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. WATCH: Indy Lights races from Barber at midnight ET

    Apr 26, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT

    Photo: Indy Lights Photo: Indy Lights

    Watch the pair of Indy Lights races from Barber at midnight ET.

  2. Relief, gratitude define the day where Newgarden finally gets first win (VIDEO)

    Apr 26, 2015, 8:24 PM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    Newgarden rolls out the thank you mat after scoring his elusive first IndyCar victory.

  3. Ryan Hunter-Reay disappointed, but relieved after Barber performance

    Apr 26, 2015, 8:08 PM EDT

    Ryan Hunter-Reay not satisfied with first top-five finish of 2015.

  4. Montoya, Castroneves still 1-2 in IndyCar points; Newgarden jumps to P4

    Apr 26, 2015, 7:42 PM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    Penske pair still 1-2 after tough afternoon in Barber.

  5. Graham Rahal can’t close deal in runner-up finish at Barber

    Apr 26, 2015, 7:10 PM EDT

    GrahamBarberWin

    Graham Rahal comes up short in best performance in a year.

  6. Josef Newgarden scores his first IndyCar win at Barber

    Apr 26, 2015, 5:37 PM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    Newgarden scores first career win at Barber.

  7. IndyCar: Graham Rahal is halfway leader at Barber

    Apr 26, 2015, 4:43 PM EDT

    Photo: INDYCAR Photo: INDYCAR

    We’re halfway at Barber, with Graham Rahal the leader at Lap 45 and pit stops underway.

  8. Button records new personal best in London Marathon

    Apr 26, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT

    Virgin Money London Marathon Getty Images

    Button joined by wife Jessica and Manor sporting director Graeme Lowdon at the event on Sunday.

  9. WRC: Kris Meeke claims maiden win at Rally Argentina

    Apr 26, 2015, 2:30 PM EDT

    Meeke 264 Getty Images

    Meeke becomes the first British driver to win in the WRC in 13 years.

  10. SPOILER: Indy Lights race two from Barber Motorsports Park

    Apr 26, 2015, 2:29 PM EDT

    Photo: Indy Lights Photo: Indy Lights

    Results from the Indy Lights’ series second race at Barber Motorsports Park

  11. WATCH LIVE: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Live Extra

    Apr 26, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT

    BarberRibbon15 AP

    Watch the fourth round of the IndyCar season, from Barber Motorsports Park, at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra.

  12. WSR: Vaxiviere claims last gasp win at Motorland Aragon

    Apr 26, 2015, 1:15 PM EDT

    © Renault Sport © Renault Sport

    Lotus youngster beats Nyck de Vries in a truncated second race of the Formula Renault 3.5 season.

  13. What to watch for: IndyCar at Barber (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Live Extra)

    Apr 26, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT

    BarberW2W4 AP

    What to watch for ahead of Round 4 of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.

  14. MotoGP: Marquez fractures finger in dirt bike accident

    Apr 26, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT

    Marc Marquez AP

    Marquez undergoes minor surgery on his left hand, and is in doubt for next weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez.

  15. Michael Schumacher’s son Mick victorious on debut ADAC F4 weekend

    Apr 26, 2015, 10:40 AM EDT

    ADAC Formula 4 Oschersleben - Race Day 2 Getty Images

    Mick wins the third and final race of the first ADAC F4 weekend of the year at Oschersleben in Germany.

  16. FIA delegates safe and accounted for after Nepal earthquake

    Apr 26, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT

    Formula E Championship In Buenos Aires - Jean Todt Press Conference Getty Images

    45 delegates from the FIA had been attending the first Asia-Pacific Sport Regional Congress in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Saturday.

  17. Power relieved, thankful to return to front row at Barber

    Apr 25, 2015, 7:11 PM EDT

    PowerBarber2 AP

    Second in qualifying a good day at the office for Will Power, as he’s in search of his first win of the year.

  18. Davey Hamilton to make driving comeback in next week’s IndyCar oval test

    Apr 25, 2015, 6:42 PM EDT

    DaveyKingdom Getty Images

    Davey Hamilton will have a one-off day back behind the wheel of a current day IndyCar, filling in for Townsend Bell at next week’s IndyCar open test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.