Earnhardt Jr.: I’m Not Qualified To Carry NASCAR
By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
BRISTOL, Tenn. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday he’s “comfortable” with the popularity the sport has bestowed upon him, but he’s uncomfortable with the attitude that he’s the person who can elevate NASCAR to another level.
“I don’t have the accolades and the hardware that a lot of these guys have, like a championship and things like that,” Earnhardt Jr. explained. “There’s guys like Jimmie (Johnson) who have done so much and accomplished much more than I have. And they do a lot to elevate the sport. They do a lot of things that … carry the sport as well or better than I do.
“I’m comfortable with the popularity and things like that because I feel like we do a lot and we have a great fan base and we do a lot to engage with them. But carrying the sport is a whole other conversation or being the face of the sport is a whole other conversation. It’s a very uncomfortable position to be put in. I don’t think it’s realistic. All the drivers have a role in that and they are actively doing that.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point leader and 11-time Most Popular driver opened the season by winning the Daytona 500. He backed that up with second-place finishes at Phoenix and Las Vegas, making him only one of five drivers to start the season with three consecutive top-two finishes. If he finishes in the top two in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. will tie Richard Petty’s record of four straight at the season’s beginning.
In the past, NASCAR Chairman Brian France has said that however Earnhardt Jr.’s season goes, so goes the sport, but the third-generation driver said he “can’t concern myself with how much I move the needle.”
“I think that goes outside of my comfort zone and what I feel is, and what I think you need to concern
yourself with as an individual,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “It’s relevant to me, of course, but not important to me. I want the sport to be healthy. And I want to do things that help the sport and make an impact on the sport. You want to leave a mark of some kind. We all do.”
Five-time Sprint Cup champion Johnson doesn’t believe one person elevates the sport’s popularity.
“I think in our sport it takes everyone involved, all the personalities involved, all the drivers on the track, TV personalities and the support of the television network partners, print media, everything across the board to make our sport what it is,” Johnson said.
“There is no doubt that Junior can move the needle…but it’s too much pressure to put on one person. Just as unfair as it is for people to say that I have hurt the sport with my success, I think it’s a little unfair to put that all on him that this sport depends on his success. The sport is bigger than him, it’s bigger than me and it’s bigger than any one person. It takes all of us to make it what it is.”
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