Skip to content

Dale Earnhardt Jr. ‘uncomfortable’ with ‘being the face’ of NASCAR

Mar 14, 2014, 4:16 PM EST

Dale Earnhardt Jr AP

Ever since the economy started to go south in 2007, NASCAR chairman/CEO Brian France has said several times that the sport needs Dale Earnhardt Jr. to earn wins and be among the best drivers out there – which would, in turn, hopefully bring NASCAR back to prosperity and increased fan and media attention.

Junior is off to the best start of his career in 2014, with a win in the season-opening Daytona 500 and back-to-back runner-up finishes at Phoenix and Las Vegas.

He’s also one of only five drivers in Sprint Cup history to start off a season with three top-two finishes.

But as good as things are going for Earnhardt and the No. 88 team, at-track attendance is about the same as it has been in recent years, and Fox Sports’ NASCAR telecasts of the first three races have not shown significant gains as a result of Earnhardt’s performance thus far.

Is Earnhardt feeling a bit of pressure to essentially become the sport’s savior? He addressed that during his weekly session with the media Friday morning at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“That’s a very uncomfortable question and to get asked about it really makes me uncomfortable,” Earnhardt said when asked if he can be the one person who can elevate the sport to another level. “There are so many other drivers – there’s guys like Jimmie (Johnson) – who have done so much and accomplished much more than I have.

“They do a lot to elevate the sport. They do a lot of things that, you know, carry the sport as well or better than I do. It’s just very uncomfortable because I don’t have the accolades and the hardware that a lot of these guys have, like a championship and things like that.

“I’m comfortable with the popularity and things like that because I feel like that 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.”

Earnhardt may have welcomed France’s hopes and expectations at a time when Junior admittedly wasn’t doing quite as well as he has last season and certainly since the start of this season.

But even with his massive Junior Nation of fans, Earnhardt admits he hasn’t seen much movement in NASCAR’s popularity, even with winning the sport’s biggest race for the second time in his career to start the new season.

“It’s hard for me to kind of have my finger on the pulse and know exactly how much the needle is moving,” Earnhardt said. “They say we can’t really look at the Daytona because of the rainout. The network broadcasts are about the same if not a little bit, a percentage point one way or the other.

“I guess my fans have been tuning in all along. We just enjoy what we do. I try not to really worry about – I 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 if you’re as an individual.

“I want the sport to be healthy and I want to do things that help the sport and make an impact on the sport. I try to do those things always taking opinions and advice on what I can do better and what I’m not doing that I could be doing to help the sport.

“You want to leave a mark of some kind. We all do. Everybody here wants to have some sort of mark left in their field and in the sport because we all care about it. There are so many personalities and other drivers and new guys coming in. It’s an ebb and flow of personalities. So, I try not to get too caught up in it. It ain’t always gonna be that way. Something could happen this weekend between two different drivers that reach far beyond what I could do, and that will be great. That’s how the sport survives. It definitely doesn’t live and breathe on everything that I’ve got going on. It would be perfectly fine without me, but I’m glad to be a part of it.”

If Earnhardt wins or finishes second on Sunday, he would tie the legendary Richard Petty for being the only drivers to start a season with four consecutive top-2 finishes.

“Anytime you do anything that Richard has done and you put yourself in the conversation with him to do with any statistic, it’s a pretty awesome accomplishment because of everything that he has ever done winning as many races as he has and running as many races as he has,” Earnhardt said. “He’s been such a fixture in the sport still today.

“Yeah, that would be awesome. Just something else we can hang our hat on and we’ve got a shot at it, man. We really run good here. I like coming here. … If we can be in a situation to do that and try to capitalize and get another win or another top three or top two or whatever we need to join Richard in that statistic, we’ll be going for it.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Latest Posts
  1. NASCAR Canadian Tire Series 2015 schedule released

    Dec 18, 2014, 9:51 PM EST

    Canadian tire series logo

    It lasts only four months, but there’ll be lots of action on the schedule for the 2015 NASCAR Canadian Tire Series.

  2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to do a little pre-Christmas dirt tracking Saturday in Illinois

    Dec 18, 2014, 9:26 PM EST

    (Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will be slinging some pre-Christmas dirt this Saturday in an all-star sprint car race in DuQuoin, Ill.

  3. Kurt Busch sponsor supports him ‘110 percent’ in dispute with ex-girlfriend

    Dec 18, 2014, 8:50 PM EST

    (Jerry Markland/Getty Images) Getty Images

    One of Kurt Busch’s sponsors has joined team owner Gene Haas in backing the driver in his ongoing dispute with ex-girlfriend Patricia Driscoll.

  4. Have a good laugh: Check out NASCAR America’s 2014 blooper reel (video)

    Dec 18, 2014, 6:31 PM EST

    NASCAR America

    Want to have a good laugh or two? Check out all of the bloopers and behind-the-scenes fun from NASCAR America over this past year.

  5. NASCAR suspends Camping World Truck Series crew member

    Dec 18, 2014, 6:18 PM EST

    nascar logo 2014

    NASCAR announced that a Camping World Truck Series crew member has been suspended for violating the sanctioning body’s substance abuse policy.

  6. WATCH: Race of Champions at 7 p.m. ET kicks off motors evening on NBCSN

    Dec 18, 2014, 6:00 PM EST

    ROA_Twitter_Promo

    RoC, Mecum, and two F1 “Road To:” specials make for motors block on NBCSN tonight starting at 7 p.m. ET.

  7. IndyCar champ Will Power’s hidden talent — breakdancing

    Dec 18, 2014, 4:15 PM EST

    penske file power montoya 2014

    Will Power is a closet breakdancer? Who knew? Find out in the latest edition of The Penske Files.

  8. Sauber’s new C34 chassis has passed crash test

    Dec 18, 2014, 4:00 PM EST

    F1 Grand Prix of Brazil Getty Images

    Sauber’s 2015 car is the second to pass crash test.

  9. Ganassi’s IndyCar, NASCAR stars set for another Rolex 24

    Dec 18, 2014, 3:28 PM EST

    PruettCOTAWin Getty Images

    No Franchitti in 2015 as CGR announces Rolex 24 lineup.

  10. Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud will head to Super Bowl with Verizon

    Dec 18, 2014, 2:30 PM EST

    Pagenaud AP

    Penske’s newest star to head to NFL’s biggest game.

  11. Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 13 – Chase Elliott wins final Nationwide Series championship at record age

    Dec 18, 2014, 2:00 PM EST

    (Chris Graythen/Getty Images) Getty Images

    In less than one year, Chase Elliott went from the driver of a start-up team to the youngest champion in NASCAR history.

  12. NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 16 Aric Almirola

    Dec 18, 2014, 1:00 PM EST

    Oral-B USA 500 - Qualifying Getty Images

    Almirola broke into the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a rain-shortened win at Daytona in the summer.

  13. F1: Hamilton, Alonso engineers on the move

    Dec 18, 2014, 12:45 PM EST

    Alonso and Hamilton were teammates at McLaren back in 2007 (© Getty Images) Getty Images

    The engineer market is busy in F1, as well.

  14. NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 15 Kasey Kahne

    Dec 18, 2014, 12:00 PM EST

    (Ethan Miller/Getty Images) Getty Images

    Kasey Kahne struggled at times in 2014, but there’s great promise for 2015 with a new contract, new crew chief and an extension from his primary sponsor.

  15. CVC adds di Montezemolo, Walsh to Board of Directors for F1; Bernie stays on

    Dec 18, 2014, 11:46 AM EST

    MontezemoloBoard AP

    Di Montezemolo and Walsh now part of F1’s controlling shareholder Board of Directors.

  16. Menards stays on as NASCAR XFINITY sponsor for RCR

    Dec 18, 2014, 11:11 AM EST

    MenardsNXS Getty Images

    Menards stays with RCR’s XFINITY program.

  17. Flying Lizards head to PWC with McLaren

    Dec 18, 2014, 9:56 AM EST

    Photo: McLaren Photo: McLaren

    New cars, series for sports car stalwart team.

  18. NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and Southern Modified Tour release expanded 2015 schedules

    Dec 17, 2014, 8:47 PM EST

    nbc whelen modified tour logo

    NASCAR revealed the 2015 schedules for the Whelen Modified Tour and its Southwest Modified Tour, including a first-time visit at the legendary Hickory (NC) Motor Speedway.

Video from NASCAR America

NASCAR America's 2014 blooper reel
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. A. Self (1871)
  2. D. Suarez (1690)
  3. M. Tifft (1663)
  4. J. Boston (1604)
  5. C. Coughlin (1595)
  1. K. Busch (1527)
  2. K. Busch (1343)
  3. B. Vickers (1325)
  4. D. Armstrong (1002)
  5. K. Larson (942)