|Disappointing finishes have become all too common for NASCAR's most popular driver.|
If you follow motorsports even casually, no doubt you're at least well aware of – if not yet sick of hearing about – the impending retirement of Dale Earnhardt Junior in the wake of his concussion-plagued 2016 season.
I don't fault Dale Jr. for wanting to get out the car with his head intact. And I'm sure NASCAR, while displeased upon receiving the news, was grateful for a full season of retirement-based media attention and marketing opportunities – financially lucrative aspects not bestowed upon the powers that be in F1 when champ Nico Rosberg essentially announced, “I'm outta here – right now!” after the 2016 campaign went his way.
But the official Dale Jr. lovefest recently took a slight detour after Kevin Harvick, a real racer who clawed his way up the NASCAR ranks, made his feelings known about Dale Jr.'s career, one that has averaged just over a single win per season. Harvick said on his Sirius XM radio show that Earnhardt “hasn’t been anywhere close to being our most successful driver. When you look at other sports – you look at basketball and you look at football and you look at their most popular (athletes), they’re also right on the top of the list as their most successful (athletes).
|Dale Jr. (right) claiming one of his 14 popularity awards. Bill Elliott still holds the record with 16.|
It's all just more proof that the NASCAR title of most popular driver certainly does not equate to performance. After all, before Dale's umpteen years with the title, there were a number of years when Bill Elliott was most popular while ending a career that was fairly far removed from the glory days of “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville.” In fact, it was nine years between Elliott's last win and his last race, many moons that were far from awesome.
Dale announced that he found Harvick's comments to be “hurtful.” Of course, there was a time when such hurt would have been addressed in a more physical manner, out behind the haulers in the garage area. Ah, but those days – like the memories of the career of Dale Earnhardt Senior – are simply fading deeper and deeper into the mists of time.