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. Got questions about life? “Bartender Brad” Keselowski’s here to help (VIDEO)

    Jul 25, 2014, 3:31 PM EDT

    Aaron's 499 - Practice Getty Images

    The former Sprint Cup champion steps behind the counter and serves up cold ones…Of truth.

  2. Everyone worried about a Kenseth win — except Matt himself

    Jul 25, 2014, 2:58 PM EDT

    kenseth indy AP

    INDIANAPOLIS — Everyone seems to be concerned Matt Kenseth hasn’t won a race thus far in 2014 – everyone, that is, except Kenseth himself.

  3. Jimmie Johnson remembers early Brickyard struggles

    Jul 25, 2014, 2:17 PM EDT

    Geico 400 - Practice Getty Images

    The four-time Brickyard 400 champion says he had to go against his “natural tendencies” as a driver in order to become as successful as he has been at Indy.

  4. Hungarian GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

    Jul 25, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Hungary - Practice Getty Images

    All of the latest news and analysis from the paddock at the Hungaroring.

  5. Vettel: Red Bull may be closer to Mercedes this weekend

    Jul 25, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Hungary - Practice Getty Images

    Red Bull leading the race for the podium in Hungary, but Ricciardo still has some concerns.

  6. WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 5 pm ET — Hornish on nuances of Indy, JJ and Bowyer, Indiana racing history

    Jul 25, 2014, 1:40 PM EDT

    140725-NASCAR-AMERICA

    On Friday’s edition of NASCAR America, Leigh Diffey will again be joined in-studio by 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner and 2014 Nationwide Series Iowa winner Sam Hornish Jr.

  7. Hamilton and Rosberg both struggling in Hungary

    Jul 25, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT

    Hungary F1 GP Auto Racing AP

    P1 and P2 in both practice sessions, but not 100% where they want to be.

  8. Ryan Newman says he’d add Wednesday night races to Sprint Cup calendar

    Jul 25, 2014, 1:20 PM EDT

    Camping World RV Sales 301 - Qualifying Getty Images

    Defending Brickyard 400 winner would push for mid-week races if he were in charge of creating the Sprint Cup schedule.

  9. Matt Kenseth fastest in Friday’s Sprint Cup practice at Indy

    Jul 25, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT

    (Photo: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images) Getty Images

    INDIANAPOLIS – Matt Kenseth took the first step towards his first win of 2014 – and his first career win in the Brickyard 400 – recording the fastest speed in Friday’s sole Sprint Cup practice session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

  10. Cause of Lewis Hamilton’s brake failure still unknown

    Jul 25, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT

    Germany F1 GP Auto Racing AP

    Brembo and Mercedes release a joint statement concerning the incident during qualifying for the German Grand Prix.

  11. Button reverts back to Pink for Papa helmet in Hungary

    Jul 25, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of Hungary - Practice Getty Images

    Pink for Papa helmet returns in Hungary for what would have been John Button’s 71st birthday.

  12. Ty Dillon leads final practice at Indy for Nationwide

    Jul 25, 2014, 12:11 PM EDT

    Lilly Diabetes 250 - Practice Getty Images

    Nationwide Series rookie continues to show strong pace ahead of Saturday’s Lilly Diabetes 250.

  13. Jeff Gordon high on confidence going into Brickyard 400

    Jul 25, 2014, 11:39 AM EDT

    Camping World RV Sales 301 - Practice Getty Images

    Four-time Brickyard champ: “From an overall strength of the team and speed of the cars, this is by far the best chance we’ve had of winning in a long time.”

  14. F1 silly season kicks into gear in Hungary

    Jul 25, 2014, 11:30 AM EDT

    Sebastian Vettel AP

    Alonso to McLaren? Vettel to Mercedes? Hamilton to who-knows-where? Silly season is beginning to churn out some cracking stories already in F1.

  15. Azerbaijan to host Grand Prix of Europe from 2016

    Jul 25, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT

    Baku

    Baku set to host a street race from 2016.

  16. David Ragan leads 1st Nationwide practice at Indy

    Jul 25, 2014, 10:18 AM EDT

    Subway Firecracker 250 - Practice Getty Images

    The Sprint Cup regular topped out with a lap of 181.043 mph on his 12th and final lap of the session.

  17. Hamilton unconcerned by rumors linking Vettel to Mercedes

    Jul 25, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT

    Lewis Hamilton AP

    Mercedes driver confirms that talks about a new deal have not yet begun, but suggests that it is merely a formality.

  18. Hamilton tops second practice in Hungary ahead of Rosberg

    Jul 25, 2014, 9:31 AM EDT

    Hungary F1 GP Auto Racing AP

    The Briton continues to dominate at the Hungaroring with his teammate in tow.

  19. F1 Paddock Pass: Hungarian Grand Prix (VIDEO)

    Jul 25, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT

    HungaryPresser AP

    News and interviews from around the F1 paddock ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix – it’s the latest edition of the NBC Sports Original Digital Series “Paddock Pass.”

  20. WATCH LIVE: FP2 for the Hungarian Grand Prix

    Jul 25, 2014, 7:45 AM EDT

    Hungary F1 GP Auto Racing AP

    Can Hamilton double up in FP2 at the Hungaroring?