Is Tony Stewart NASCAR's Designated Replacement For Dale Earnhardt Jr.?

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IAugust 19, 2010

WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 06:  Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet, looks on in the garage during practice for the NASCAR Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen on August 6, 2010 in Watkins Glen, New York.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As Dale Earnhardt Jr. heads down the road that once again bypasses the Chase, Brian France knows the lack of wins by the popular driver has affected the sport.

France appears to be seeking a driver as the new face of NASCAR to go along with the schedule change and new Chase format.

Earnhardt Jr. has been referred to as the "franchise" for NASCAR because of his name, popularity, and history of wins.

Several days ago at the House of Blues in Dallas, Texas, Eddie Gossage, President of Texas Motor Speedway, made announcements about his track including the night race.

Brian France was in attendance along with Tony Stewart and some 1600 season ticket holders from the Speedway.

France spoke of the new schedule for the 2011 season, as a smiling Stewart looked on.

After the official announcements had ended at the House of Blues, France answered questions from a group of reporters.

France was asked who could emerge to take the place of Junior if he's not in the Chase another year; according to ESPNDallas.com, he responded, "I don't know.  That's why you run the races and play the game.  It will be somebody who can win with some bravado.  It's going to be somebody who is unmistakably competing and not points racing or any other stuff, and fans feel that.  Tony Stewart is one of those guys.  He competes all the time and he's got a big fan base because they like that.  It's going to be whoever can do those things."

 Several points can be extracted from the statement France made.  One being, it appears NASCAR's head man has figured out the Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus routine.  He wants a racer who is "unmistakably" competing.  He wants someone with lots of fans.

The new hero to pull fans out of their seats will have to have bravado.  Bravado is defined as pretend courage or defiant confidence when there really is little or none.

Tony Stewart not only has bravado, but also the talent to become the new "franchise" figure for NASCAR. He can be controversial and says what he thinks even if it flies in the face of accepted policy.  The dark-haired, sometimes brooding, sometimes bearded driver consistently proves his marketability with appearances on television and print ads.

In lieu of Earnhardt Jr. and his disappointing performance at Hendrick Motorsports, France is seeking a fiery figure that garners fan attention.

Stewart is beginning to roll in the summer heat, having moved up four positions to fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings following the CarFax 400 in Michigan.

The Indiana native has 37 career wins and 150 top-five finishes in the Sprint Cup series.  He is an owner/driver at Stewart-Haas Racing.  He was the NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion in 2002 and 2005.

Stewart has made the Chase every year that it has been in place.  He draws fans from the open-wheel series with his history in the IRL, sprint car racing endeavors and ownership of Eldora Speedway.

Junior Nation will remain loyal despite their driver's loss column, which shows 80 races since his last win.  They will adjust to the fact he doesn't give a "s###" about the Chase.  He has other priorities like trying to qualify a car, finish in the top 20 and communicate with his crew chief.

So Junior fans, suck it up because you may be seeing more of Tony Stewart as he becomes the point man for NASCAR when it comes to drivers.  His appearance in Dallas may be indicative of that.  Just being the NASCAR title holder may not be enough.

Though there are other drivers with bravado, who can trigger emotions and are hard racers, none of them have the fan base of Stewart presently.  Unless Earnhardt Jr. changes his racing performance in warp speed, it appears change is a comin'.