Pedley: Junior Is Just Never Going To Be Senior
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
As much as many fans want Dale Earnhardt Jr. to be Dale Earnhardt Sr., it has become quite clear that that is not in the offing.
There has never been any evidence that the son possessed the same qualities in a Sprint Cup car as the did the father and it has been increasingly clear over the years that no evidence ever will surface.
That doesn’t mean that Earnhardt Jr. will not win a hefty share of races between now and when he decides to retire. And it certainly should not cause fans – even fans of his father – to tank their respect for Junior.
Junior is just not as intense as Senior in a race car. To be sure, Junior wants to win races and championships every bit as much as his seven-time champion father did, but he is not willing to go to the boundless – or he might consider, unethical – lengths to secure those things.
That showed again last weekend at Martinsville when Junior, with a shot at victory late in the race, opted not to send eventual winner Kevin Harvick into the wall just to get the victory.
That is, he opted not to do it the way dad did it many times during his career.
On Friday at Texas Motor Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. was asked why.
“Well, I don’t think that would have been the right thing to do,” he said. “And I wouldn’t
want anybody to do that to me just to take me completely out of the race, under any circumstances. And I don’t have a history of doing that.”
That attitude got Junior toasted by some fans and media on the web this week. Toasted as in ripped for, well, not being Senior.
“It’s real easy to say that on the internet,” Earnhardt said. “I mean really, on the internet it’s easy to say a lot of things. But everybody knows how I race and I try to race respectful and I want the same in return. And if it’s near the end of the race, I expect to run hard and be aggressive; I expect the guys to race me hard and be aggressive and I think that’s kinda what went down this past weekend.”
Junior was pressed on the issue at Texas. He remained loyal to his ideals. He laid them out clearly and precisely.
“Well, I didn’t want to take him out under any circumstances,” Earnhardt said. “I don’t take out drivers or wreck people on purpose. I wanted to race him hard and I tried to get into him but he didn’t even have much of a bumper to get in to, you know? So when I ran into him, it was like a pillow fight. There wasn’t much to it. He just drove off the nose of my car and went about his way.”
The impression of Earnhardt Sr. was that the man was hard as titanium. That nothing bothered him emotionally, physically and certainly when all that pertained to the pursuit of a victory.
But I remember the look on his face when he got out of his car after shoving Terry Labonte out of his way to get a victory at Bristol a decade ago. He attempted to keep the disinterested look in place as the Bristol fans booed him long and loud.
But after a few very uncomfortable moments, you could see the Intimidator wince. And then squirm a bit.
It was not weakness showing through, it was humanness.
Junior is human as well. That side of him comes through much more often and much more obviously than it did with his father.
Some fans and media don’t like it. Some consider it, if not a character flaw, then a competitive flaw.
But, there it is. Deal with it how you must.
Me, I like there to be a difference between racing machines and the people who drive them. And I think sportsmanship still has a place in sports.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments