Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he almost broke down on the stage in the Encore Ballroom after receiving the prestigious Myers Brothers Award, an honor his father, seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt Sr., received posthumously in 2001.
"I felt like I was going to fall apart up there, talking about it," Earnhardt said after Thursday's Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon. "I couldn't figure out if I was nervous or excited. Once I got up there, I was running a hundred miles an hour -- I was so excited and happy.
"I had as much fun delivering and giving that speech as I've had with any other speech. I really enjoyed conveying my appreciation, because it's so genuine."
At the suggestion that his father would have been proud to see Earnhardt Jr. recognized for his work in developing young drivers through JR Motorsports and for the contributions of his Dale Jr. Foundation, Earnhardt quipped: "He probably would have derailed the whole thing. 'He don't deserve that. Don't give that to him -- not yet. He's only 40.'"
Yet few owners have done more than Earnhardt Jr. in recent years to recognize and develop new talent. Brad Keselowski, the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, and Chase Elliott, the reigning NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, both are JR Motorsports products. So is Greg Ives, who succeeds NBC-bound Steve Letarte as Earnhardt's crew chief at Hendrick Motorsports in 2015.
"It's a different award, unlike anything else, really, in the sport," Earnhardt said. "It's a feeling of being an asset to something and being important, feeling like someone values what you are and who you are.
"It's a great honor, and just looking back at all the people that have won it, it's a long, long list of who's who and people that built this sport one brick at a time. ... It's really emotional."