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Earnhardt Jr. Is Proud Of His Star-Making Role

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 12 2012

Cole Whitt will get Nationwide shot this year thanks to Dale Earnhardt Jr. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. is probably still a little young to be considering what will eventually be his legacy in NASCAR. But a big part of it undoubtedly will involve his role as a car owner who was passionate about giving young drivers a chance at stardom.

Earnhardt’s latest pick to drive his Nationwide cars, Cole Whitt, has much in common with others who’ve been given a chance by Earnhardt. He’s young, with little more than potential on his side. It’s much the same as when Earnhardt hired Brad Keselowski, and to a certain extent Aric Almirola, both of whom now are racing in Sprint Cup.

During a break in testing at Daytona International Speedway on Thursday, Earnhardt said making a difference in a young driver’s career is what drives him as a car owner.

‘”No disrespect to any of the guys that we didn’t choose – they know who they are – but we considered a lot of different people,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “(But) I just felt like Cole had some potential that was untapped… potential and ability that… he hadn’t even discovered yet.”

Whitt, 20, raced in the Camping World Truck Series last year and had a pole and two top-five finishes. He also made two Sprint Cup starts for the Red Bull team, finishing 25th at Phoenix and wrecking at

Dale Earnhardt Jr. continues to help young talent. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

Homestead.

Still, Earnhardt said he’d rather explore the possibilities with Whitt than give the old Aric Almirola ride to a veteran driver.

“I feel like in the guys that we looked at, we sort of know what kind of hand and cars they had and what kind of talent they had and where they would take us,” he said. “I think it’s more exciting – a lot more risky but more exciting – to go with a guy who you don’t really know what he’s capable of and could be big things.

“But you’ve just got to take that risk, and that’s really why I do it. I don’t do it to make money. I don’t have a whole lot of other reasons to be in the Nationwide Series other than just to help somebody.

“I enjoy seeing what happened to Brad and seeing Eric get a deal like he’s got now (in the 43 car at Richard Petty Motorsports). That’s why I do it. It’s funner to help the new guy than it is to help the guy that’s kind of been through the ringer a few times.

“Everybody deserves their opportunity, and I just feel like that was going to be Cole’s only shot.”

Earnhardt also acknowledged that even though he hadn’t personally paid a lot of attention to Whitt, the youngster came highly recommended by people in the truck garage.

“Everybody who works in that garage in there that has my phone number called me and told me Cole was the guy,” Earnhardt said. “Every one of them. People I don’t even talk to, people that I don’t really have relationships with took time out of their day to call me and say, that’s the guy you need to hire. They had no interest [other than] seeing Cole do well and get an opportunity.

“I thought it said a lot for people to do that.”

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

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, January 12 2012
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