Editor’s note: Jay Nolan grew up in Jacksonville and attended Bishop Kenny High School. He’s worked at Hendrick Motorsports for more than 10 years and is the engine tuner for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Nolan agreed to write about coming back to Daytona International Speedway after his team’s victory in the season-opening Daytona 500.
We finished fifth at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night, and guess how I celebrated on Sunday?
I did yard work.
That’s right, yard work.
When you spend 11 months on the road between running races and testing, it doesn’t leave a lot of off days. So when you get one, you have to make the best of your time.
The good thing about getting everything done is it leaves me more time when I get home this week for the (Coke Zero) 400 at Daytona. I grew up in Jacksonville and graduated from Bishop Kenny High School, so when I come to Daytona Beach, I get the chance to be with my family and friends.
The only thing that may keep me from coming home to Florida is the birth of my first child. It’s due anytime now, so it’s going to be touch and go. Either way, this is the happiest time of my life.
But if everything works out, when I get to Daytona Beach this time, I have a good surprise. It will be the first time my family gets to see my Daytona 500 championship ring. I’ve sent my parents cell phone pictures of it, but this will be the first time they get to see it in person.
I’ve got 15 other rings for championships and other things here at Hendrick Motorsports.
I’ve been here for over 10 years, but this is the first ring I’ve gotten when I’ve contributed personally to it.
Winning the Daytona 500 was a great way to start the season. The win at Pocono was just as big. The funny thing about his race team is Dale [Earnhardt Jr.] is so laid back. Steve’s [Letarte, crew chief] the same way. They’re so comfortable. As a group, we have so much confidence.
We finished fifth at Kentucky on Saturday, and it was our ninth top-five finish of the year. When your driver isn’t happy with a top-five finish, that’s good. We’ve been scary good. We’re really clicking right now.
The schedule is different at Daytona, so I will get a chance to be with my family. I’m sure I’ll have dinner with my parents and my aunts and uncles, as long as we don’t have any team dinners.
Since the garage doesn’t open until 3 o’clock on Saturday, I’ll have breakfast with my parents. We’ll probably meet at our usual place — Denny’s, by my hotel.
Last year, I walked on the beach and swam in the ocean. I’m sure I’ll do it again this year. Anyway, it’s still going to be a very long day.
The truth is, I can’t wait to get to Daytona Beach. I can’t wait to see my family and my friends. I can’t wait to show off my Daytona 500 ring.
And more than anything else, I can’t wait for the race. I really like our chances.