Skip to content

Dale Jr. still NASCAR’s best hope for gaining mainstream fans

Sep 12, 2013, 3:15 PM EDT

Coke Zero 400 - Practice Getty Images

Earlier this month on its website, Forbes released a story that will be in its Sept. 23 issue on Danica Patrick’s impact on NASCAR so far in her first full-time season of Sprint Cup racing. As you’d expect from that particular magazine, there’s a lot written about Patrick – and NASCAR as a whole – from the business and marketing perspectives.

It’s a well-written story from the author, Kurt Badenhausen. But the headline could be something more than a few race fans will take issue with: “A Winning Danica Patrick Is NASCAR’s Biggest Hope To Restart Growth.”

With all due respect to Forbes, if Patrick is indeed NASCAR’s biggest hope to return to its not-too-distant salad days, they’re going to have to hope for a little while longer.

Restrictor-plate racing notwithstanding, Patrick is not a regular contender for victory. At most tracks, she’s still just trying to gain experience. In time, she could be something pretty good in Cup, but there’s still a ways to go before she gets to that point. Let’s see where she stands around mid-season next year.

So if Patrick’s not NASCAR biggest hope, then who is it?

Come on. Who else could it be?

A winning Dale Earnhardt Jr. remains NASCAR’s best opportunity to augment their diehard base with the casual and mainstream fan. Unfortunately for the series, its biggest star – while competitive enough to run in the Top 10 most weeks – hasn’t been doing a lot of winning lately, with just two victories in the last seven seasons.

But while Earnhardt has cooled off a bit after starting 2013 strong, he’s still in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, which begins this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. And he has the opportunity to make a statement when it truly counts.

That’s the beauty of the playoffs in all of sports. You may be having an iffy year by some standards (maybe even your own), but if you can still make the post-season, you have the chance to catch fire at the right time.

One minute, you’re an afterthought. The next, you’re a champion.

And should Dale Jr. become a champion this fall, NASCAR would indeed reap the benefits. While he has been unable to win regularly, he remains the most popular driver in the sport by a considerable margin.

And more importantly, if you walked out on the street and asked any Tom, Dick and Jane if they knew of any NASCAR drivers, he’s still likely to be one of, if not the first name to tumble out of their mouths.

Should Patrick improve by a noticeable margin in the next year or two, perhaps Forbes’ assertion will come true eventually. But at this point and time, Earnhardt is the one NASCAR executives should be crossing their fingers for to do well.

Latest Posts
  1. Ryan Blaney, “Bubba” Wallace top Truck Series practices at Martinsville

    Oct 24, 2014, 5:19 PM EDT

    Kroger 200 - Practice Getty Images

    Both Blaney and Wallace are within 30 points of championship leader Matt Crafton going into tomorrow’s Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville.

  2. Denny Hamlin raring to go for Chase’s Eliminator Round

    Oct 24, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT

    Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 - Practice Getty Images

    A fifth win at Martinsville would put Hamlin into the Sprint Cup Championship Race at Homestead.

  3. Danica Patrick says she’s “open-minded” about crew chief swap

    Oct 24, 2014, 3:25 PM EDT

    Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon AP

    Danica, who will swap CCs with teammate Kurt Busch starting next week at Texas, says she’s looking forward to working with the engineering-based Daniel Knost.

  4. PWC officially confirms GT/GTS split races

    Oct 24, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT

    Photo: Pirelli World Challenge Photo: Pirelli World Challenge

    GT/GTS races confirmed for split in 2015 by the Pirelli World Challenge series.

  5. Jeff Gordon fastest in first Martinsville Sprint Cup practice

    Oct 24, 2014, 1:40 PM EDT

    Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 - Practice Getty Images

    Gordon leads group of four Chasers in Top 5 speeds; all 8 remaining Chasers within Top 15.

  6. Lotus to evaluate new nose design in Austin

    Oct 24, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Italy Getty Images

    Formula 1’s new technical regulations prompted Lotus to use a twin-tusk nose for 2014, but this could be scrapped for next season.

  7. Caterham given dispensation to miss Austin and Brazil

    Oct 24, 2014, 12:50 PM EDT

    Caterham Getty Images

    Bernie Ecclestone allows the team to miss the next two races as it searches for a buyer.

  8. Lotus close to confirming Romain Grosjean for 2015

    Oct 24, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    Canadian F1 Grand Prix - Practice Getty Images

    Deputy team boss Federico Gastaldi says the team is close to finalizing its drive line-up, with Grosjean in pole position for the seat.

  9. Matt Kenseth looking for “career highlight” win this weekend at Martinsville

    Oct 24, 2014, 12:07 PM EDT

    GEICO 500 - Qualifying Getty Images

    A win for Kenseth this Sunday would also put him into the Sprint Cup Championship Race at Homestead next month.

  10. Emerson Fittipaldi to be in attendance at Austin for fan event

    Oct 24, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT

    2013 Laureus World Sports Awards Nominations Getty Images

    Two-time Formula One World Champion Emerson Fittipaldi will make an appearance at Austin’s Circuit of the Americas next week as part of a COTA fan experience.

  11. Ricciardo: United States GP my favorite race of the season

    Oct 24, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Russia - Previews Getty Images

    Ricciardo full of praise for Austin and the Circuit of the Americas ahead of next weekend’s race.

  12. The man behind the sculptures: William Behrends’ presence endures for Borg-Warner Trophy, and Giants legends

    Oct 24, 2014, 11:09 AM EDT

    Photos courtesy Steve Shunck Photos courtesy Steve Shunck

    Statues outside AT&T Park and the faces on the Borg-Warner Trophy share a common thread, in sculptor William Behrends.

  13. Schumacher’s doctor notes progress, but calls for patience

    Oct 24, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT

    File photo of Schumacher looking on during the qualifying session for the Italian F1 Grand Prix race at the Monza racetrack in Monza Reuters

    Dr. Jean-Francois Payen says that he has noticed some progress in Schumacher’s recovery.

  14. Esteban Ocon enjoys ‘exceptional’ F1 test for Lotus

    Oct 24, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

    © Lotus F1 Team © Lotus F1 Team

    Sauber also complete a test in Spain with Adderly Fong and Roy Nissany.

  15. Caterham the latest team to fall foul of the Leafield ‘curse’

    Oct 24, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT

    Spanish Formula One Grand Prix: Qualifying Getty Images

    Just like Arrows and Super Aguri before it, Caterham is on its last legs. However, it is going out in far less dignified fashion.

  16. Administrator takes over running of Caterham F1 Team

    Oct 24, 2014, 7:26 AM EDT

    AUTO-PRIX-F1-BELGIUM-SPA-PRACTICE Getty Images

    Finnbarr O’Connell is now in charge at Leafield as the team prepares for a race against time to make the United States GP in Austin next weekend.

  17. Remembering the Hendrick Motorsports airplane tragedy: 10 years later, it still seems like just yesterday

    Oct 23, 2014, 11:02 PM EDT

    (Image courtesy Hendrick Motorsports) (Image courtesy Hendrick Motorsports)

    This is a column that should never have been written, about an event that never should have happened.

  18. Kentucky native Jack Roush to be inducted into state’s Motorsports Hall of Fame

    Oct 23, 2014, 8:24 PM EDT

    (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Legendary motorsports team owner and innovator — and Kentucky native — Jack Roush will be inducted this Saturday into the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame. Roush was born in Covington, Ky.

  19. NASCAR America: Remembering the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash

    Oct 23, 2014, 7:55 PM EDT

    (Courtesy Hendrick Motorsports) (Courtesy Hendrick Motorsports)

    On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, Kyle Petty joined Dave Briggs to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash and how the team recovered from it.

Video from NASCAR America

Remembering the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. K. Busch (1953)
  2. R. Preece (1790)
  3. R. Newman (1371)
  4. M. Kenseth (1341)
  5. B. Keselowski (1306)
  1. W. Pitkat (1293)
  2. L. Cassill (1267)
  3. D. Coby (1232)
  4. K. Kahne (1124)
  5. R. Rovelo (1111)