As the Sprint Cup Series prepares for this weekends 500-mile race at Pocono, its biggest star, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in the midst of a career worst 106 race winless streak.
This season has been the best for Little E. in quite some time. He has already bettered his top-5 and top-10 outputs from two seasons ago, and is just one top-10 shy of matching his total from last year.
He was one quarter of a lap away from snapping his winless streak two weeks ago in Charlotte, and had to settle for a runner up finish a week ago, when again fuel mileage proved to be the deciding factor in the race, as Brad Keselowski was able to stretch his fuel further than everyone else.
In 2009 and 2010, Earnhardt Jr. was running so poorly that the question became, "will he ever win a race again?" Now, with the strong runs that he has turned in as of late, it has become more of a question of when, and not if.
While it now seems like a foregone conclusion that Earnhardt Jr. will win again, another question is surfacing, and that is, "does NASCAR need him to win to succeed?"
The simple answer to the question is no. In fact, with the current state of the sport, the way it is right this second may be the best possible case for NASCAR.
At this point, if you count both the Bud Shootout and the All-Star Race, there have been 15 televised races. The television ratings have been the same or higher to the ratings from the same race one year ago in 13 of those 15 events.
Are the television ratings on the rise solely because Earnhardt is having more success than in the recent past? Of course not, but it certainly isn't hurting anything.
To make things better for NASCAR, each week that Jr. fails to find victory lane all it does for the sport is garner more media attention. His winless streak is updated after each race, and constantly being mentioned on all of the sports shows.
What happens when he does snap his winless streak? There will be no more draught to speak of, and all the drama of when it's going to happen will be gone.
Sure Earnhardt Jr. winning a race will gain huge amounts of exposure. And NASCAR highlights will be bumped further up the pecking order on that nights edition of Sportscenter, but what happens the following week?
As soon as he wins again, I wouldn't be surprised to see the ratings see a slight dropoff. The casual fan that is only now tuning in because of all of the winless streak talk will no longer have a need to watch.
I admit that an Earnhardt Jr. win would certainly help NASCAR, but I think that right now, with him being mired in such a horrible winless draught, it is continuously drawing more and more interest and wonderment to the sport.
Let's face facts, it is far more interesting to talk about a winless streak that exceeds 100 races than it is to talk about a winless streak of one or two weeks. And after Earnhardt Jr. finally snaps this streak, that is what it will become.
All NASCAR needs from Dale Earnhardt Jr. is for him to show up and race for the sport to succeed. They don't necessarily need him to win.
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