Mar 14, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
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.”
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Oct 24, 2014, 7:26 AM EDT
Finnbarr O’Connell is now in charge at Leafield as the team prepares for a race against time to make the United States GP in Austin next weekend.
Remembering the Hendrick Motorsports airplane tragedy: 10 years later, it still seems like just yesterday
Oct 23, 2014, 11:02 PM EDT
This is a column that should never have been written, about an event that never should have happened.
Oct 23, 2014, 8:24 PM EDT
Legendary motorsports team owner and innovator — and Kentucky native — Jack Roush will be inducted this Saturday into the Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame. Roush was born in Covington, Ky.
Oct 23, 2014, 7:55 PM EDT
On Thursday’s edition of NASCAR America, Kyle Petty joined Dave Briggs to mark the 10-year anniversary of the Hendrick Motorsports plane crash and how the team recovered from it.
Talladega mystery: Did missing woman even make it to NASCAR race? Second fan to disappear in 18 months
Oct 23, 2014, 7:37 PM EDT
For the second time in 18 months, police in the area of Talladega Superspeedway are investigating the disappearance of a race fan who had intended to go to the Sprint Cup race at the 2.66-mile racetrack.
Enrique Contreras III, nephew of Carlos Contreras, to make first NASCAR truck race start at Martinsville
Oct 23, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT
Enrique Contreras III, nephew of veteran Mexican racer Carlos Contreras, will make his NASCAR debut in Saturday’s Camping World Truck Race at Martinsville Speedway.
Oct 23, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
GTSport Racing returns with Jack Baldwin and Buz McCall.
Oct 23, 2014, 3:37 PM EDT
Martinsville preview on tap in Thursday’s NASCAR AMERICA.
Oct 23, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Marsh, Cameron on the move to Action Express.
Oct 23, 2014, 1:12 PM EDT
Fernandes claims he didn’t receive full payment for Caterham, the new owners claim they haven’t received their shares, Bernie Ecclestone says he is trying to remedy the situation – but all the while, workers are locked out of the factory, putting the team’s hopes of making Austin in doubt.
Oct 23, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Brendan Gaughan back for another year with RCR in XFINITY.
Oct 23, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Sergio Perez, Felipe Massa and Esteban Gutierrez signed up for COTA fan forum.
Oct 23, 2014, 9:56 AM EDT
Wurth renews for multiyear deal.
Oct 22, 2014, 11:35 PM EDT
Brad Keselowski is flattered people might compare him with the late Dale Earnhardt, but he’ll be the first to say he’s not the new Intimidator in NASCAR.
Oct 22, 2014, 8:18 PM EDT
Perhaps the greatest collection of original Indianapolis 500 pace cars will soon be on display at an upcoming car show in suburban Chicago.
Oct 22, 2014, 7:36 PM EDT
For most Canadians, their homebrewed beer choice is typically Labatts or Molson. But countryman and IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe is starting to get some traction with his own beer brand, Hinchtown Hammer Down (HHD).
Oct 22, 2014, 6:43 PM EDT
On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, Parker Kligerman took a spin around Martinsville Speedway in the NBC race simulator to show why the paper-clip shaped track can be extremely difficult.
Oct 22, 2014, 4:13 PM EDT
In a stunning move that could potentially threaten his bid for a record-extending 17th NHRA Funny Car championship, John Force announced Wednesday that veteran crew chief Jimmy Prock has resigned, effective immediately.
Oct 22, 2014, 2:37 PM EDT
Crew chiefs, road crews for Nos. 10 and 41 Stewart-Haas Racing cars will swap starting at Texas.
Oct 22, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT
More murky messaging from Leafield as Caterham’s future hangs in the balance.
Video from NASCAR America
- Administrator takes over running of Caterham F1 Team 0
- Remembering the Hendrick Motorsports airplane tragedy: 10 years later, it still seems like just yesterday 2
- Talladega mystery: Did missing woman even make it to NASCAR race? Second fan to disappear in 18 months 5
- WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 5 p.m. ET for Martinsville outlook 0
- Caterham could miss Austin as crisis deepens at Leafield 2
- NHRA stunner: Jimmy Prock out as John Force’s crew chief 10
- Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick will swap crews at Stewart-Haas (UPDATED) 14