Another driver has come to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s defense following some recent remarks that Earnhardt said “hurt.”
Danica Patrick knows a thing or two about popularity outweighing results — and she freely admitted it while supporting Earnhardt.
“I think Dale did (raise the bar),” Patrick told Tom Jensen of Popular Speed. “I’m a little bit defensive of situations like that, because I am more popular than my results. And it’s not my fault — if that’s the right way to say it. It’s not as though I’ve done something to steal something, you know what I mean? ” … The fact is, Dale would have loved to have won every race he entered into, just like I would. But that’s not the way it goes, so then it goes beyond that to a personality.”
The dust-up began when Harvick gave a radio interview criticizing Earnhardt Jr.’s popularity and lack of success, claiming the combination stunted the growth of NASCAR.
Here’s what Harvick when the topic of fan attendance was brought up on the show.
“I’ve been totally shocked by the vibe of Dale’s last year,” Harvick said . “I really thought it was going to be tons of fans showing up to the race track, buying crazy amounts of souvenirs and the souvenir sales aren’t up for the sales that he has in his last year so far. The crowds really haven’t changed. In my opinion, it’s been from his lack of performance. He hasn’t performed well in the race car.”
It is a well known fact that this year has been frustrating for Junior, he has admitted so himself, but Harvick wasn’t just talking about this one disappointing season. He took aim at all of Earnhardt’s career and questioned why NASCAR’s most popular and most successful driver isn’t the same person.
“(Earnhardt) hasn’t been anywhere close to being our most successful driver,” Harvick said. “For me I believe Dale Jr. has had a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR because he’s got these legions of fans, this huge outreach of being able to reach these places none of us have the possibility to reach. But he’s won nine races in 10 years at Hendrick Motorsports and hasn’t been able to reach outside of that. I know those aren’t the most popular comments but those are real life facts that you look up and see on the stat sheet.”
Harvick continued to explain that he thinks Jimmie Johnson, who is typically third or fourth in merchandise sales, should be far and away the sport’s most popular driver because of his seven(!) championships. He also said that Junior deserved all of the fanfare he was getting in his farewell season but seemed to imply his overall popularity relied more on his pedigree than his performance, saying:
“His dad was popular because he became Dale Earnhardt because of the fact he won seven championships and he was out there grinding every week. That hasn’t happened.”
Earnhardt Jr. won the Busch series championship twice but was not able to win a championship after his move to the cup series.
The remarks stunned Earnhardt Jr. According to USAToday, he said during a press conference:
“I’d appreciate a conversation – if we could have a conversation about it. I know Kevin and have known him for a long time, and I feel like it’d be great to sit down and just discuss what he said, what he meant, and we can even talk about my conversation from The Glen that he didn’t like and just sort of find some common ground.”
Earlier, Dale addressed the criticism behind Harvick’s remarks, that Junior underachieved throughout his career and hurt the popularity of NASCAR because of that:
“I certainly hope that’s not the case,” he said “I put a lot into this sport, and I know that I might not have met everyone’s expectations, but I certainly exceeded my own and I’m super proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.
“I hope that I brought something to the table and left a good impact.”
It was a classy and measured response from Earnhardt, considering how much more Harvick said during that radio show.