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. IndyCar: Drivers, stars appear in Indy, LA, Detroit, Milwaukee for “Focus” premiere (PHOTOS)

    Feb 27, 2015, 7:00 PM EST

    WillSmithFocus AP

    IndyCar drivers hit several race markets for “Focus” premieres.

  2. #AirJosef: Newgarden tests out his dunking skills with Pacers Power Pack (VIDEO)

    Feb 27, 2015, 5:00 PM EST

    Josef Newgarden Josef Newgarden

    How well does Josef Newgarden dunk? Find out in video he does with Indiana Pacers “Power Pack.”

  3. GP2: Nathanael Berthon returns with Lazarus for 2015

    Feb 27, 2015, 4:30 PM EST

    © GP3 Series © GP3 Series

    French driver set for a fourth season in GP2 this year with Lazarus.

  4. Barcelona F1 2nd Test Paddock Notebook – Friday

    Feb 27, 2015, 3:30 PM EST

    Vettel 272 Getty Images

    All of the latest news, reports and features from the paddock in Barcelona.

  5. Ganassi set to honor heroes at Indy Honor Flight event this weekend

    Feb 27, 2015, 3:00 PM EST

    CGRRolex15win AP

    Indy Honor Flight event to be held at CGR shop in Indianapolis on Saturday.

  6. Massa calls for perspective on Alonso crash

    Feb 27, 2015, 2:30 PM EST

    Mideast Emirates F1 GP Auto Racing AP

    Massa says that the main thing is that Alonso is okay and unhurt following his hefty crash in testing last week.

  7. Verstappen pleased with testing pace, new upgrades

    Feb 27, 2015, 2:00 PM EST

    Verstappen 272a Getty Images

    17-year-old has just one day of testing left before making his F1 debut in Australia.

  8. MRTI: Aitken, Jamin emerge as last-minute Cooper Tires Winterfest champions

    Feb 27, 2015, 1:30 PM EST

    Photo: USF2000 Photo: USF2000

    Champions emerge on in a cold finale to 2015 Cooper Tires Winterfest.

  9. Hulkenberg: Gap to field will become clear in Melbourne

    Feb 27, 2015, 1:15 PM EST

    HulkPorsche2 Getty Images

    First run for the VJM08 was “remarkable”, but there is still plenty to be caught up with at Force India.

  10. Rosberg struggling with setup despite posting fastest time in Barcelona

    Feb 27, 2015, 1:00 PM EST

    Nico Rosberg AP

    German driver not happy with the setup on his W06 Hybrid despite posting the fastest time of winter testing so far in Barcelona.

  11. Rosberg quickest as Mercedes shows its hand on day two

    Feb 27, 2015, 12:01 PM EST

    F1 Testing In Barcelona - Day Two Getty Images

    The German team finally goes quickest in testing, sending a statement of intent out to the rest of the field.

  12. F1 cars to be fitted with high-speed cameras from 2016 to aid accident analysis and investigations

    Feb 27, 2015, 11:00 AM EST

    AUTO-PRIX-BRA-F1-RACE Getty Images

    F1 Commission agrees on changes for 2016 season in a bid to help aid investigations into accidents.

  13. Alexander Rossi confirms return to GP2 in 2015 with Racing Engineering

    Feb 27, 2015, 9:32 AM EST

    F1 Grand Prix of Hungary - Practice Getty Images

    American driver secures a seat in GP2 after a turbulent 2014 campaign.

  14. FIA issues updated F1 entry list including “Manor Marussia”

    Feb 27, 2015, 9:17 AM EST

    F1 Grand Prix of Hungary - Previews Getty Images

    FIA confirms that Manor Marussia does have a place on the grid in 2015, relying it complies with the new technical regulations.

  15. Force India VJM08 breaks cover in Barcelona

    Feb 27, 2015, 9:00 AM EST

    © Force India © Force India

    26 days after the rest of the F1 field, Force India gets its 2015 car out on track for the first time.

  16. Fernando Alonso thanks fans for support following crash

    Feb 27, 2015, 7:41 AM EST

    AUTO-F1-ESP-TEST-MCLAREN Getty Images

    Spaniard posts a video on YouTube giving an update on his condition.

  17. Barcelona F1 2nd Test Paddock Notebook – Thursday

    Feb 26, 2015, 4:00 PM EST

    Kvyat 262 Getty Images

    Massa flourishes, McLaren and Mercedes flounder, and Ferrari goes all 50 Shades of Rosso Corsa…

  18. Massa: Williams improving, but still trailing Mercedes

    Feb 26, 2015, 3:00 PM EST

    AUTO-F1-ESP-TEST-WILLIAMS Getty Images

    Brazilian driver still believes that Mercedes has the best car in F1 this year.

  19. Hamilton loses afternoon running due to MGU-K failure

    Feb 26, 2015, 2:00 PM EST

    Hamilton 262a Getty Images

    Briton still manages to finish third on Thursday, but is limited to just 48 laps following the power unit issue.