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Woody: Junior Loses Races But Not Fans

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 8 2010

Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to be NASCAR's top draw. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Larry Woody | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

One of NASCAR’s more amazing streaks continued this season, and no, I don’t mean Jimmie Johnson’s record-extending fifth championship.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Most Popular Driver Award for an eighth consecutive year.

It just goes to show that winning’s not everything. In fact, in Junior’s case, apparently it’s nothing. No matter how much he loses, his fans stand by their man.

Junior’s eight MPD awards is only half as many as Bill Elliott collected from 1984-2002 (he won it every season except three during that span.) And I know what a lot of cynics as saying: NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award is a bunch of bunk because it’s rigged to allow fans to vote early and often.

One of Elliott’s PR people told me, during Awesome Bill’s awesome streak, that sponsors liked MPD awards and so every effort was made to see that ballot boxes were property stuffed.

It was no secret that unabashed campaigns were launched every year to get out the fan vote for Bill and – I assume – similar efforts are made on the part of Junior.

To which I say: so what?

If a driver has a fan base that’s loyal enough and passionate enough about their guy to get out

Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrates after winning a Nationwide race in a very familiar car back in July. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

and rustle up votes, that says a lot about his popularity. It is evidence, in a round-about way, that the Most Poplar Driver Award is genuine. Or perhaps the name should be changed to the Most Passionate Fans Award.

It would be hard to dispute it in Earnhardt’s case. Anyone who attends a race at virtually any track around the country is aware of the thunderous ovation that greets Junior during driver introductions. They see the crowds on their feet, cheering raucously, every time Dale Jr. makes an upwardly-mobile move on the track.

Whenever Junior comes to town for a PR appearance the crowds surge into the spill-over category. I watched him work an autograph session in Nashville a couple of years ago and the fan frenzy was downright scary. Some Little E enthusiasts got in line the night before and slept on the sidewalk in order to get a Junior autograph the following day.

And they put their money where their heart is: Earnhardt merchandise keeps flying off the shelves, wins or no wins.

The Earnhardt aura is easy to explain: his late father was a favorite of older, veteran race fans and they transferred their loyalty to the son. Conversely, Dale Jr. is a favorite of the younger, new-generation crowd who like his edgy persona. So he has the best of both worlds.

I’ve always been fond of Junior and I think he does an extraordinarily good job of dealing with his immense celebrity. He may be a rock star, but he’s never forgotten his roots. I think fans admire that trait.

For whatever reason(s) they stick with Junior through thick and thin, and it got pretty thin this past season. Just imagine the fan reaction if Earnhardt ever gets it in gear and starts competing for wins and championships. It will set the sport on its ear and cure a lot of what ails it.

Meanwhile, the struggles have not dampened Junior’s popularity. If you don’t believe it, just ask his fans.

– Larry Woody can be reached at lwoody@racintoday.com

Larry Woody | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 8 2010
8 Comments

8 Comments »

  • Marybeth says:

    Jeff Burton ran r&d for Roush for which Roush finally admitted. He left there and went to RCR and has done very well since.
    Jamie McMurrary drove r&d for Roush next, until he went to EGR and had a great year.
    Jr. would do the same if he went to another team instead of continuing to run r&d for HMS.

  • Steveo says:

    Fans are turned off to the sport because the product on the track is terrible (everyone’s points racing) and needs phantom debris cautions to make the end exciting.

    When the sanctioning body makes each individual race important, including the first 26, and force guys to race for wins instead of a good pts days to ensure they get in the Chase, the fans will come back.

    Thinking Jr running successful is going to have the turnstiles broken from too much use at each track is pretty misguided if you ask me. There are far more problems than just having Jr run well.

  • Marybeth says:

    “Just imagine the fan reaction if Earnhardt ever gets it in gear and starts competing for wins and championships. It will set the sport on its ear and cure a lot of what ails it.’
    Bob Pockrass of scenedaily.com, 12/7/10, says in an article on drivers going to test in Daytona, “We’re going to send the 88 car down there with [crew chief] Steve [Letarte] and Dale,” Johnson crew chief Chad Knaus said about the plans for the Earnhardt Jr.-Johnson shop. “We’re going to focus on getting the cars built.”
    When I said last week that Jr. was sent to the 48 garage to more easily test set ups for Chad I was ripped, & that all of Jr.’s set ups will dictated by Chad, as I believe they have been for the past 2 years. JG wanted out for a reason. Jr.’s being at HMS is about his running r&d to help JJ, none of it is about getting Jr. wins & a championship. Get Out Now, JR., before the mental/emotional wearing down accumulates for another year. All it will cost you if you get out now is money & maybe JRM.

  • Overra88ted says:

    Vote early and vote often for Na$crap’s Most Popular Loser!

  • blt says:

    “It will set the sport on its ear and cure a lot of what ails it.” I like Junior, but I’m not sure a single driver can make or break the entire sport.

  • BillElliottfan says:

    Thats what makes Bill’s MPD wins even more impressive. There was no multi-email casting capabilities when Bill won.

  • Ginger says:

    I wish I knew how to “stuff the ballot box”. I have one email address and vote once each day. Most Jr fans do. Just think how many votes Jr would get if we knew the secret most people think we know. Please give us the skinny. Maybe we can stuff the ballot box next year.

    • ed g says:

      Ginger,

      You can create as many e-mail accounts as you wish to use for voting by using different services; Yahoo, G-mail and on and on, as well as creating multiple e-mail addresses on business type e-mail services, allowing one person to vote literally hundreds of time daily. Younger voters do this stuff all of the time, being raised on reality shows in which their voting counts (and not minding wasting huge amounts of time doing so). This is the most common form of ballot box stuffing.

      And by the way, you cannot have any idea what “most” Junior fans do. He has millions of fans so what you and the fans you know do may or may not be representative of most fans. Junior is a good guy and there is nothing wrong with him being popular. Just don’t be shocked that a lot of people realize that being a popular driver does not automatically equal being a good driver.