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Two Exiting Stars Take Different Paths Out The Door

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 21 2017

Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended his last race in the Cup Series by rushing over to hail the victor of Sunday’s race and the season’s championship. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

As the 2017 NASCAR season drew to a close in the deepening darkness of Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday evening, so too did the driving careers of the sport’s two biggest stars of the 21st Century.

And the exits of those two careers were marked by the same kinds of attitudes that had marked the drivers’ active years.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. closed out his final hours as a full-time driver with class, dignity and salutes to fans, fellow competitors and everything else NASCAR. Danica Patrick’s final words to the sport were self-serving and oozing with snark.

Junior arrived to NASCAR in the late 1990s driving in the massive black shadow that was created by the white-bright spotlight that for so long had beamed down upon his iconic father. It immediately became evident that Junior was not Senior.

While a top-tier wheelman, Junior was not an intimidator. Not inside the car and not outside of the car. During the first media interview I had with him – it was in 1998 at Gateway Motorsports Park during his Busch Series title run – it was obvious that Earnhardt Jr. possessed a quiet, contemplative, analytical, honest side that he had no second thoughts about wearing on the sleeve of his driver’s suit.

Several recent quotes from him on political beliefs that would seem to run contrary to the values of hardcore NASCAR fans did little to strip Earnhardt Jr. of Junior Nation’s affection.

It has become apparent that only people who think all opinions should reflect their own

Dale Earnhardt Jr. threw a party for his team after Sunday’s race. (RacinToday/HHP photo by David Tulis)

beliefs would be intimidated by Earnhardt Jr. The man has a decidedly true-populist bent to him.

On Sunday night, there he was at Homestead and it was as real as usual.

He insisted that Matt Kenseth, who is also appears to be stepping away from the sport and perhaps for good, get his due from fans and NASCAR officials before the race. He then went big on praise newly crowned champion Martin Truex Jr. afterward.

“Oh, man, shoot,” Junior said of old friend Truex. “It’s so good to see him win this title.  He is a professional and a gentleman and just a perfect friend.  We’ve been pals a long, long time.  I was glad to have a hand in getting his career going.  I can’t take all the credit.  Richie Gilmore also was a big part of that.  But he’s just such a great guy.  I told him, I said, man, we’re going to have fun in Vegas celebrating your championship.  I am so proud of him.

“The sport needs drivers like Martin Truex Jr.  They do.  I mean, he’s just a really good guy, very easy to relate to, easy to talk to.”

He mingled with fans, he thanked the fans, he partied with fans. “We hope they enjoyed it,” he said of his fans. “They got to see a great race there at the end. I was sitting there running behind it and watching it and it was pretty exciting.”

He mingled with his team, he thanded his team, he partied with his team.

And, he cried with his team.

“I told my guys when the race was over with,” Junior said, “I said, I told them a couple weeks ago, the only thing I care about really is finishing all the laps and pulling down pit road and getting out of the car and having a beer with my team.  These are my brothers, and we’re very close, and I want to just have a moment with them before I leave and go home.  So we got a couple beer coolers out and we drank about two, three beers apiece and sat there and talked for a while and had a lot of fun and enjoyed each other, and you wouldn’t — it’s hard to understand that relationship that you have with those guys, but it’s very close.

“You know, we’re a big part of each other’s lives away from the track and support each other in everything going on in our personal lives, and I’ve worked with a lot of those guys for a lot of years, and we’ve been down and we’ve been out, and we never turned on each other.  We stayed together.  We finished this together.  It’s meant a lot to me.  Those relationships I’ll have beyond driving race cars.”

Earnhardt Jr. used the word “we” repeatedly squared after Sunday’s race.

Then there was Patrick.

Danica Patrick’s final race was much like many of her others in NASCAR. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Jim Fluharty)

It was big news when she arrived on the NASCAR scene. It was seen as a gigantic boost to the sport – one which happened just when it was desperately needed. The electronic media ate/still eats up Danicamania by the bowl full and her fanbase became second only to Earnhardt’s. They stood in packs to see her and they voted into all-star races even though she drove like anything but.

But just as she had done in IndyCar before moving to stock cars, she spent her tenure losing fans; something which some day may cause her more consternation than losing races.

When it came to blame for her driving failures, she was an assigner rather than an acceptor. Competitors and teammates both took the heat and the vitriol when things didn’t go right for Patrick on the track and they seldom did. She was hot headed and she never really understood that race fans will put up with poor performance but not poor attitudes.

At Homestead, she crashed out of her final race as a full-time driver. Asked her thoughts about that and her future, selfish Patrick surfaced. “What I’m not looking forward to is I have to go sit in my bus and wait for everyone to get done with the race before I can (get out of the infield and) go home,” she said.

She may have been joking or she may have been joking about joking about that. Tough to say with her.

What she wasn’t doing was the classy thing, the right thing. The Dale Earnhardt Jr. thing.

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 21 2017
3 Comments

3 Comments »

  • JD Fast says:

    Danica Patrick was never a racer, she was only a driver with a bad attitude. She didn’t set a great example to other girls because of her stinking attitude. It was always someone else’s fault because of her repeated failures, never hers. Unable to accept blame for her poor driving and her failure to work hard at her craft, others took the fall. She worked harder on her wine, workout video’s, cookbooks and workout clothes than she ever did on her driving. All of these were self serving to Danica and not her race team. Its good that she is gone. But wait, she isn’t. Wants to race Daytona and Indy and the MSM has fallen all over themselves saying that she will race. But then who will be the fool to foot the bill for those two SELF SERVING races? Won’t be Danica, she wants someone else to pay for her to play and look good to run in mid pack or crash out like her last race. That was very typical of her career, up in flames. What could have been for her and what was are all of Danica’s making.

  • Steven says:

    She has been the most heavily promoted loser ever in the history of sport. I suspect that she has had concussion issues for quite some time.

  • Chris Lanko says:

    The last paragraph in this article say’s a thousand words. It’s the only article since the last race that came out and said what the majority of fan’s have known all the time. She is nothing but a classless ,only out for herself,don’t give a damn about her team ,other drivers or most of all the fans.look up Bitch in the dictionary and her face is right there. More concerned about having to wait till the race is over to leave. Here’s a hint,if you had even tried to learn about your car handled,got along with your crew instead of treating them like P.O.S. all the time you might have been able to finish a race.Strange how we saw all these tweets fro all other driver’s giving congrats to Martin but you must have gotten out to go home.Martin was still in his car and Kyle Larson was right there to congratulates him. Jr. lauded Martin and Matt both. That’s why fans hold Jr. in such high esteem. He loved all race fans and we all loved him. Fans are going too miss him greatly. You on the other hand ,you are already a forgotten never was .