BROOKLYN, MI - JUNE 17: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew/TheDarkKnightRises/National Guard/ Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 17, 2012 in Brooklyn, Michigan. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
CHARLOTTE - Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s ears have been burning since Sunday as NASCAR Nation has buzzed about the end of a 143-race winless streak.
On Tuesday, his ears were ringing, and he was happy about it. NASCAR's most popular driver and crew chief Steve Letarte toured the Hendrick Motorsports campus with a victory bell that a Hendrick driver rings with the team's 500 employees after each win.
"Steve says I'll be hearing it in my sleep," Earnhardt told USA TODAY Sports with a laugh. "That's fine with me. I'll go to sleep listening to that damn bell every week if that means winning races."
While Tuesday's celebration was a loud one, it was surprisingly subdued when Earnhardt returned to his home near Mooresville, N.C., on Sunday night after his victory in the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Some family and friends lit off fireworks in his backyard as he pulled in the driveway, but things settled down quickly.
"It was good," he said. "My mom, friends and family and everyone were hanging around the house, and some guys on the team came over.
"We went late, and it was typical of about what I do every Sunday. But we just happened to have a win to talk about. I can't sleep on Sunday nights after race, so we always get a couple of friends around and sit around and bull----. This was obviously different."
Earnhardt received 160 text messages after the race and said he responded to every one. He also got a call from South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier in addition to being told about congratulations from various celebrities (such as country star Brad Paisley) on Twitter.
"That was really cool," he said. "That'd been fun to see if I had a Twitter account."
But receiving the congratulations in person from his team was even more rewarding. Clad in a black T-shirt, jeans and green shoes, Earnhardt incessantly shook hands and smiled while making his way through receiving lines all over Hendrick's 12-building, 140-acre campus.
"It's pretty fun; the employees get a real kick out of it," he said. "I think it's important to shake everybody's hand, every single one. That's the best way to do it because that car performed as good as it did, and everyone has a fingerprint on it."