastenal Chevrolet in front of 80,000 fans and a live television audience on ESPN2. But the action starts well before the command to fire the engines, at least for Dale Jr.
9:58 a.m. - Wake-Up Call! A new day at the race track officially starts, and Dale Jr. slowly rises off the couch inside his motorcoach. Since receiving new upholstery last year, the couch typically is Junior's preferred resting spot... not the bed. As he rubs his eyes, he listens to a quick debriefing from his public relations guy on the day's schedule, which will start in 30 minutes with a meet-n-greet for the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Junior meets with a Make-a-Wish family every weekend through the season.
10:16 a.m. - Glancing at the schedule taped to his window, he sees two Cup practices with Nationwide obligations in between. Clearly there will be no time to change from his Cup firesuit to his Nationwide firesuit, so he chooses to don his Fastenal colors from the start.
10:28 a.m. - The door to his skeleton-themed motorcoach wings open, and out pops Junior to the delight of the Make-A-Wish family waiting outside. Seth, a five-year-old fan from Minnesota, has been waiting for this moment for quite some time. It was his wish to attend a NASCAR race and meet his favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Seth, though, becomes very shy in front of his hero, and leaves most of the talking to his mom and dad. He still musters enough nerve to ask for an autograph and pose for pictures, to which Junior certainly obliges. Junior tells him to be sure to cheer for him today in the Nationwide Series race. "When you see the blue-and-white No. 5 car, that's me," he says.
10:46 a.m. - Junior says his goodbyes to the Make-A-Wish family and immediately heads to the Cup garage for the first of two practices in the No. 88 AMP/National Guard Chevrolet. From his motorcoach, it's about a 100-yard walk. Fans with garage passes already flood the area, but nobody sees Junior coming as he scoots between the haulers.
10:48 a.m. - Something doesn't feel right. His shoes feel really snug. Did his feet grow overnight? He summons for another pair of Size 11 Adidas racing shoes from his motorcoach, and trades them out with the ones on his feet. Booty Barker, crew chief for Michael Waltrip's No. 55 car, is amused as Junior sits on a car scale and performs the switcheroo. Baker can't help but chuckle and shake his head.
10:51 a.m. - Before climbing into the car, Junior spots his buddies and former team members from his No. 8 Budweiser days. Tony Gibson, Jay Guarneri, Kevin Pennell and others now work for the No. 39 team for Tony Stewart Racing, and their garage stall is just a handful of spots down from Junior's. He walks down and converses for a few laughs and jabs before getting to work.
10:55 a.m. - The driver of the No. 88 is now buckled in, ready for practice.
11:45 a.m. - The day's first practice ends, and Junior registers the 11th fastest speed at 184.932 mph. After quick conversation with the team, Junior takes a bottle of water and follows his PR guy to the media center, where the mandatory Drivers Meeting for today's Nationwide race is about to start.
11:55 a.m. - Junior meets up with his Fastenal team crew chief, Brian Campe, inside the Drivers Meeting. They discuss race set-up and other various tidbits about the car. Junior then moves to a position near the exit of the room so he can make a quick getaway at the meeting's conclusion. NASCAR's vice president of competition, Robin Pemberton, comes over and makes casual conversation with the Fastenal driver before Nationwide Series director Joe Balash calls a start to the meeting. Junior quips to nobody in particular, "I can recite word-for-word everything he's about to say."
12:15 p.m. - Meeting adjourned. Junior is the first to hit the exits, followed closely by Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and other Cup drivers scurrying back to the cars for final practice.
12:20 p.m. - Final Cup practice begins, as the roar of the engines fire and the cars trickle onto the track.
1:20 p.m. - Junior ends the final practice 20th on the practice chart with a speed of 181.032 mph. He says the car is extremely tight. He climbs out and asks his PR guy how much time he has before Driver Intros to the Nationwide race. "Ten minutes," is the reply. He commences to deliberating the car's handling with crew chief Tony Eury Jr. This is perhaps the most important few minutes of the weekend, because it's from the cluster of feedback in which the team sets its final preparations. "I'm good in turns 1 and 2, but can't turn in 3 and 4, he says. Eury knows immediately his plan of action, and it seems to appease the driver.
1:25 p.m. – Junior sprints from the garage to his motorcoach. Driver Intros starts in four minutes, which gives him just enough time to scarf down a ham-and-cheese sandwich. He also comments that it smells weird inside the motorcoach. “We need some air freshener in here.”
1:30 p.m. – The easiest way to the staging area for Driver Intros is to walk through the motorcoach lot, passed the gas pumps, across pit road, and onto the infield grass. As Junior makes quick time through the traffic, people in the grandstands instantly spot him. Howls from grandstands are evident… “JUUUNNYERRR!” One lady on pit road slips into near meltdown, “Ohhh my gaawwd!!! Junyer… you’re the only reason I’m here!” Junior smiles and gives her a wave.
1:32 p.m. – The staging area for Intros is crowded with drivers, family members and officials. However Dale Jr. still spots one of his online racing friends, Dan Denayer, and chats with him for a few minutes. PRN radio pit reporter Jim Noble interrupts and asks, “Hey Junior, can we get your interview in a few minutes early?” Junior obliges.
1:39 p.m. – The voice of the public address announcer is amplified throughout the speedway, and it rises in pitch with the words, “… and now, starting ninth in the No. 5 Fastenal Chevrolet, Dale Earnhardt Jr!” The crowd erupts. Clearly there is a fan-favorite in the house. Junior walks across the stage, gives the crowd a wave, and climbs into the back of a pickup truck to make an introductory lap around the track.
1:44 p.m. – The truck drops Junior off at his race car, which is lined up in formation with the other cars on pit road. Waiting at the car is an exuberant group from Fastenal, led by executive vice president of internal operations, Cory Jansen. Junior greets his new partners, and smiles for photos at the car. He then congratulates Mr. Jansen for Fastenal’s ranking of 19th in Business week’s annual Top-50 listing of top performing companies in America. Quite an honor!
1:56 p.m. – The group from Fastenal wishes its driver good luck, and Junior thanks them. He then turns his attention to Brian Campe, as they discuss race strategy. Junior tells him, “Whatever happens today, let’s have fun.”
2:01 p.m. – The National Anthem begins, and Junior stands between his car and crew chief as Fastenal team members stand side-by-side. Junior has a hard time standing still. Anticipation is getting the best of him.
2:04 p.m. – Junior climbs into his No. 5 Chevrolet, and pulls the buckles tight. The window net is fastened. It’s go time.
2:09 p.m. – Gentlemen, start your engines! The No. 5 Fastenal Chevy is fired for the first time in 2009, starting a 14-race partnership with