The Frontstretch: It's Not All Junior All the Time by Amy Henderson -- Friday May 30, 2008

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It's Not All Junior All the Time

Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Friday May 30, 2008

 

I was reading through some old (and not-so-old) racing columns and found one that I wrote last year that got me thinking. Actually, it was the comments that I got that got me thinking. I wrote about some of the issues that were making NASCAR less than popular with the fans. You can read about them here if you really want to. But it isn’t necessary.

What really piqued my interest was a comment that, in a nutshell, blamed about 95% of the problems in NASCAR these days on Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Apparently, NASCAR lets Junior run rampant in the garage and on the track, giving him cautions for the asking and, more or less, fixing the races for his benefit or for any other outcome they would like to have.

OK, let me get this off my chest: the NASCAR universe doesn’t revolve around Junior. That’s not a knock on the most popular driver. It’s merely an observation about two factions of fans that I’ve encountered in recent years—those that love Junior, and those that hate him. Love him, and he’s all that and a bag of chips—the greatest driver on the circuit who can do no wrong and is continually shafted by the media and the officials when he should obviously be winning every week. Hate him, and he’s overrated with an inflated ego and NASCAR bends over backwards to accommodate his obviously mediocre talent, and, on top of all that, the fans who love him are obnoxious.

Despite all the fan and media attention he recieves, the fate of the NASCAR universe does not rest on Dale Earnhardt, Jr’s shoulders.

Even NASCAR got in on the “blame Junior” act last year, insinuating in a statement that TV ratings would be higher if Junior was running better. Well, gee, if you listen to the detractors, they did all they could to help the guy—throwing phantom debris cautions, letting Junior and only Junior pass below the yellow line on the plate tracks, making prank phone calls to Jimmie Johnson telling him the race was cancelled… It wouldn’t have surprised me at times to see accusations of little green men fixing the weather to get the guy a rain win.

Poor guy-it must be an awful lot of pressure to be told by one group of fans that the fate of NASCAR rests on your shoulders and by another that the fate of everything rests on your shoulders. It must be terrible to know that people are showering your competition with beer cans because they beat you. Or to hear that NASCAR is fixing races for you—as if that’s the only way you could get a win. You can’t win some days!

Based solely on numbers, Junior is certainly in the top tier of drivers today—17 points wins is nothing to scoff at, certainly better than mediocre, but it’s also hard to argue that he’s the best when both Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson, both of whom came on the scene around the same time, have double that number (Stewart is one shy of that). Have the phantom cautions over the years helped Earnhardt? Sure, but they have also helped other drivers. Kyle Busch could vouch for Junior not being the only guy to sneak in a pass below the line at Talladega. Junior hasn’t won a points race this year and the ratings have rebounded over last fall. Contrary to popular belief, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson aren’t having a slump this year because Junior is getting all the good stuff at Hendrick Motorsports.

Now, don’t go thinking I dislike Junior because I said it’s not all about him. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve liked Junior since day one because he’s a class act who would probably be fun to hang out with for a day. Heck, the guy is my neighbor. But I’m not looking at him as a driver or as a person through rose-colored glasses, either. He’s not perfect, and he shouldn’t have to be.

NASCAR has never been about one guy. There are guys that are popular and others that are kind of just there, but all of them have their fans and detractors. Most other drivers just aren’t this polarizing, nor their fans and those that dislike them such zealots. Junior, like every driver on the track every week, has a lot to bring to the table, and sometimes, he screws up. He’s neither lone hero nor archvillain.

Pinning NASCAR’s hopes, or their problems, on one driver, no matter how popular, is a disservice. It’s also short-sighted and narrow-minded. But most of all, putting all that on one man’s shoulders in unfair—unfair to Earnhardt and to his competitors. He’s a shining star in the NASCAR universe, but he’s not the center of it.

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Kevin in SoCal
05/30/2008 02:25 AM
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13 NASCAR races, 13 straight weeks with a frontstretch.com article about Dale Junior. Can you come up with someone else to talk about, please? I gotta figure Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart or even Kyle Petty are doing something interesting this week. I’ve learned all but what color Dale’s toothbrush is from this website. Lets talk about someone else for a change, please.

Anthony in KY
05/30/2008 06:58 AM
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Don’t Worry Kevin. Im a Jr fan, But in a year, you’ll have Lagano and Busch to be sick of, Unless youre one of those shrub lovers!

Douglas
05/30/2008 07:32 AM
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Could you please, please, get your facts straight????

At the Talladega race you mentioned where Jr.
WON”, NA$CAR admitted after the race they did not penalize Jr. because they were afraid of the fan reactions if they took the win away!

NA$CAR themselves said they awarded the win ONLY because they did not want a riot in the stands if they black-flagged Jr.!!

Spin it the way you want!

But the truth will prevail!

Jr. is nothing but a second rate driver given the best equipment because of his name! Not his talent!

True Fan
05/30/2008 07:38 AM
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Top ten relevent cup drivers in the 21st century so far are 1) Jeff Gordon 2) Jimmy Johnson 3) Tony Stewart 4) Matt Kenseth 5) Kurt Bush 6) Dale jr. 7) Ryan Newman 8) Kevin Harvick 9) Greg Biffle 10) Kasey Kahne. HONORABLE MENTION: Jeff Burton,Kyle Bush,Carl Edwards,Denny Hamlin and Elliot Sadler.

Jack
05/30/2008 08:46 AM
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Dale Junior is overrated by his fans but much more underrated by his detractors. The guy lost a championships by a couple of dozen points, has finished in the top 5 how many times, and has 17 wins.

While I agree that his fans are often obnoxious, I am far more turned off by those who hate him. What is there to hate about the guy? He is honest, he usually drives clean, and he admits to his mistakes.

Wow, what a terrible human being.

Stormin
05/30/2008 09:28 AM
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If Douglas truly believes Nascar fixed a race for Junior and admitted it, failed to penalize Junior when it should have and admitted it, then I have to wonder why he’s still watching such a farce. No self-respecting fan would watch if he truly believed it. The better Junior does, the more haters that appear to comment on articles about him and the more outrageous their claims become. It’s a lot of fun for his fans to watch so many go off the deep end and completely lose all common sense just because someone wrote a Junior article. People tend not to waste their hate on talentless flacks who don’t deserve the attention. So hate away. Those obnoxious fans truly live for it, and those less obnoxious fans find it endlessly amusing, too.

Scott
05/30/2008 09:28 AM
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Dale Jr. is highly overrated. If his name was something such as “Dale Jones, Jr.”, then he would be nothing but some second-rate driver along the lines of some of these journeyman drivers in NASCAR.

GAA
05/30/2008 10:18 AM
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Nice to see others are tired of hearing/ reading about Jr. I agree he is good drive but not one of the best. Doesn’t matter what equipment he has, he will never be the driver his father was.

Kevin in SoCal
05/30/2008 12:28 PM
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What is there to not like about Dale Jr? Mostly its the way his fans hold him up on a pedestal and think he can do no wrong. They actually think the other drivers should move over and let him win every race. Just because of his name. His fans have ruined him for me. And the media pays him way too much attention for someone who hasnt won in two+ years. Jeff Burton didnt get this much attention when he had his five year long winless streak. And when he finally won, he was quickly forgotton about the next week. Also, half of Dale’s wins have come on the same three tracks. That’s not what I look for in a well-rounded driver. I have a huge list but I’ll end with this one, his deal over his car number. Its not his number, it belongs to the team owner. Rick Hendrick had to give up one of his long time car numbers to accomodate Dale. Did Casey Mears whine and complain about getting the #25 or now the #5 when he joined the team? Nope, he accepted what he was given and appreciated the opportunity. Dale threw a temper tantrum and cried that his step-mom wouldnt give him the #8. And again, his fans were making nasty comments and even death threats to her about it. I lost even more respect for him after that last year.

Jack, Dale has finished in the top 5 in points 3 times in 8 years. And the closest he’s finished was 5th in 2004, 138 points back. In 2006 it was another 5th, 147 points back. In 2003, he was 3rd in points, but 207 back. That’s a lot more than a couple dozen.

Ron
05/30/2008 12:50 PM
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Of course NASCAR lets JR. Get away with things that noone else would be able to get away with. Just look at last week and how they reversed the penalty about endangering the safety workers. That was a huge load of B.S. right there. That would not have happened for anyone else.

Douglas
05/30/2008 12:51 PM
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Hey “Stormin”!! And that’s exactly what happened, and a day later NA$CAR fessed up as to why Jr. was not penalized!

As for me, I am what could be termed the “core fan”, a left over from many years ago!

And it breaks my heart that NA$CAR is changing the sport forever! And not for the better!

Oh sure, I could simply abandon everything and turn my back! But, maybe, just maybe, the sport is worth fighting for!

I know everything is not fair in any sport! How many times did MJ get away with things in the NBA just because he was the biggest draw? I just want to keep the sport of “Stock Car Racing” as honest as one person can!

A large responsibility, but someone has to do it!

Can you honestly say that you will continue to support NA$CAR even though the winner is not really the winner?

Jackie
05/30/2008 01:15 PM
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All Dale, Jr? Give me a break. Isn’t everyone talking about Kyle Bush? If Jr raced like Kyle, everyone would be in a snit. Emergency workers? Ha! Ha! I may be wrong, but on TV the incident they were talking about & showing was Jr coming down pit road and passing a “blower”. Didn’t see any safety workers anywhere around the blower. Another thing, Sr made Jr work for his opportunity in the sport. How many drivers can actually say that today? You shouldn’t hate Jr because of his fans…that would be akin to hating a school teacher because you didn’t like the students in her class.

Jerry A
05/30/2008 02:34 PM
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Kyle Busch may not be your favorite driver, but a driver he is. The word driver says it all, it’s the man on the track sitting behind the steering wheel with his right foot on the floor. It´s not about how he looks or what he says before or after the race. Heck he could a deaf mute or a motor mouth it doesn’t matter. He could be a pretty boy or uglier than sin. Again it doesn’t matter. He could be born with a silver spoon or dirt poor, doesn’t matter. Kyle Busch has two things rarely found in today’s competitors which I admire. First he has The Fire in the Gut and second he has No time for Political Correctness.
He comes to win. His view is other drivers can concern themselves with top 5´s, top 10´s or selling T-shirts. When you see Kyle Busch drive you cannot help but remember drivers like Curtis Turner, Junior Johnson, Tim Richmond and yes even Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Kyle Busch is a throw back to the old days when driving was the only thing important. Not sponsorships. I doubt any sponsors would have been very impressed with Curtis Turner or Junior Johnson. But like Busch they were drivers and only drivers not corporate salesmen.
Just before he retired as a car owner I recall Junior Johnson’s expressing his disgust that he no longer could he select the best driver available, but a driver that the sponsor would approve. It goes to show what a sorry state of affairs NASCAR has arrived at. However, after reading many responses/comments here at Frontstretch, Its obvious many NASCAR followers cannot see that. So many are concerned with image, and/or popularity and not raw talent. If other things matter to you, aside from on the track driving abilities, then maybe you should switch channels from NASCAR to American Idol.

Does anyone really think Rick Hendrick hired Junior solely for his racing abilities? Remember Rick Hendrick is a businessman that owns racing teams. Hendricks first thoughts are money and profitability. Believe me a driver’s talent is a distant second.

Junior is a business man’s dream. It’s pretty simple, Junior will bring in the money and Kyle Busch will bring back the trophy or the steering wheel. If you are a businessman then go with Junior and the dollar but if you are a real racing fan you have to go with the driver who ever that may be.

Bunger
05/30/2008 05:50 PM
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I was thinking the other day about the direction of the sport. The drivers we have, where it’s going, and I was thinking about Dale Jr. I’m not a fan of his, but I don’t dislike him either. I think the problem is, there are very few fans in this range. You like him, or you don’t, but there aren’t many middle ground fans. Me personally, I don’t belive this day in age NASCAR could really say “hey, we fudged a race for a driver” and be okay with that. If that’s how you interpreted that, fine, but I’d love to see them saying they gave him something so the fans wouldn’t be upset. The guy has won races, finished high in the points, and did it with mediocre equipment. Just remember this for all you Dale Jr Haters: Dale Jr has never once claimed to be the driver his dad was. I don’t think that’s what his mentality is. And for all you Dale Jr fans: He’s a good driver, who has what it takes to win but he’s not the best out there.

Side Note: Someone above wrote something about Premier drivers, etc, and didn’t list Jr but put down Elliott Sadler? Not hating on Sadler, but he’s not a “premier” driver (or whatever you said) or near the driver Jr is.

Timmie
05/31/2008 03:27 AM
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Douglas, can you please somehow have some proof that Jr. passed under the yellow line to gain position at Dega? I have been a fan of NASCAR for many years, and I have seen more Fathers and sons in NASCAR than you can imagine. I think all this comes down to, is just jealousy. For all those who say Jr is over8ted, and his fans is what makes him so bad. Please listen to yourselves?

Douglas
05/31/2008 08:36 AM
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Hey Timmie!

I guess in my way of thinking if your a fan and follow NA$CAR each and every race, then you would automatically know what happened at Talladega that year. NA$CAR published a statement a day later stating why they did not penalize Jr. for that infraction! It was more a matter of crowd control and they did not want the responsibility for the safety of all the innocent fans that would have been caught in the middle of flying debris and such from Jr. Nation!

If you want more information, please do the research!

Thanks!

Ron
05/31/2008 01:08 PM
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Douglas, I’m going to go ahead and point ol’ Timmie in the right direction for the story. Most Jr. fans won’t do the research to find proof that Mr. Do No Wrong actually did wrong. So Timmie, here’s an address that will get you started on the road to realizing that Jr. does get special treatment. Copy and paste this, which is just one of many out there:
http://jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/070503/spr_12957005.shtml

Douglas
05/31/2008 02:55 PM
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Hey “Ron”, big thanks.

My problem is I only have dial up available to me so doing research for past articles is really slow and cumbersome for me.

But I do think poor ole’ Timmie is just a part time fair weather fan that does not understand the methods NA$CAR uses to select winners!

MMM, does Mark Martin getting cheated out of a win at Daytona ring a bell? Wonder where that yellow flag went?

Timmie
05/31/2008 07:17 PM
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Thanks so much for the link Ron. Plus thank you too, Douglas for your reply. However here it would be hard to believe that only Dale Jr. has won a race for so called rules. I have seen quite a few win races with two left front tires on the front of their cars to give them momentum, and I knew that Dale Jr. spun out to keep from getting lapped one time. While I know he nor any other drivers are perfect. This one I did not know. While I know that all the drinking fans in the stands were not only Jr fans that were arrested at Talladega that threw things, only to see about 9 arrested. Some were Jimmie Johnson,Dale Jr., and Tony Stewart Fans, or at least had on their shits, hats or both. Now when people go just for that reason I do not even consider those fans at all. They were barred from Talladega, plus Darlington, which was the very next week turned them down as coming to there track. I do know they were in handcuffs, but sure can’t tell you how long they spent in jail. We can go back to the days of NASCAR, many drivers at one time or another have gotten a very raw deal. Yester year before all the media,you knew when you attended. Talking racing go back and check the Yellow Banana, that Jr. Johnson came up with and Fred Lorenzen drove. Wow how we needed the media back then for sure. Good going guys, and thanks again.

Dee
05/31/2008 10:54 PM
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Why do you guys keep blaming Jr for the reporters choosing to write about him. As for nascar cheating for him; lets look at last year whwn they called cautions and race for Gordon and Johnson. Now lets be fair with our facts. Jr may not be the best driver but he is the most popular. As for him getting the best equiptment because of his name , have we forgot about his season last year???????????? And do you really think he gets better than Gordon and Johnson!!!!!!!!! Lets be fair and leave Jr alone. He can not control the reports nor the fans

Douglas
06/01/2008 01:45 PM
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Hey Timmie! We appreciate the note!

Like anything, guess we pick out when Jr. benefits! Although I do believe I try to be neutral as I like the racing, well, used to like it anyway, more than a single driver!

If we take the 2003 spring Talladega race as an example, what do you think would have happened if a Robby Gordon was the one that put his four wheels over the line and passed a car?

That pretty much sums up how I feel about NA$CAR! No such thing as “unbiased” application of the rules! Whatever rule they may have for any given weekend anyway!

BUT!! Not mentioned in that article was the fact that on Monday following the race, NA$CAR themselves said that they would not penalize Jr. at that point because of the crowd reaction if the win, or first place, was taken away from Jr.!

So in essence, the rowdy Jr. Nation supplied Jr. the win!

Wonder if Jr. even said thank you!

Marc
06/01/2008 06:48 PM
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Douglas is a toad. NASCAR never said anything like that. Junior won the race fair and square. They DID, however, give a race to Jeff Gordon by running the last 9 laps under caution, because they felt it would be “too dangerous” to throw the green, and let the race finish under green. Douglas must have watched a race on the fairy channel and dreamed this one up.

 

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