Skip to content

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

Mar 14, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT

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. Stats of note heading into Suzuka

    Sep 30, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

    Sebastian Vettel AP

    Some of the stats of note as we head into the Japanese Grand Prix.

  2. IndyCar: What’s Honda’s next move, driver-wise?

    Sep 30, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

    Honda Indy Toronto - Day 1 Getty Images

    Honda has Ryan Hunter-Reay, but losing Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden are big blows from marketing and on-track standpoints.

  3. NASCAR AMERICA: Tony Stewart still shaken following fatal crash (VIDEO)

    Sep 29, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT

    Tony Stewart Press Conference Getty Images

    NBCSN’s Marty Snider has more from Stewart’s press conference today in North Carolina.

  4. NASCAR AMERICA: Jeff Gordon, 24 team make statement at Dover (VIDEO)

    Sep 29, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT

    AAA 400 Getty Images

    Instead of racing to protect his position in the Chase, Jeff Gordon went into attack mode Sunday at Dover – and it paid off with a win. Check out his Victory Lane interview with NASCAR AMERICA’s Kelli Stavast here.

  5. Everything you need to know about the 2014 Chasers at Kansas

    Sep 29, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT

    Kevin Harvick AP

    All the notes and numbers to keep in mind as the Contender Round begins on Kansas’ 1.5-mile oval.

  6. WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA recaps Dover, Tony Stewart presser at 7 p.m. ET

    Sep 29, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT

    AAA 400 Getty Images

    Coming up: Highlights from the first cut race of the Chase; reports on Kevin Harvick’s tire failure and Hendrick Motorsports; Tony Stewart speaks about trying to carry on after his involvement in a fatal sprint car accident.

  7. F1: Kevin Magnussen prepared for future – whatever it may be

    Sep 29, 2014, 5:45 PM EDT

    Kevin Magnussen AP

    Time will tell if K-Mag will have a sophomore season in F1. But he reckons that if he didn’t do well this year with McLaren, he wasn’t cut out for the series in the first place.

  8. IndyCar Driver Review: Josef Newgarden

    Sep 29, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT

    newgardenpost Getty Images

    Josef Newgarden ends P13 in 2014, after a year where an overall top-10 finish was possible.

  9. NASCAR: Dale Jr. hails ‘Dinger, Almirola after they’re eliminated from Chase

    Sep 29, 2014, 4:47 PM EDT

    AAA 400 - Practice Getty Images

    A nice display of sportsmanship after a tough day at the Monster Mile.

  10. IndyCar Driver Review: James Hinchcliffe

    Sep 29, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT

    James Hinchcliffe AP

    It was a tough year for James Hinchcliffe, who ended P12 in the IndyCar points.

  11. F1: Mercedes prepares for Suzuka, homestretch of World Championship fight

    Sep 29, 2014, 3:33 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Singapore - Qualifying Getty Images

    Hamilton hopes to join the list of famous names that have won at Suzuka, while Rosberg turns the page on his disappointing Singapore Grand Prix.

  12. IndyCar Driver Review: Ryan Briscoe

    Sep 29, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT

    Briscoe072914 Getty Images

    Ryan Briscoe’s return to IndyCar was quiet, clean and productive.

  13. Pagenaud: “It’s a tremendous opportunity for my career”

    Sep 29, 2014, 3:05 PM EDT

    PowerPag AP

    Simon Pagenaud leaves the past behind, and readies for Team Penske opportunity.

  14. NASCAR: Successful Challenger Round in the books for Joey Logano

    Sep 29, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT

    AAA 400 - Practice Getty Images

    Lack of bonus points notwithstanding, Logano’s pleased about where he and his No. 22 Team Penske crew stand going into the next round of the Chase.

  15. Weekend wrap-up: Was first Chase elimination race an exciting one?

    Sep 29, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    Jeff Gordon AP

    Also: Tony Stewart opens up; IndyCar’s Simon Pagenaud jumps to Team Penske; and the stage is set for a wild season finale in Red Bull Global Rallycross.

  16. Stewart: Racing is healing, and Dover was best run in a while

    Sep 29, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    StewartDover Getty Images

    P14 for Tony Stewart at Dover felt like one of his better runs of the season, he explained Monday.

  17. Tony Stewart speaks, cites overwhelming support in the search of return to normalcy

    Sep 29, 2014, 12:10 PM EDT

    StewartMon929 Getty Images

    Tony Stewart addresses the questions, and faces the media, in Charlotte.

  18. The strong get stronger as Pagenaud secures life-changing Penske IndyCar chance

    Sep 29, 2014, 10:48 AM EDT

    IndyCar Detroit Auto Racing AP

    Pagenaud to Penske means IndyCar’s “big three” now have 12 cars between them – four apiece.

  19. Simon Pagenaud confirmed at Team Penske in fourth IndyCar

    Sep 29, 2014, 10:06 AM EDT

    Pagenaud AP

    Simon Pagenaud makes it official: he’s driving for Team Penske in 2015.

Video from NASCAR America

Gordon: Win was great team statement
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. J. Gordon (1592)
  2. K. Harvick (1401)
  3. T. Stewart (1075)
  4. K. Busch (984)
  5. J. Logano (911)