Breaking down the numbers ahead of the season-opening race Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Vote: Ultimate Daytona Challenge DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.-- Below is a statistical look at some of the top performers at Daytona International Speedway, including both the Daytona 500 and the annual July race. Daytona International Speedway Data Race #: 1 of 36 (2-22-15) Track Size : 2.5 miles Race Length: 500 miles (200 laps) Banking/Corners : 31 degrees Banking/Straights : 3 degrees Banking/Tri-Oval : 18 degrees Top 10 Driver Ratings at Daytona Kyle Busch 96.2 Matt Kenseth 91.6 Kurt Busch 90.5 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 90.3 Tony Stewart 87.9 Jeff Gordon 87.1 Jimmie Johnson 87.0 Denny Hamlin 86.4 Clint Bowyer 83.7 Joey Logano 82.5 Note: Driver Ratings are compiled from 2005-2014 races (18 total) at Daytona (active drivers only). Qualifying/Race Data 2014 pole winner : Austin Dillon (196.019 mph, 45.914 seconds) 2014 race winner : Dale Earnhardt Jr. (145.290 mph , 2-23-14) Qualifying record : Bill Elliott (210.364 mph, 42.783 secs. 2-9-87) Race record : Buddy Baker (177.602 mph, 2-17-80) Clint Bowyer (No. 15 5-hour ENERGY Toyota) · Three top fives, eight top 10s · Average finish of 15.9 · Driver Rating of 83.7, ninth-best · 78 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 189.828 mph, second-fastest Kurt Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet) · 11 top fives, 14 top 10s · Average finish of 17.5 · Average Running Position of 15.8, seventh-best · Driver Rating of 90.5, third-best · 3,864 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most · 2,161 Laps in the Top 15 (60.9%), fifth-most · 2,724 Quality Passes, third-most Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M's Crispy Toyota) · One win, five top fives, six top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 19.1 · Series-best Average Running Position of 12.8 · Series-best Driver Rating of 96.2 · 85 Fastest Laps Run, third-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 189.827 mph, third-fastest · Series-high 2,488 Laps in the Top 15 (70.1%) · Series-high 2,869 Quality Passes Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet) · Three wins, 11 top fives, 17 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 13.4 · Average Running Position of 14.6, third-best · Driver Rating of 90.3, fourth-best · Series-high 87 Fastest Laps Run · 4,108 Green Flag Passes, second-most · 2,279 Laps in the Top 15 (64.2%), second-most · 2,772 Quality Passes, second-most Jeff Gordon (No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet) · Six wins, 13 top fives, 20 top 10s; three poles · Average finish of 16.2 · Average Running Position of 14.8, fourth-best · Driver Rating of 87.1, sixth-best · 3,818 Green Flag Passes, eighth-most · 2,074 Laps in the Top 15 (58.4%), sixth-most · 2,407 Quality Passes, ninth-most Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota) · Three top fives, four top 10s · Average finish of 19.6 · Average Running Position of 15.8, sixth-best · Driver Rating of 86.4, eighth-best · 81 Fastest Laps Run, fourth-most · Average Green Flag Speed of 189.765 mph, sixth-fastest · 1,703 Laps in the Top 15 (53.5%), 12th-most Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) · Three wins, nine top fives, 12 top 10s; two poles · Average finish of 18.0 · Average Running Position of 14.9, fifth-best · Driver Rating of 87.0, seventh-best · 2,214 Laps in the Top 15 (62.4%), fourth-most · 2,425 Quality Passes, eighth-most Kasey Kahne (No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet) · Two top fives, seven top 10s · Average finish of 19.9 · Average Running Position of 17.0, ninth-best · Driver Rating of 82.2, 12th-best · 71 Fastest Laps Run, 10th-most · 4,093 Green Flag Passes, third-most · 1,818 Laps in the Top 15 (51.2%), 10th-most · 2,446 Quality Passes, seventh-most Matt Kenseth (No. 20 Dollar General Toyota) · Two wins, six top fives, 14 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 17.2 · Average Running Position of 14.4, second-best · Driver Rating of 91.6, second-best · 78 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most · 2,247 Laps in the Top 15 (63.3%), third-most · 2,473 Quality Passes, sixth-most Joey Logano (No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford) · Two top fives, three top 10s · Average finish of 19.8 · Average Running Position of 17.5, 12th-best · Driver Rating of 82.5, 11th-best · Average Green Flag Speed of 189.750 mph, seventh-fastest Tony Stewart (No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet) · Four wins, nine top fives, 14 top 10s; one pole · Average finish of 17.8 · Average Running Position of 17.4, 11th-best · Driver Rating of 87.9, fifth-best · 76 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most · 1,917 Laps in the Top 15 (54.0%), seventh-most The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Final 2014 Top 16 at Daytona International Speedway Driver Races Poles Wins Top Fives Top 10s DNFs Average Finish Driver Rating 1 Kevin Harvick 27 1 2 6 11 3 16.7 79.9 2 Ryan Newman 26 0 1 4 6 5 20.3 79.6 3 Denny Hamlin 18 0 0 3 4 1 19.6 86.4 4 Joey Logano 12 0 0 2 3 2 19.8 82.5 5 Brad Keselowski 11 0 0 2 3 3 20.0 75.4 6 Jeff Gordon 44 3 6 13 20 6 16.2 87.1 7 Matt Kenseth 30 1 2 6 14 5 17.2 91.6 8 Dale Earnhardt Jr. 30 1 3 11 17 3 13.4 90.3 9 Carl Edwards 20 1 0 4 8 2 19.1 79.8 10 Kyle Busch 20 1 1 5 6 5 19.1 96.2 11 Jimmie Johnson 26 2 3 9 12 6 18.0 87.0 12 Kurt Busch 28 0 0 11 14 1 17.5 90.5 13 AJ Allmendinger 11 0 0 1 2 2 26.3 61.1 14 Greg Biffle 24 1 1 3 7 3 19.6 81.3 15 Kasey Kahne 22 0 0 2 7 5 19.9 82.2 16 Aric Almirola 7 0 1 1 1 3 24.7 72.9 Note: Driver Rating from races at Daytona International Speedway from 2005-2014. Daytona 500 Tidbits · The 2015 edition will be the 57th running of the Daytona 500. · Although the first Daytona 500 was held in 1959, it has been the season-opener only since 1982. · 530 drivers have competed in at least one Daytona 500; 314 in more than one. · 35 drivers have won a Daytona 500. · Youngest Daytona 500 winner: Trevor Bayne (02/20/2011 - 20 years, 0 months, 1 days) · Oldest Daytona 500 winner: Bobby Allison (02/14/1988 - 50 years, 2 months, 11 days) · 11 drivers have won more than one Daytona 500, led by Richard Petty with seven victories. · The 11 drivers who have won the Daytona 500 more than once: Richard Petty (seven), Cale Yarborough (four), Bobby Allison (three), Dale Jarrett (three), Jeff Gordon (three), Bill Elliott (two), Matt Kenseth (two), Jimmie Johnson (two), Sterling Marlin (two), Michael Waltrip (two) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (two). · A driver has won back-to-back Daytona 500s three times. Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95). · Seven drivers posted their career-first victory with a win in the Daytona 500: Tiny Lund (1963), Mario Andretti (1967), Pete Hamilton (1970), Derrike Cope (1990), Sterling Marlin (1994), Michael Waltrip (2001) and Trevor Bayne (2011). · Three other drivers posted their career-first victory in (points-paying) qualifying races: Johnny Rutherford (1963), Bobby Isaac (1964) and Earl Balmer (1966). · Lee Petty, who won the inaugural Daytona 500, and Trevor Bayne, 2011 Daytona 500 champion, are the only two drivers to win the Daytona 500 in their first appearance. · Active Daytona 500 winners and the number of NSCS starts in their careers when they won: o Jeff Gordon won his first Daytona 500 on his 125 th career start (1997). His second Daytona 500 win was on his 190 th career start (1999) and the third Daytona 500 was on his 402 nd career start (2005). o Jimmie Johnson won his first on his 148 th (2006) start and posted his second Daytona 500 win on his 400 th career start (2013). o Matt Kenseth won his first on his 329 th start (2009) and his second Daytona 500 on his 437 th career start (2012). o Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his first Daytona 500 on 148 th start (2004) and his second on his 506 th (2014). o Kevin Harvick posted his Daytona 500 win on his 215 th career start (2007). o Ryan Newman posted his Daytona 500 win on his 225 th career start (2008). o Jamie McMurray posted his Daytona 500 win on his 259 th career start (2011). o Michael Waltrip won his first on his 463 rd start (2001) and posted his second Daytona 500 win on his 535 th career start (2003). · Dale Earnhardt leads the series in runner-up finishes in the Daytona 500 with five; Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads all active drivers with four (Earnhardt Jr. is tied with NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough for second all-time with four). · Dale Earnhardt had 12 top fives in his 23 Daytona 500 starts, more than any other driver. Dale Earnhardt Jr. leads all active drivers in Daytona 500 top-five finishes with seven (eighth most all-time). · Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty each posted a series leading 16 top 10s in the Daytona 500. · Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip lead all active drivers in Daytona 500 top-10 finishes with nine. · Only 10 drivers have an average finish of 10th or better in the Daytona 500, five of those competed in the Daytona 500 only once. · Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a 12.7 average finish in 15 appearances, the best of the active drivers who have competed in more than one Daytona 500. · 28 of the 35 drivers, who have won, participated in at least two Daytona 500s before visiting Victory Lane. · Six drivers made 10 or more attempts before their first Daytona 500 victory: Dale Earnhardt (19), Buddy Baker (18), Darrell Waltrip (16), Bobby Allison (14), Michael Waltrip (14) and Sterling Marlin (12). · The driver with the all-time most Daytona 500 starts without a victory is Dave Marcis with 33 races; the active drivers with the most starts without a Daytona 500 win is Joe Nemechek (19) and Tony Stewart (16). · Kevin Harvick’s 0.020-second margin of victory over Mark Martin in the 2007 Daytona 500 is the 12th-closest overall since the advent of electronic scoring in 1993, and the closest in a Daytona 500. · Nine of the 56 Daytona 500s (16.3%) have been won from the Coors Light pole. The last to do so was Dale Jarrett in 2000. Jeff Gordon is the only active driver to accomplish the feat (1999). · Cale Yarborough (1968, 1984) and Bill Elliott (1985, 1987) are the only two drivers to win the Daytona 500 from the Coors Light pole more than once. · 16 of the 56 Daytona 500s (28.5%) have been won from the front row. · 27 of the 56 Daytona 500s (48.2%) have been won from a top-five starting position. · 41 of the 56 Daytona 500s (73.2%) have been won from a top 10 starting position · Matt Kenseth won the Daytona 500 from the 39th starting position in 2009, the deepest a race winner has started. · Five reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions have gone on to win the Daytona 500 the following season: Lee Petty (1959), Richard Petty (1973), Cale Yarborough (1977), Jeff Gordon (1999) and Dale Jarrett (2000). · Five drivers have won the Daytona 500 and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship in the same season, Richard Petty has done it four times: Jimmie Johnson (2006, 2013), Jeff Gordon (1997), Richard Petty (1964, 1971, 1974, 1979), Cale Yarborough (1977) and Lee Petty (1959). · Danica Patrick on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2013 became the first female in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series history to win a Coors Light pole for the Daytona 500 posting a speed of 196.434 mph. · Janet Guthrie previously held the record for top starting position by a female NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, starting ninth twice in 1977 - at Talladega Superspeedway on Aug. 7, 1977 and at Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 28, 1977. · In 2012, Danica Patrick became the third female driver to compete in a Daytona 500 joining Janet Guthrie and Shawna Robinson. Below are the previous female driver performances in the Daytona 500. Race Season Driver Start Finish Daytona 500 1977 Janet Guthrie 39 12 Daytona 500 1980 Janet Guthrie 18 11 Daytona 500 2002 Shawna Robinson 36 24 Daytona 500 2012 Danica Patrick 29 38 Daytona 500 2013 Danica Patrick 1 8 Daytona 500 2014 Danica Patrick 27 40 · Driver Ratings for Winners – Pre-Race Daytona 500 Driver Ratings heading into 2014 for past Daytona 500 winners (past 7 years) Driver – Year – Driver Rating o Dale Earnhardt Jr – 2014 – 89.7 o Jimmie Johnson – 2013 – 82.8 o Matt Kenseth – 2012 – 89.0 o Trevor Bayne – 2011 – 68.9 o Jamie McMurray – 2010 – 80.2 o Matt Kenseth – 2009 – 89.0 o Ryan Newman – 2008 – 82.9 o Kevin Harvick – 2007 – 86.3 o Jimmie Johnson – 2006 – 87.5 · Drivers who have won the Daytona 500 in more than one car manufacturer: Driver – Manufacturer (Number of wins in that manufacturer) o Richard Petty – Plymouth (3), Dodge (2), Oldsmobile (1) and Buick (1) o Cale Yarborough – Chevrolet (2), Mercury (1) and Pontiac (1) o Bobby Allison – Buick (2) and Ford (1) o Dale Jarrett – Ford (2) and Chevrolet (1) · Drivers who have won The Sprint Unlimited and the Daytona 500 in the same season: Driver – (Year) o Bobby Allison (1982) o Bill Elliott (1987) o Dale Jarrett (1996 and 2000) o Jeff Gordon (1997) Car Numbers that have produced three or more Daytona 500 victories: Car Number – Drivers – (Years) o No. 43 – Richard Petty (1964, ’66, ’71, ’73, ’74, ’79, ‘81) o No. 21 – Tiny Lund (1963), Cale Yarborough (1968), A.J. Foyt (1972), David Pearson (1976) and Trevor Bayne (2011) o No. 28 – Fred Lorenzen (1965), Buddy Baker (1980), Cale Yarborough (1983 and 1984) and Davey Allison (1992) o No. 4 – Ernie Irvan (1991), Sterling Marlin (1994 and 1995) o No. 15 – Bobby Allison (1978), Michael Waltrip (2001 and 2003) o No. 17 – Darrell Waltrip (1989), Matt Kenseth (2009 and 2012) o No. 88 – Bobby Allison (1982), Dale Jarrett (1996 and 2000) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2014) o No. 24 – Jeff Gordon (1997, 1999 and 2005) At Daytona International Speedway History · Groundbreaking for Daytona International Speedway was Nov. 25, 1957. The soil underneath the banked corners was dug from the infield of the track and the hole filled with water. It is now known as Lake Lloyd. · The first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona was a 100-mile qualifying race for
Chris Lorenzen talks about his childhood experiences and growing up with his father Fred Lorenzen.
Edwards: 'Anything less than a championship will be a disappointment'
Several teams cut the timing close to get through qualifying inspection RELATED: Could potential rules package changes be coming soon? BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s flashy new paint scheme on his No. 88 Chevrolet had already made an impression during Friday's opening practice at Michigan International Speedway . But the effect wasn't as flattering just before Coors Light Pole Qualifying at the 2-mile track as his Chevy sat backed up in a line trying to make it through inspection. "I don't know anything about it," Earnhardt said after qualifying 14th for Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 (1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM). "I'm just the driver and I don't even help 'em go through inspection, so I don't even know how the process works." Teams' struggles to get through the laser-inspection process produced another backlog Friday, particularly because of issues with the amount of skew in the rear-end alignment. Several teams cut the timing close, with Earnhardt's Hendrick Motorsports No. 88, the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 of Kyle Busch and the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 of last week's winner Martin Truex Jr . among the final cars to make it through the line and present their entries on the qualifying grid. The process has come under more scrutiny in the wake of longtime team owner Jack Roush's remarks Wednesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about inconsistencies in the laser inspection system. Several crew chiefs for teams who were forced to go through inspection multiple times echoed Roush's comments with varying degrees of gusto. "Don't push the limits, I guess. That's what they say," said Greg Ives, Earnhardt's crew chief. "The system sometimes has its flaws but it's not all on the system itself. We understand that these are machines, that whether it's the car or the LIS (laser inspection) system, they're not going to be perfect. Things don't always go your way. Things bend, things move that sometimes you don't expect, either on the race car or the LIS system and a lot of cars go over those every day. "It's not a perfect vacuum system. There's going to be things that are flawed. As far as the amount that we were off was very small, but NASCAR's doing its job to make sure everyone is held to the same tolerance and that's all I can ask." Cole Pearn, a first-time winner as a Sprint Cup crew chief last weekend at Pocono Raceway , said Truex's No. 78 required an additional trip through the inspection line after its skew was off by approximately 20 thousandths of an inch. Truex eventually secured the ninth starting spot for Sunday's 400-miler, but only after Pearn and his Furniture Row crew made the necessary adjustments. "It's terribly inaccurate," Pearn said with a shrug. "It's just a crapshoot when you go across. You're trying to get every little bit and it's the measurement and lack of repeatability of the machine. It's just kind of tough … It's what we've got to deal with." NASCAR officials declined comment Friday. Roush's refrain to SiriusXM broached the possibility that the laser system -- which debuted for the 2013 season -- was potentially sensitive to atmospheric conditions. Other small differences in calibration could be attributed to the cars themselves, factoring in the wear and tear of turning high-speed laps in between inspections -- which occur before first practice, before qualifying and before the race. The delays boiled over in the series' second race this season at Atlanta Motor Speedway , where 13 drivers missed Coors Light Pole Qualifying because of extra trips through the inspection process. Friday's additional inspections in the Michigan garage didn't approach that dire level, but still cut into the opening 20-minute round of knockout qualifying for a handful of teams. RELATED: Inspection woes at Atlanta prevent several from qualifying "Sometimes you roll up there and you get a number and you're working with that number; the next time you roll up, you don't change anything, it could be just a little tiny bit different," said Adam Stevens, crew chief for Busch's JGR No. 18 Toyota. "Everybody's working in the margins. It's nothing crazy or out of the ordinary from my view. We made an adjustment and the adjustment fixed it. It's just another day at the track." Stevens said it was just the second time this season that his team had been through inspection multiple times. Even with Friday's hiccup, he wasn't among those casting aspersions at the laser system's accuracy. "It's a mechanical device, and every mechanical device has a tolerance," Stevens said. "Anything in the whole world that's mechanical has a tolerance, so that's all there is to it. I don't think it's a big problem. I feel like any given weekend you show up, it's pretty repeatable. At least in my experience, it hasn't been a major issue." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
From Darrell Waltrip to Jimmie Johnson, NASCAR has seen some thrilling fuel mileage races
Find past winners and margins of victory for The Great American Race
Check out the statistics for drivers in Sunday's race at 1 p.m. ET on FOX
Richard Childress, NASCAR Hall of Famers among the many
Rash of late cautions derailed No. 2 team's Phoenix plan RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings AVONDALE, Ariz. -- With Kevin Harvick 's desert dominance on everyone's mind, strategy plays were the tactic of choice to potentially break up his monopoly. The No. 2 team of Brad Keselowski tried its hand with two such ploys, but it ultimately wasn't enough with how the cautions fell in the CampingWorld.com 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday. Keselowski finished sixth, while Harvick won his second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season and fourth straight at the 1-mile oval. Afterward, Keselowski lamented the fact that Chevrolet teams seem to have a little more speed than the other manufacturers right now. "We just didn't quite have enough speed," Keselowski said. "I thought we were about a third- or fourth-place car and got shuffled to finish where we did. It was a great effort. We have to keep working to find more speed. There are a lot of Chevys up there and we need to get our Fords running a tiny bit better." Team Penske 's No. 2 crew made two crucial strategy calls during the race. One worked out well, while circumstances disrupted the other. A caution on Lap 117 saw all the front-runners come down pit road, and Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe decided to take two tires. That lifted the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion from fourth place to the lead. From there the 31-year-old was out front for 52 laps -- 41 more than he had led in the season's previous three events. Through three races last year, Keselowski had led 69 laps and already had a race win to his credit. "We had that one run where we got out to the lead and led like 50 laps which was second to Harvick, that is something here," Keselowski said. Keselowski gave up the lead for good on Lap 171, but spent the next 50-plus laps in the top three. During his pit stop after the race's seventh caution on Lap 227, Keselowski shook up the strategy some more. This time, pitting from third place, Wolfe and Co. elected to put on four tires. The No. 2 restarted in 17th place on Lap 234, with the hope being a lengthy green-flag run would aid their chances of getting back to the front. However, three more cautions came out between the Lap 234 restart and the finish of the race, allowing drivers on older tires to keep track position near the front. Keselowski rose as high as fifth place on Lap 289, but fell back to sixth by the checkered flag as a surging Kurt Busch slipped past him for the final spot in the top five. "Everybody was on a different strategy it seemed, and it didn't quite pan out for us to get the third or fourth we deserved but we ran really well," Keselowski said. For the first time all season, Keselowski led more laps in a race than Team Penske teammate Joey Logano . And despite leading 35 circuits himself, Keselowski's younger teammate was direct in his assessment about whose car had the upper hand. "Brad had the better car, for sure," Logano said after his eighth-place finish. "The finishing order kind of showed that." For Keselowski, the sixth-place result continued his upward trajectory for the season as he has improved on his finish in each race. After a crash in the season-opening Daytona 500 led to his day ending early and a 41st-place result, he has rolled off three consecutive top-10s with a ninth-place finish at Atlanta and a seventh-place finish at Las Vegas. The Phoenix finish also saw him rise seven spots in the point standings. Still, unlike last year, when the No. 2 crew came out firing with a win and three straight top-three finishes, something seems to be lacking in the early going. Keselowski said he knows exactly what it is. "We just have to find some more speed," he said. "That is the common theme." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
A behind-the-scenes look at Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s media tour Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Editor's note: Dale Earnhardt Jr. was in New York City last week for a Road to Daytona 500 media tour and let NASCAR.com tag along. NEW YORK -- It's cold at 9:30 a.m. in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Thirty degrees won't come for four more hours, and the wind whips and swirls between the skyscrapers and billows down the sidewalk at the intersection of 67th and Columbus, where a line of people snakes down the sidewalk. These huddled masses are lined up around the block outside 7 Lincoln Square, awaiting the opening of the doors that will bring both warmth and a seat inside the "LIVE with Kelly and Michael" studio. NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. has already called in to "The Dan Patrick Show" as his first media obligation on Feb. 11, and he has four more stops on the docket as part of the Road to Daytona 500 Media Tour. He's in a black Chevrolet SUV fighting morning traffic, but steadily making progress toward this tiny pocket of the largest city in the United States. And he's running late. Congested morning streets make it hardly Junior's fault, but he bustles into the dressing room at the "LIVE" studio a bit behind schedule, and there's a pair of show producers eager to get him prepped for his spot. Part of their job is to make Earnhardt feel both welcome and comfortable. With Valentine's Day three days away, it's an easy talking point -- and one Junior will hear relentlessly throughout both this trip, and at Media Day in Daytona Beach, Florida, the following day. "Got any big plans for Valentine's Day?" an assistant asks Dale Jr. after a few quick brushes in the makeup room. "We've got a race," Junior says. "Oh, how romantic!" • • • It's a commercial break, and host Michael Strahan signs an old New York Giants jersey that was tossed down from the balcony. He banters playfully with the audience, including one member who makes fun of his arm strength. "Hey, I wasn't a quarterback," he says. "I hit quarterbacks." An image of Earnhardt Jr. suddenly blares on the television screens behind the hosts, and Strahan teases, "You don't know who our next guest is, do you?" "Dale Jr.!" screams the audience, and there's a few shrieks thrown in there as well. The man himself strides on stage, and that's where one first sees the transformation. Quiet and reserved by nature, he is a media chameleon of sorts -- his personality adapts to its surroundings . When the camera comes on, there's Junior smiling, there's Junior giving these well thought-out answers to questions he's answered literally hundreds of times before. He's stopped just once in this building, by a pair of veterans who ask for a quick picture with NASCAR's 12-time Most Popular Driver as he walks to his waiting ride in the building's parking garage after the filming is completed. "Thank you for your service," he says before climbing into the back seat and being whisked away. • • • At the "Rachael Ray Show," an employee named Vida creates a pet name for Earnhardt as she describes how the taping will go. "Hey, pumpkin!" she says when he walks in. "OK, pumpkin?" after her final bit of instruction. "Yes ma'am," he replies. It's how he always replies. Vida appears flustered when Earnhardt is pulled away to do the stage. "I have to get a picture with him," she says on the way out. Vida's not the only one at this stop to feel the Junior Effect. Chad Carter, a producer on the show, is from Concord, North Carolina. It's a town just north of Charlotte (Charlotte Motor Speedway is actually in Concord), and about 20 miles southeast of Mooresville, where Junior grew up. He's talked Earnhardt up all week, so the staff is eager to meet the man. "In my area of North Carolina, it's Jesus, Elvis and Dale Earnhardt Jr.," Carter told the show's associates, and even Ray herself, leading up to this day. Carter left a note for Junior, along with a gift bag full of local beer, gin and bourbon. The wooden table has a stack of North Carolina-specific books, an attempt to make the glamorous green room feel more like Mooresville than Manhattan. A succinctly titled "Duke Sucks" sits on top. Earnhardt thumbs through Carter's 1994 Concord High School yearbook, and a book of photography by Hugh Morton, one of North Carolina's most well-known native sons, while waiting to be called to the stage. The TV blares behind him. Someone brings food -- flank steak and popovers. Junior has already changed clothes so he doesn't appear on different talk shows wearing the same outfit, and he reacts to a new piece of clothing like most everyone. He puts on his new striped suit jacket, fixes it, pulls on it, then checks it out in the mirror before finally asking, "Does this look OK?" Vida will soon get her picture, and Carter is waiting for Earnhardt when he gets back to the green room after his interview with Ray and special guest host Regis Philbin. There isn't much time for pleasantries, but Earnhardt greets Carter as he does everyone else he encounters on this trip -- a look in the eye, a firm handshake and a one-word introduction: "Dale." "Thank you for the gift bag," Earnhardt says. "That was very generous of you." • • • At lunch, Earnhardt perks up at the prospect of food. It's been a busy morning. He offers suggestions to the sushi novice (black dynamite, on account of the tempura shrimp -- the crunchiness hides the fact that there's actual raw fish jammed in there), then expertly wields his chopsticks with his left hand while polishing off a salad, miso soup and two lines of brightly colored sushi. Whether it's eating or walking or making a decision, Earnhardt Jr. is always moving fast, as if his personality mirrors how he hopes to perform on the track. Maybe it does. But there is no wasted movement with this man in the city, no dallying. When lunch is finished, he rises, puts on his jacket and is 25 feet away before anyone else has pushed a chair back from the table. He power-walks on the city sidewalks, reaching his vehicle before anyone else in his group and not waiting for the driver to emerge and open the door for him. Now, at 1 p.m., is the only break Earnhardt has in the day, a 45-minute stretch in which he doesn't have a commitment, and doesn't need to be chugging along in his rented ride to get to his next commitment. He can do anything he wants. And he wants to go to Bleecker Street. Nestled near New York University, Bleecker Street is a trendy nightclub district in Greenwich Village. It also has a Burberry store. That is the purpose of this detour. Junior looks like any man shopping for his significant other when he walks through the doors and is confronted with a dizzying array of pink purses, accessories and clothes. He selects two scarves for his girlfriend Amy Reimann, but the merchandise continually catches his eye as the employees ring him up. He inspects a wallet, whose well-designed interior is stunning when he pops it open. "That's cool as hell," he murmurs. Two scarves quickly becomes two scarves plus a wallet … plus a shawl … plus a new purse to replace the one stolen from Amy on vacation. Not even the loud buzz as he walks out the door -- two of the security devices hadn't been removed -- harshens his mood. • • • That famous selfie in Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway last year is the first image of Dale Earnhardt Jr. that people on Twitter glimpsed. It was the first tweet from @DaleJr, and it kicked off a year in which Junior delighted his fans and followers with Throwback Thursday photos, race predictions and late-night Q&A sessions. It directly led to this penultimate media tour stop at one of the Twitter offices, where a bunch of hip 20-somethings sequester Junior into a conference room and film his reasoning -- and reaction -- to joining the platform. "It's hard to do," Earnhardt says. "You can't try it for a week and go 'It's not for me.' I needed a moment. … "But it also gives us a way to say we're confident, and fans want to hear that confidence. And when we win, we get to celebrate with all our fans." The Twitter folks exude New York. They are trendy, they wear jeans to work and they are young. Yet the 40-year-old Earnhardt does not look like an outsider. He looks like he could be either Twitter's guest for the day, or one of its executives. That's something else we learn from this trip. Earnhardt somehow is both the laid-back guy from rural North Carolina and a media mogul that can blend into the biggest city in the United States, looking like he belongs on Wall Street. It's a dichotomy that shows up everywhere, from the people he meets to his Southern politeness, even to the way he dresses. Sure, he's wearing blue jeans (Wrangler, no doubt) but his black dress shoes are gleaming as if they've been freshly polished, and he bought a new striped sports coat for this occasion. He gives thoughtful, professional answers on questions that need them. But when he's off camera, and sees a beautiful three-layer cake the Twitter folks surprised him with, he grins. "Hell yeah!" he says. • • • He arrives at the day's last stop at 3:32 p.m. It's the fifth hit of his day, a day that began in North Carolina before the sun came up, has spanned states and necessitates that a somewhat introverted man talk almost nonstop. Junior has not yawned once. In fact, this day of racing talk has him amped for the start of the season. An offseason with virtually no testing had the driver itching to get back in the car alongside his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, one of whom is Jeff Gordon. This is Gordon's last full-time season, and it has Earnhardt thinking about his own future. Junior tackled the topic of retirement multiple times last year, and admits it's almost an obsessive thing to mull when one of the greats hangs it up. "I often think about retirement, and what it is that makes people retire," Earnhardt Jr. says. "I wonder about myself. 'What is going to take me out of the car? Is it gonna be family? Is it gonna be health?' "I can tell you I wouldn't step out for the car right now for anything." Minutes later, his "Pardon the Interruption" taping is finished. And one final time, we see the two sides of Dale. He's leaving a beautiful midtown studio, the type of place so very few people have access to, walking away from the marble flooring and fancy recording equipment. It's a building that so few people -- really, so few professional athletes -- will ever be qualified to enter. His day is done, but there's still one final piece of business as the elevator takes him down and spits him back toward the crowded streets. Before he leaves, Dale Earnhardt Jr. heads to a small nook of a convenience store and buys a Powerball ticket. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today