Why I Love NASCAR: Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The Earnhardt legacy continues through Dale Jr.
Credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images for NASCAR

Dale Earnhardt was my driver. When he died at the Daytona 500 in February 2001 my heart sank and my fandom waned. I stayed around watching the aftermath for several months. When Kevin Harvick won, I cried along with Chocolate Myers. When Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the July Daytona race (2001), I leapt for joy and cried some more. But Dale Earnhardt was my driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was not. I never threw my fandom behind the boy although I never disliked him, I just couldn’t transfer my racing emotions his way.

Over the years I cheered his triumphs, I tried to support his “necessary” move away from DEI run by his “evil stepmother,” and I have tried to reason away Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s apparent head problems that keep him from success. But when is enough enough? With Dale Earnhardt Jr. signing a new contract with Hendrick Motorsports, his falling in the points with no guarantee of making the Chase with one race left to go, was it time for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to gracefully walk away from the sport that adores him?

Whether the “new car,” the old problems at DEI or his personal life, much has been debated about Dale Earnhardt Jr. He definitely has his loyal following, a foothold in the advertising world, and is an icon in NASCAR.  But, with no significant wins in recent years, no chance at a Cup for several more years, does having Dale Earnhardt Jr. running the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit do anything positive for the sport?
After winning the Winston, proud father Dale Sr. posed with Jr. in
Victory Lane. Credit: Harold Hinson
Some argue Dale Earnhardt Jr. is actually detrimental to NASCAR. When he is in the position to earn the Lucky Dog spot, his detractors say the caution was thrown to help Jr. When he is in position to win and runs out of gas or the like, his rabid fans claim conspiracy theories, too. He is no longer judged on his talents/merits nor seen as a man working in conjunction with just his team; he is either helped or hurt by countless others depending on his luck for the day.  His popularity/notoriety precedes him and truly takes away from the greatness that is NASCAR.

On the flipside, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is so popular, well-loved, and adored that removing him from NASCAR Sprint Cup would be a huge blow to the sport. From sponsorship deals to popularity contests, from good-will ambassadorship to his “it factor,” having Dale Earnhardt Jr. run NASCAR is a boon to the sport. Even the conflict that arises is a positive thing because it boosts ratings, gets in the papers, and is debated the entire week leading into the next NASCAR Sprint Cup event.

In addition, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s association with another hot topic driver, Danica Patrick, also makes him a great story. Taking NASCAR’s most popular and criticized driver to hire IndyCar/NASCAR’s most popular and criticized driver will add a whole host of new topics to delve into and explore!

I may not be a #88-wearing, flag flying, swooning Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, but I definitely see his place in our sport. He is a symbol of NASCAR, its most loved icon, and a connection to a lineage that will forever be associated with the sport. Like Kyle Petty wasn’t his father, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is not his. I don’t think he ever pretends to be, he just is his own man. Certainly it must be difficult to live in the shadow of a famous parent, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. tries his best. Maybe NASCAR would grow without Dale Earnhardt Jr., but I don’t believe the sport is ready to find out. In the meantime, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is yet another reason why I love NASCAR.
Why I Love NASCAR: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Why I Love NASCAR: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Reviewed by Chief 187 on Monday, September 05, 2011 Rating: 5