BRISTOL, Tenn. – For one day, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the second most popular guy at a NASCAR race.
That's what happens when the race is in Tennessee and former Volunteers great and Super Bowl champion quarterback Peyton Manning is in the house. Manning was a guest of the NASCAR driver for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race.
The five-time NFL MVP got big cheers when he was introduced at the prerace drivers meeting and was understandably in demand while making his way around the Bristol Motor Speedway infield.
Fans who normally crowd behind Earnhardt's hauler seemed more focused on Manning as they screamed and shoved items at him to autograph. One admirer even yelled at the recently retired champion to return to Rocky Top as a coach.
Manning and Earnhardt are both pitchmen for Nationwide Insurance, which sponsors Junior's No. 88 Chevy.
Manning simply took it all in.
"I'm a big fan of Dale," said Manning, who was dressed in blue.
Earnhardt, a huge Washington Redskins fan, announced the former Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts QB during introductions and said "we're gonna kick some (butt) today."
Manning said he plans to return to BMS this fall to watch his alma mater play Virginia Tech in a game being billed as the "Battle of Bristol."
Manning added of the track, "I really like it here."
The feeling was mutual.