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Earnhardt Jr. Is One Of NASCAR’s Real And True Things

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 12 2017

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was accused of stunting NASCAR’s growth this week. No, seriously.
(RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

Earlier this week, Kevin Harvick took a closed-fist swing at Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s NASCAR Cup Series resume and popularity. Harvick said, in effect, that Earnhardt’s having attained so much popularity without ever having won a championship “stunted” the growth of the sport.

And he wasn’t joking.

Make no mistake, NASCAR’s growth has been stunted. But putting the blame on Earnhardt is absurd. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has not stunted the growth of the sport in the 21st Century, he has kept it breathing.

Perhaps Harvick should take a critical look around the garages in his search for stunting effects. There he would find uninspiring spec equipment that takes vastly less skill to drive than cars from the sports’ 1950s and ’60s heydays. He would also find acres of silver-spoon young drivers who have paid zero dues and don’t know which end of a wrench to hold as they climb into tip-top rides. He would find purposely bland, carefully tutored, afraid-to-offend robots.

Perhaps he should try actually paying for a weekend at a race track. Racing weekends must seem pretty sweet for millionaires who are ‘coptered in and out of tracks, stay in luxury “campers”, have their wives and children pampered by tracks and sponsors and have meals prepared by paid pros.

Perhaps Harvick should try watching more races on television where he would be subjected to almost as many mind-adling commercials as racing “action” viewing. He would have to listen moronic rantings by “broadcast partners” who are more concerned with their roles as cheerleaders for the sport than with well-parsed, unbiased, thoughtful analysis.

And finally, perhaps Harvick should be looking in the mirror for stunting effects. Perhaps it is arrogant, unlikeable, punk drivers who treat fans to condescending smirks, and the few professional media members that still cover the sport with respect that is having a stunting effect.

No, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has never won a Cup championship. But to say his popularity is based exclusively on his last name is a slap in the face to auto-racing fans. It is to call them too stupid to actually know who they should like and why they should like them.

To imply that Earnhardt has no chops as a driver is absurd. Dude, his stats are not far off of yours. Earnhardt is not a novelty act. His 26 wins outpace a sizable handful of drivers currently in the Hall of Fame. Want to rip a driver who is a novelty ace? Go after teammate Danica Patrick.

Win a couple more championships, prove your one and only was not a fluke, and then look down your nose at Earnhardt and NASCAR’s fan base.

You may indeed do that, but there are some wonderful star-athlete attributes which Earnhardt has that you never will. Junior is classy, intelligent and entertainingly analytical.

Before he talks, he thinks. Listening to the vast majority of pressers these days is a waste of time. Same questions (the media’s fault), same answers (competitors’ fault). Cliches mixed liberally with snark and uncamouflaged boredom spew like water from fire hoses.

When Earnhardt talks, fans and media alike learn things about racing and the racing life.

Stunting growth by being more popular than successful? Drivers and NASCAR officials – as do participants in virtually all major sports – these days love to tell fans that they are “entertainers”. They explain away measures aimed at “evening playing fields” and taking measures to keep fans happy even though those measures dilute the nature of race-to-the-swiftest by saying, hey, that’s entertainment. John Wayne was no Spencer Tracy as an actor but to say The Duke did not deserve to be popular is absurd.

On Friday at Michigan International Speedway, Earnhardt was confronted by the media and asked about your words – words which earlier in the week he described as hurtful.

As usual, his answers were candid and thoughtful. Here are those questions and his answers:

CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHY YOU THINK KEVIN HARVICK WOULD SAY WHAT HE SAID ABOUT YOU? ARE YOU NOW GETTING THE IDEA VIA WHAT YOU ARE HEARING THAT POTENTIALLY THERE WAS SOME FLACK OVER YOUR COMMENTS ABOUT DRIVER SALARIES? AND DO YOU THINK THAT WAS MISUNDERSTOOD?

“I’m sure it’s easy to take it a number of ways. It could have been taken differently. I think it definitely probably upset some of the veteran guys. I said on my podcast that if you’ve got a healthy program with great corporate sponsorship and great manufacturer support you should be able to control your worth and be able to get the kind of deal you want. The environment for some of these teams has become a lot more challenging over the last couple of years. But, that might be where some of his frustration comes from and why he decided to make the comments he made. I’m not real sure. I can’t speak for Kevin.”

DOES KEVIN HARVICK OWE YOU AN APOLOGY?

“No.  I would appreciate a conversation. If we can have a conversation about it.  I know Kevin, and I’ve known him for a long time. I feel like it would be great to sit down and discuss what he said, what he meant.  We can even talk about my conversation from The Glen that he didn’t like, and just find some kind of common ground.  That would be great. Like I said, I think a lot of the guy, and there is no denying what he did for our company over those few years.  We were in a good place, but he put us to another level. His understanding of how to run a team, he changed how everyone in the company thought…all the guys downstairs as far as how to get cars better. He brought a really great mentality to the company that is still there today.  We’ve enjoyed a lot of wins together. I would certainly like to clear it up, but just probably between ourselves.”

YOU SAID YOU HAVE EXCEEDED YOUR EXPECTATIONS AS A DRIVER, CAN YOU PLEASE SPEAK TO THAT?

“I have watched a lot of guys come in behind their Dad and struggle.  There are a lot of guys that came in behind their Dad and made it, but there are a lot of guys that didn’t.  My Dad put up some pretty steep numbers, so I knew that was going to be a challenge trying to feel any kind of self-worth and doing well enough to satisfy people.  I hated working for a living, so I was hoping, this is silly, but the way I thought in 1997 was ‘Man, if I could get into an Xfinity car and could win just one race, what do I need to do just to say that I think that is enough to keep me around?’  When I won my first few races in the Xfinity series, I thought ‘Well, alright. I’ll be able to keep a job in this sport for a while because of this little bit of success I’ve had.’

“I didn’t come here to be the most popular guy. I didn’t come in here thinking I was going to win seven championships. I just wanted to be able to do. I just didn’t want to flame out in two years and be gone and have to work. Honestly.  I just wanted to be able to make a living doing it, and it has turned out to be much, much more than that for me. Every time I win a race, it is a surprise to me. Any time we did anything really big like win the Xfinity Series championship, or the Daytona 500, even to this day, it is hard for me to believe it happened to me.  That is what I mean when I say I exceeded my own expectations because they were pretty low.  I don’t know why, but I was a screw-off when I was a teenager. I was late to work every day. I didn’t put in the effort. I just didn’t have my head on straight, so I shouldn’t have amounted to much. But I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t gotten the opportunities I got with my Father and luckily enough I had great people around me on the Xfinity deal that carried any of my own personal limitations until…I finally figured it out late, late in my career what I really was supposed to be doing this whole time as far as my job and being an asset, and being accountable and applying myself.  It took a while, but some of us are late bloomers.

“I didn’t think I would win another race after 2010, 2011. I thought that was it. I thought I was going to squirm around in the back until everybody had just had enough of me.  But somehow or another we got back in Victory Lane a few more times, so that was pretty cool.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a fan favorite for a reason. Kevin Harvick will never be a fan favorite for a reason.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 12 2017
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • Damon says:

    “To imply that Earnhardt has no chops as a driver is absurd. Dude, his stats are not far off of yours. Earnhardt is not a novelty act. His 26 wins outpace a sizable handful of drivers currently in the Hall of Fame. Want to rip a driver who is a novelty ace? Go after teammate Danica Patrick.”

    Harvick didn’t imply Dale Jr. didn’t have driving chops at all, he said that since he (Junior) went to Hendrick in 2008 he hasn’t delivered the goods, which he hasn’t. Junior has just 9 wins in 326 races since the start of the 2008 season, which ranks 14th best in Cup, 73 top 5’s (10th best) and 135 top 10’s (12th best), not to mention Junior has had winless streaks of 143 and 55 while at Hendrick.

    As for your Danica cheapshot, in the last 10 races she’s scored more points than Junior (and Kasey Kahne/Ricky Stenhouse, who have each won a race in that span, she has also scored 17 fewer points than Jimmie Johnson) and her average finish of 18.1 isn’t far off teammate Kurt Busch’s 17.4 in that same span, but yeah, she’s a novelty. Do novelties win Indycar rookie of the year honors for both the series and Indy 500? No. Do novelties finish top 10 in points for 6 of 7 seasons, including top 5 once? No. Do novelties finish in the top 10 in 6 of 7 Indy 500’s, including the top 5 twice? No.

    But your over-the-top defense of Junior and cheapshot of Danica just goes to show the gender bias that exists in sports. Danica hasn’t won a Cup race in 176 starts, but nothing is said about Paul Menard, who has gone 218 races without a win (both his teammates have wins this year, btw), has just 1 Cup win in 385 starts AND has parlayed that into a partnership with the Wood Brothers/Penske….not a word about that from you, but Harvick dares to point out Junior’s lack of success at Hendrick and that offends you to take a shot at somebody else who has nothing to do with Harvick’s point, really?

  • Aven says:

    I’m not a big Jr. fan but I understand why he is. He’s the only remaining remnant of the drivers of the “good old days”. He tells what he things regardless of what it is and brings up things others are afraid to bring up. He got the opportunity because of his father’s name but most of the rest of the drivers are the result of wealth and connections that have little to do with their talent. I see a drastic drop in attendance and ratings when he is gone because there is nobody available to take his place that could represent the drivers of old.

    • RA Eckart says:

      There won’t be as big a drop in ratings as people predict. We’re going to get to hear Dale on the TV broadcasts for the second half of the season. The same reason people like to hear him (yes, over the current TV announcers) is the same reason people will tune in. They like his honest opinion of NASCAR. THAT will be refreshing, Buddy Baker/Ned Jarrett/old school fans!

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