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Minter: Edwards’ Nice-Guy Rep Is Up In The Air

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 14 2010
Carl Edwards has become one of NASCAR's most-liked drivers over the last couple years. Is that now in jeopardy? (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Image

Carl Edwards has become one of NASCAR's most-liked drivers over the last couple years. Is that now in jeopardy? (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Image

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

As the Carl Edwards-Brad Keselowski saga moves forward, one of the bigger questions will be what the incident, on top of others before it, does to Edwards’ image.

There’s no doubt he’s been a media favorite, as he’s been open and cooperative since he first came on the NASCAR scene back in 2002 to race trucks.

And the press has been a big part of the “Aw shucks, Cousin Carl” image that is associated with him.

But there have been dark moments too. His confrontation with teammate Matt Kenseth after a race at Martinsville in 2007, where he appeared ready to take a swing at Kenseth is one, as was his bumping incident with Dale Earnhardt Jr. after a Nationwide Series race at Michigan the year before.

How Edwards deals with the latest situation will go a long way toward solidifying whatever his reputation turns out to be. To his great credit, he’s never put a lot of stock into the nice-guy reputation he had early on, saying more than once that there would come a time when we’d see a different side of him.

One wonders if his frustrations are related to the fact that he was the odds-on favorite to dethrone Jimmie Johnson last year after leading the circuit in wins in 2008, only to go winless all of 2009 and so far into 2010.

The Edwards situation brings to mind the image and actions of another driver who has failed to live up to his and his fans’ expectations but handled the situation, and other messy ones before it, with a tremendous amount of class.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had had to shoulder the weight of poor performance on top of the burden of being the sport’s most popular driver. He’s had to deal in a very public way with the loss of his father, the break-up of the team his father founded and the failure of his Hendrick Motorsports team to make him a winner again.

But through it all, he hasn’t let his frustrations lead to a string of classless acts on or off the track, and for that he should be greatly commended.

It’s not just old scribes like me who appreciate the way Earnhardt has handled the cards he’s been dealt. His fan base has remained surprisingly loyal in spite of his struggles.

Former promoter H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, possibly the greatest observer ever of all things involving auto racing, explains that the fans’ fascination with Dale Earnhardt Jr. tells us more about the thinking of NASCAR’s true audience than any number of focus groups ever could. He said that when it comes right down to it, NASCAR is still very much a country, Southern thing, and Junior is as country and Southern as they come on a circuit that now has more drivers from California than the Carolinas.

“I think his popularity comes from the core fan who is hungry for the roots,” Wheeler said. “He is Hank Williams Jr. when country (music) went to cross over and tried to become Broadway.

“NASCAR has strayed so far from its roots that to many people he is one of the only things left. He has that Bill Elliott, down-home look. He wears jeans. He has that [you figure it out] grin that one might see in the pool hall in Valdosta (Georgia). He’s Willie Nelson laid back and drives a pickup truck.

“He is the epitome of the country boy next door – cute, courteous to women, humble and soft-spoken.”

Wheeler said Earnhardt’s image, his philosophy, and his kinship with his fan base appeal to long-time racing fans, even those who don’t live in the South, as Earnhardt always has.

“The core NASCAR fan is still country although he or she might be from Bakersfield or Peekskill and not Griffin, Georgia,” he said.

And. Wheeler said, NASCAR’s core audience can relate to hard times, even though Earnhardt’s hard times on the race track haven’t kept him from accumulating millions of dollars, staying in luxury motorhomes at the track and commuting by private jet.

Success is fairly easy to manage. Adversity is not. But it’s how one handles adversity that truly defines who they are.

If Cousin Carl was from Columbia, South Carolina, and not Columbia, Missouri, maybe some of the old-line Southern fans might be more willing to cut him some slack.

But not for long. In the end, most true fans are looking for drivers who give and get respect, as David Pearson and Richard Petty once did and still do.

That’s why the time-honored phrase used to start a NASCAR race begins with “Gentlemen.”

– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday.com

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 14 2010
8 Comments

8 Comments »

  • Cindy says:

    Fantastic take on the situation. It is factual and provides great insight as well. Another very well written story by Mr. Mentor.

  • ANM says:

    “A mature person is one who is does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably”

  • paul says:

    Are we talking about the same earnhardt jr who missed his pits twice then took out the field at daytona because of his own mistakes. Then blamed the other for causing the accident.Stormed off like a school kid kicking stuff.

    The same Earnhardt who complains about his car endlessly even though he;s had the best crew chiefs money can buy.

    The same jr who Bobby Allison fired for being to lazy to eat his own lunch.

    You are right on one subject in comparing them.

    One raced his way into cup by hard work and dedication and one rode his daddy money train into being a 20th place racer on a regular basis.

    Your addiction rick to jr is humerous. You or no one else can make jr a winner by writing sweet nothing about the dude.The bottom line is his dad had fans who look for there fallen hero threw a poor rick kid who has never ever worked at anything or had too.The only difference between him and Bobby Hillan is bobby diden’t have a royal name to ride into history.

  • Charles says:

    Rick could not disagree more with your assessment of Carl Edwards!!!!!!!

    You would be correct if Carl was spinning out say Mark Martin, Bill ELLIOT, or Jeff Burton, drivers who treat you with respect!!!

    The difference is Carl hit a driver determined to be this Brash Bold win or hit at all cost Brad K!!!!!!!! Who now seems to be a “Safety Expert” when the shoe is on the other foot!

    Not once did Carl blame Brad for the wreck at Talledaga, and Brad sure did not want to sent Carl flying in the fence their, but also the same could be said of Carl, he didnt want to sent Brad flying!

    You cannot use the Talladaga “was for the win” excuse when cars go flying in the air, danger is danger no matter what!!! Nascar does need to address the cars going airborne though!!!!!!

    This makes about four times he has hit Carl, Denny Hamlin, and
    their is a big list they say!!!!!!!

    Time to stop point fingers at Carl, and tell the rest of the story!!!!!!

  • Ginger says:

    You aptly described the difference between Earnhardt and Edwards. Earnhardt has handled adversity like a man, while Edwards handles adversity like the selfish, self-centered punk he is. I think Edwards’ actions will result in his worst punishment. The loss of respect of fans everywhere.

  • Grady Philpott says:

    Well, if you ask me, Edwards proved himself to be a bitter, vindictive, and almost murderous dimwit last week. He’s capitalized off his “good old boy” image and for a long time he kept up the act.

    Now that’s over. His, “I didn’t know the car would go airborne” comment is as much a defense as, “I didn’t know the gun was loaded.”

    In my book, Edwards is a has-been, whatever he was.

  • pb says:

    Why is it so hard to accept that drivers, like the rest of us, have multifaceted personalities? Even the most affable sort of fellow loses it if pushed long enough and hard enough.