Talk about a fan favorite. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been voted NASCAR’s most popular driver nine times. Now he’s aiming to back that support up with a Sprint Cup title—14 races into the 2012 season, he sits in second place, just 10 points shy of the lead. Perhaps the new Mountain Dew-sponsored, Dark Knight Rises-themed Chevy he’ll drive this weekend can put him over the top. We tracked down no. 88 to talk ticket-avoiding tips, NASCAR-sized thirst and Danica Patrick. Oh, and whether he’ll win the Sprint Cup this year, of course.

Made Man: What is it that makes this Dark Knight car so great?
Dale Earnhardt: Well, it’s a Batman car, first of all. But also my fans voted on it. They picked it, it’s the car they wanted and… it’s Batman!

The hardest part of driving in the big leagues is the heat. It’s about 130 degrees in the cockpit.

MM: What’s the hardest part of driving in the big leagues?
DE: The heat. It’s about 130 degrees in the cockpit. There’s limited comfort. We have little boxes that push air into the helmet, but that’s about it. You can’t have anything heavy in the car. It’s against the principles of the sport, and you can’t go as fast. You need to keep hydrated and keep cool. Those are two of the most important things.

MM: How fast do you normally drive on the highway?
DE: I’m pretty good about not speeding. I don’t really pay attention to the speedometer. When I look at it, I’m usually at the speed limit or five over. I’m not really a stickler for it, but that’s where I normally fit.

MM: Any tips for regular guys looking to avoid a speeding ticket?
DE: When I was young I used to drive 15 to 20 over the speed limit wherever I was going. I was always in a hurry. I just realized that if I wanted to have a regular driver’s license, I needed to slow down. So my advice is, calm down. Get yourself into a better mood where you aren’t rushing all the time. There’s really no trick to it. There are just as many cops on the back roads as there are on the highways. Sorry, guys: you’re gonna get busted no matter where you go, so just slow it down.


Utility belt not included.

MM: Most people don’t realize just how physically taxing stock car racing is. How do you stay in shape?
DE: It’s really about cardio and hydration. It’s not that physical. We’re not carrying the race cars. You’re in a hot place for three or four hours and you sweat a lot. Get on a treadmill, ride a bike and stay very hydrated the week before. That’s what most important for stock car racing.

MM: Danica Patrick in NASCAR. Discuss.
DE: I think she does a good job. She’s had a great year. She’s worked really hard to come in and be competitive. She’s a racer. She’s really dedicated to doing well. And I expect her to continue to do well and be around for a very long time.

MM: Speaking of doing well, you’re in second place right now. Are you going to man up and take the Cup this year?
DE: We’re working hard. This is the best chance we’ve had in a long time. We need to just win a race. I haven’t won one in a while, so I’m just trying to get a win and break the losing streak that I’ve got. But we finished in the top 10 in points last year and that was a pretty good indicator that we were getting better. I feel more confident that I can put bigger goals in front of myself, like winning championships.

MM: What’s the best advice you ever got?
DE: To not do drugs. I hear that shit’s pretty serious.