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Woody: NASCAR Is Rooting For Junior

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 7 2011

A lot of people are hoping that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is around until the end this year. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Larry Woody | Senior Writer

NASCAR’s official position is that it doesn’t play favorites with its drivers, and that may be true in terms of enforcing the rules.

But you can bet your bippy – as they used say on Laugh-In – that NASCAR is rooting for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to have a successful season. Successful, as in making the Chase and challenging for the championship.

Junior hasn’t won this season, but his team’s overall performance has improved and he’s had some strong runs. He is 4th in the standings going into Saturday night’s race at Darlington.

Barring a major collapse Earnhardt should be able to hang in the Top 10 through the 26th and Chase-clinching race at Richmond on Sept. 10.

Jillions of Junior fans are hoping he makes it and they are joined (privately, of course) by everybody in NASCAR’s front office.

Boss Brian France admitted as much during a recent interview on SportsCenter:

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is NASCAR's Tiger. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

“He (Earnhardt) is the biggest franchise in NASCAR,” France said. “It would be great if he continues to figure out the chemistry of the team. He went through a pretty good slump, so it’s nice to see him competing at a high level.”

In other words, “Go Junior!”

I’m sure France’s comments didn’t shock anyone. Common sense tells you that NASCAR would like to see its most popular driver running up front, winning races and contending for the championship.

It’s good for business, just as the PGA likes it when Tiger’s in contention. Every sport likes their stars to shine. It generates interest, sells tickets and boosts TV ratings.

It doesn’t require a Nielson survey or a marketing study to gauge Junior’s impact on the sport – just look at the grandstands at any track when he’s challenging for the lead. The fans go nuts. And despite his past slump, Earnhardt continues to out-sell every other driver in Official NASCAR Merchandise.

You can add t-shirt salesmen to the group rooting for Junior to win.

Earnhardt’s revival couldn’t come at a more opportune time for the sport. It needs a good jolt to generate interest and wake up the fans, and a serious championship challenge by Junior would do it.

Nothing against Jimmie Johnson, understand, but a 6th consecutive championship – as remarkable as it would be – wouldn’t generate a fraction of the excitement that would come from an Earnhardt triumph.

A championship by Junior would be the biggest story in NASCAR since the fatal crash of his father a decade ago.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves; Earnhardt is still a long-shot for the title. But at the quarter-way junction of the season only three drivers are ahead of him in the standings.

That means he’s in contention, and if you listen closely you can hear the building of an excited buzz of anticipation. Some of it’s coming from the grandstands and some from NASCAR headquarters.

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 7 2011


  • Steveo says:

    What’s sad is nascar pins all their hopes on one driver. An underachieving one at that. Not a very good business model to have.

  • Overra88ted says:

    Na$crap rooting for Dale Jr.? WTF! That explains the 2nd caution at Richmond. Just as Fox went to a commercial Kyle B.was about to lap Na$crap’s Most Popular Loser. During the break I heard on the scanner via my computer that the caution was out. Told the wife it was a “Jr.caution”. When Fox came back from the break, they said Kurt B. hit the wall, tried 3 times to show where the #22 hit the wall, then gave up. Hmmm? Then Fox says… Surprise, Surprise… Lucky Dog – Dale Jr.! With only 1 Na$crap assisted win (passes the pace car 3 times)in the 5 years, Na$crap will SHAMELESSLY do anything it can to get Dale Jr. a win. Dale Jr. will have to use the PITY PASS to get into the Sprint All-Star race, a race meant for winners. How EMBARASSING!

    • rps says:

      Not true, Jr was the lucky dog in fact and they did show the 22 hit the wall. You should focus your energy on support a driver instead of hating one exclusively.

  • Dick says:

    Shoot! That shouldn’t be to hard to do…just put Jr. in a blue and yellow #3 Wrangler Cup car! Magic things just seem to happen….ya know what I mean?

    Personally, Jr. is probably a great guy, and obviously an asset to the sport, but I happen to think he flat ran out of talent when his Father passed away. He seems to have dropped to brother Kerry’s level of driving talent without his Dad’s continued encouragement/equipment. But that’s just my opinion.

    • Jamerson says:

      Ran out of talent when his father passed away? I don’t think you can say that. Junior continued to consistently win races from his rookie season in 2000 all the way through the end of the 2004 season. Won five races and ended up 5th in the standings in 2004, with the disconnect to 2005 being that his old #8 team with Tony Eury, Sr. at the helm was broken apart at the end of 2004 due to argument among the team as they fell apart in the 2004 Chase. If things had gone better for Junior in those last 5 or so races in 2004 and he had won the championship, I think Junior’s story would be very different now.

      Either way, you will see a return to success for Dale Jr. now. I think Steve Letarte is finally pulling him towards the HMS mode for success, and it will pay off with wins.

      • Dick says:

        To me, your last thought further highlights the kind of driver Jr. is.

        Seems to me there are two kinds of drivers at this level…..a driver with the driving skills to carry a team v. a driver who needs a team to carry him. Jr. seems to me to be of the later.

        Nothing personal. Just my observation for the past few years as the “mission at hand” appears to be hooking Jr. up with some magic combination of crew chief/machinery/pit crew, et al…..with the driver always seen as being above replacement.

        This is from a fan who is neither infatuated with Jr. nor do I dislike Jr. He’s just 1 of 43 on race day to me.

  • Kate Johnson says:

    Dale has what it takes and this will be his year!