Woody: NASCAR Is Rooting For Junior
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:
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org Comments