VICTORY LAP

At 27, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is already at the top of his game. Last year, the son of the late, great Intimidator ranked eighth overall in NASCAR Winston Cup points standing, with three first-place finishes. He also brought home the second-place money prize of $5.4 million. Not too bad for a mechanic from Mooresville, North Carolina — population 17,000.

AW: What is your outlook for 2002?
DEJ:
Well, I think the second half of 2001 showed that we were a championship-caliber team, a top-five team at least. We’re still a young team that’s learning a lot, so if we can continue to improve, I think we’ll be in the mix all season.
     
AW: What do you do to relax?
DEJ:
I built a big garage out behind my house, and my buddies and I are building a street stock car to take racing. It’ll be a lot like the days when I was just starting out — racing for fun more than anything. One of my buddies will drive it and we’ll just have a great time working on the car and thrashing along.
     
AW: What’s your favorite trophy?
DEJ:
There are so many that mean a lot to me and my family, but I’d say that the trophies for our win in The Winston [NASCAR’s all-star race] in 2000 or our 2001 win at Daytona mean the most to me right now.
     
AW: Describe a perfect day.
DEJ:
Chillin’ out and doing a lot of nothing. Hanging out with my buddies and maybe just having a few Budweisers. — J.E.M.