Earnhardt Jr. Speaks The Truth About The Media
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, as he sat in front of the media during his weekly “hauler chat”, NASCAR driver/team-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. fielded the usual battery of questions about Danica Patrick. It is something that has become pro forma on race weekends.
One of the answers Earnhardt – who is the owner of Patrick’s Nationwide Series car and a semi-teammate of her in Cup – issued was not.
When Earnhardt was told that Tony Stewart – who owns Patrick’s Hendrick-built Sprint Cup car – said that he thought the media should back off of Patrick because she is being subject to too much pressure, Earnhardt said:
“I think you guys have for the most part handled her with kid gloves. I didn’t think that the media has been that tough.”
Earnhardt is one of the more astute drivers in the series. He’s not a ranter. He is low-key adept at analyzing his sport and his surroundings. He generally thinks before he talks and when he does talk, he is refreshingly unconcerned about the political implications of his words.
He is correct in his assessment of the way some of the media has treated Patrick.
So, OK, off come the kid gloves.
First, vis a vis the Nationwide Series wreck she was involved in at Atlanta: Despite what her apologists said on television, Danica was at primary fault in the wreck. As Rusty Wallace, an analyst at ESPN said earlier this year during a similar incident involving other drivers; there are three pedals in Cup cars.
Patrick could have avoided the contact had she lifted her foot a bit off the pedal on the right, or tapped the middle pedal. Or, she could have used the high line which was left open to her.
It was a racing incident. One over which Patrick should not have been torn into, but also one which should have prompted faulty, biased analysis. The type of analysis which has accompanied her and her ratings-boosting potential into the series.
See, fans have got to know this: This is not a newbee to racing and it is time she is weened off of the praise-only treatment.
She is a 30-year-old professional driver who has been in NASCAR for three years. She has 49 races in Nationwide and four in Cup. Patrick spent seven years in the hugely competitive IndyCar Series. She started 115 races over there. Before that she raced formula cars in Europe.
In NASCAR, one could argue, she is underachieving. Cole Whitt, her teammate at JR Motorsports, has learned the ways of NASCAR more quickly.
She has led a fairly pampered existance in racing. Especially in NASCAR. Her teams have had the luxury of bringing her along slow and steady. Her team owners and crew chiefs have, reportedly, told Patrick to not worry about winning or even placing well. Just go out and take laps.
That is a luxury that few other drivers have. Whitt, James Buescher (who was wrecked by Patrick at Atlanta) and dozens of other NASCAR hopefuls are on the tracks driving for their very careers every weekend. The learning process for them in this era of one-year plans, is long over. It’s produce or good-bye NASCAR, hello ARCA.
The Dillon brothers – Ty and Austin – are in a similar situation. Their grandfather owns their team and has guaranteed their futures. He has put them in great equipment and surrounded them with top people in the garages. The Dillons also have the luxury of relative job security.
The differences is, they have produced. Wins and top-fives and top-10s. Austin Dillon has 35 Nationwide starts. In that time, he has a victory and 14 top-five finishes. Younger Brother Ty has a victory and four top-fives in 17 career truck series starts. His average finish in two Nationwide starts this year is 5.5.
Patrick, by far the wealthiest driver in the Nationwide Series, has just one top-five finish.
And this is all OK. It’s racing. Some drivers learn faster than others. Sometimes – very often, in fact – poor numbers can be the result of factors outside of drivers’ control. Poor pit stops, failed mechanicals, boneheaded moves by others on the track, a shoe on the track.
Patrick may yet come on to have a very solid – perhaps spectacular – career in NASCAR. The belief here is that she will win races, at the very least, along the way. A Chase berth is not out of the question in the future. Patrick is not a stiff.
And, her temper tantrums and proclivity to point fingers (literally in the case of the race at Bristol), while annoying, are well within the bounds of acceptability.
No, the problem here is more with the way she is being perceived and treated by many in the media and the grandstands.
With TV leading the charge, the media gushes over every little positive step she takes (“Oh look, did you see that? Danica put her own helmet on and all by herself. Incredible.”) and makes excuses for every screwup she makes (“That other guy should be parked for slamming the front of her car with his rear bumper. “)
A actual paraphrase from Saturday’s NNS race: Danica is running a “respectable” 16th. For every other driver on the track, 16th-place finishes get you a one-way ticket back to DuQuoin or Slinger.
A lot of us in the media would love to see Patrick achieve the successful-star status that others of us have already bestowed upon her. A Patrick winning races would be good for the sport and, hence, us.
But we should not want that at the expense of credibility. And nobody we are trying to reach is falling for it: NASCAR fans are pretty dang astute.
Let’s compliment her when its due. Let’s critique when its appropriate.
The guess here is that Patrick as no problem with that. Certainly Earnhardt doesn’t.
“She understands the situation she’s in,” he said at Atlanta. “It’s an interesting compelling story especially the closer she gets to going into the Cup series and everybody anticipating that entire process. I’m not at all surprised by any of it (the attention she receives) and I don’t think she is either. I don’t think she’s bothered by it either. I think that she understands the situation and she is a real professional about it.”
Yes. What he said.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments