For almost 10 years NASCAR fans have debated the legacy that was “Little E“, Junior, Dale Jr, and countless OTHER nicknames to describe the sports most popular racing offspring since Petty“! And the conversation was ONLY ratcheted up 200% after Dale Sr passed away a couple hundred yards behind “Little E” in a race that had ALL the makings of a “Hollywood NASCAR” top 3 finish for D.E.I. Two minutes after NASCAR President Mike Helton took the podium in disbelief and simply said: Wev’e lost Dale Earnhardt….. Dale Junior’s life changed forever.
He not only lost a father, a mentor, and someone that had come back into his life to “share” the sport they both loved as well as the family business…he lost his “own” identity. Would he…could he live up to his daddy’s legend? Did he really HAVE the traits, the Dale Sr DNA of a Champion?
But down the front stretch of his career Dale Junior DID put LOTS of wins in the DEI trophy case. And he DID handle the pressue like an Earnhardt. Like his dad WOULD have done. But as we all know the divide between his step mother and president of DEI ,Teresa and Dale Jr proved to be as tough as winning a first Cup Championship. Let alone 7.
The history making NASCAR free agent move to Hendrick Motorsports changed the landscape of Stock car racing forever. Much the way the National Football League experienced massive growth with free agency, Jr started what will always be remembered as the free agency era in NASCAR. And it is good for the sport, and especially for the drivers!
We all KNOW Junior has struggled to find victory lane since moving his locker next to Jimmy, Jeff, and Mark Martin. And some fans have really turned up the flame on the ” Dale Jr” expectations barbeque. And I understand that. And truthfully so does Dale. He has never made excuses for his rough patches, or failure to make the chase for the championship. He’s been accessible to the very same media that looks for ANY chance to hammer him. He looks you inthe eye,and takes responsibility. He’s had to both defend his “actions” on the track, and the “adulation” he receives OFF it! And that is crazy. The Real Value of Dale Junior transcends wins , and their are LOTS of them, almost 30 if you add the Nationwide, and Cup series together. Dale Junior HAS won enough in MOST fans eyes to earn him the title of Most Popular NASCAR driver 6 consecutive years or some incredible statistic, haha.
The Real Value of Dale Earnhardt Junior is simple. Dale Earnhardt Junior made NASCAR, and racers for that fact…MATTER in American mainstream cuture, and society. Don’t believe me? Ask just about any kid today if they recognize his name? His picture? His commercials? Dale Earnhardt Junior not only saved NASCAR at a time when it needed saving. He propelled the sport into places his daddy and Richard Petty never could… among them Wall Street! So for the ignorant peripheral fans, and the staunch supporters of anyone BUT Dale Junior …hear this: The man was back ON on a race track weeks after his father “Died” on one. And he competed ala “Brett Favre” after losing the most important man in his life…with class and dignity. And he won races, and he won OVER fans that dismissed him as just Dale’s kid! He has testicular fortitude on par with ANY athlete that ever raced. And expectations that far exceed that of ANY other NASCAR driver. And most importantly he grew the NASCAR fan base, and legend not only amongst race fans…but amongst more cultures, ethnic groups, countries, and even Disney film makers! Brian France and Mike Helton SHOULD be thanking this guy for everything he has done for their sport. But he, and I will settle for at least giving the man the respect he is due.
Watch any NASCAR race, in ANY city….. and their is one common denominator. Junior Nation. Junior Pride. And whether it’s Budweiser, The National Guard or Uncle Willy’s Fire Pit Pizza in Bristol Tennessee his fans,… Jr Nation will make THEM relevant too. Because “That’s the REAL Value of Dale Earnhardt Junior. I have long wondered just like alot of you race fans and critics..if Dale had what it takes….could WIN, not just races, but Championships. And I have questioned his commitment, and contributions. And I have to tell you… “I was wrong” to do that. I failed to see the most important aspects of pride, talent, and affect this young man has had on the “Business” of NASCAR, and the entire scope of his impact. For that, I stand corrected , and apologize Dale for my short sighted thinking. And right about the time you critics move on to your next victim…it’s my guess the victories, and inevitable Championships that come with being a great race car driver…will come for the man some still call “Little E”.
What do you think? Am I right on the money? Crazy as hell? Or maybe just FULL of a few Budweiser’s asI write this column? Let me hear from you!