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. Cindric proposes IndyCar champion Will Power will run No. 1 in 2015

    Sep 2, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

    WillNumber AP

    Team Penske president Tim Cindric all but confirms Will Power will run the No. 1 in 2015.

  2. MAVTV announces two-year IndyCar extension at Fontana; date TBD

    Sep 2, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

    MAVTV 500 Getty Images

    MAVTV announces IndyCar’s return to Fontana for two more years through 2016, although official confirmation from the sanctioning body and a date remains to be revealed.

  3. NASCAR AMERICA: Kahne’s in Chase, but knows he and No. 5 team must improve (VIDEO)

    Sep 1, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 Getty Images

    Kahne to NBCSN contributor Nate Ryan: “We need to build off of this…As a team, we need to be stronger together.”

  4. NASCAR AMERICA: Assessing Tony Stewart’s return at Atlanta (VIDEO)

    Sep 1, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 Getty Images

    NASCAR AMERICA’S Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman believe that the three-time Sprint Cup champion handled himself well throughout a difficult weekend.

  5. F1: Sochi grandstand to be named for Toro Rosso rookie Kvyat

    Sep 1, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Hungary - Qualifying Getty Images

    Organizers of the Russian Grand Prix appear to be getting behind their countryman as F1’s first visit to Sochi draws closer.

  6. NHRA: Four first-time U.S. Nationals winners crowned in Indianapolis

    Sep 1, 2014, 6:35 PM EDT

    DeJoriaWin AP

    Richie Crampton, Alexis DeJoria, Shane Gray and Eddie Krawiec captured U.S. Nationals wins on Monday.

  7. WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA recaps how Kahne was able at 5 p.m. ET

    Sep 1, 2014, 4:45 PM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 Getty Images

    Coming up today: Highlights from Kasey Kahne’s clutch Atlanta win; assessing Tony Stewart’s comeback; the Chase outlook with one regular season race left; more problems in pits for Kevin Harvick.

  8. 2014 TORC champions crowned in Crandon (SPOILER)

    Sep 1, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT

    TORCLogo

    Writer’s Note: The following is a recap of this weekend’s TORC: The Off-Road Championship season finale at Crandon, Wisconsin. NBCSN will air the races this Saturday, Sept. 6, at 3:30 p.m. ET. If you don’t want to know who won until then, we suggest you find another post to read here on MotorSportsTalk…

  9. NASCAR: Late-season stumbles put Bowyer, Larson on ropes heading to Richmond

    Sep 1, 2014, 3:11 PM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 - Practice Getty Images

    For Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson, winning on Saturday night will be all that matters if they want a spot in the Chase.

  10. Carpenter, SFHR top single-car teams in year before fusion into CFH

    Sep 1, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

    CarpenterCap Getty Images

    Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing end as the top single-car teams in 2014, before merging in 2015.

  11. Feelin’ free: Frustrations end for Chase-bound Kahne, IndyCar champ Power

    Sep 1, 2014, 1:38 PM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 Getty Images

    Kasey Kahne saves his season in Atlanta, while Will Power changes his career in Fontana.

  12. Carlos Munoz Sunoco Rookie of the Year in a deep IndyCar freshman class

    Sep 1, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

    MunozROY Getty Images

    Carlos Munoz takes home the top rookie honors after a successful first full season in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

  13. Honda preps for first simulations, expresses confidence it can match Mercedes

    Sep 1, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT

    Remember the Honda MP4-4 that won five consecutive Formula 1 championships from 1987-1991? Here's one of the cars the late Ayrton Senna drove to one of three Honda-powered titles. AP

    Honda’s motorsport chief provides an update on the company’s F1 engine progress.

  14. IndyCar: Power leads award winners during series championship celebration

    Sep 1, 2014, 10:27 AM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    IndyCar championship banquet goes off quickly, smoothly with a good bit of humor.

  15. Danica Patrick finishes career-best 6th after G-W-C craziness in Atlanta

    Sep 1, 2014, 1:25 AM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 - Qualifying Getty Images

    The result beats her previous high water mark of seventh this past May at Kansas.

  16. Kevin Harvick far from being happy after Paul Menard wrecks him, costing a chance for win

    Sep 1, 2014, 1:10 AM EDT

    (Photo: Jonathan Moore/Getty Images) Getty Images

    HAMPTON, Ga. — It was a rough night for a number of drivers in Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta, including Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Marcos Ambrose.

  17. Kenseth clinches Chase berth; Bowyer falls out of Grid with one race to go

    Sep 1, 2014, 12:43 AM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 Getty Images

    Matt Kenseth enters the post-season with a second place result, while Clint Bowyer finds himself outside the Chase Grid going into next Saturday’s regular season finale.

  18. Kasey Kahne rallies in last 2 laps to win at Atlanta, makes Chase

    Sep 1, 2014, 12:14 AM EDT

    Kahne wins at Atl 2014 Getty Images

    HAMPTON, Ga. – Kasey Kahne’s 17th career Sprint Cup win couldn’t have been any larger.

  19. Tony Stewart’s comeback hopes end with rough 41st-place finish at Atlanta

    Aug 31, 2014, 10:07 PM EDT

    stewart atlanta 2014 Getty Images

    HAMPTON, Ga. – It was not the comeback that Tony Stewart had hoped for.

  20. NASCAR Atlanta Update: Stewart falls back after contact with Kyle Busch; Kenseth leads

    Aug 31, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT

    Oral-B USA 500 Getty Images

    Tony Stewart’s return to competition tonight at Atlanta Motor Speedway has encountered some trouble after a restart run-in with “Rowdy.”

Video from NASCAR America

Tony Stewart does well in return
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. K. Harvick (2134)
  2. J. Gordon (1959)
  3. T. Stewart (1610)
  4. J. Logano (1198)
  5. M. Kenseth (1172)