The Frontstretch: It's Junior, Not Senior by Tommy Thompson -- Tuesday August 22, 2006

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It's Junior, Not Senior

Thompson In Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Tuesday August 22, 2006

 

Controversy occurs on an almost weekly basis in the world of NASCAR racing, and this weekend was no exception. The most discussed race controversy of the week centers around a pass executed on the last lap of a green/white/checkered restart that resulted in Dale Earnhardt, Jr. winning the Carfax 250 Busch Series race at Michigan. Earnhardt won, of course, after he made contact with the rear bumper of race leader Carl Edwards' racecar. The collision sent Edwards' car spinning out of control, causing a caution flag due to the wreck, which froze the field and clinched the victory for Earnhardt, Jr. Following the race and during the cooldown laps Edwards let his displeasure with Junior be known. Carl was hardly the only one around who was upset; many fans, after seeing a replay of the last lap incident, also voiced their displeasure at the manner in which the race was won.

Junior, when questioned about the incident, stated, "We got a run off that corner, and Carl just got sideways and he wasn’t in the gas. I guess he was pretty mad at me, but there wasn’t much I could do.”

“I didn’t mean to spin him out. I don’t go around wrecking people.”

And there you go. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. said the unpleasant incident wasn't intentional, and there is no reason to believe otherwise. Anytime a driver with a reputation for racing clean says that he did not make contact intentionally with another car, that driver’s explanation should be taken at face value considering his established history. And make no mistake; Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is one of the “clean drivers” in the sport. He is not known for practicing the more aggressive moves a driver might make to accomplish a pass for position.

Such a reputation has put Junior in the class of Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Matt Kenseth, and Ken Schrader, among others, all of whom have earned at least the benefit of doubt when professing their innocence over causing a crash. Of course, other drivers not listed have demonstrated that they are not above such driving tactics, and when they deny deliberate wrongdoing it is understandable, based on their past history, to be suspicious of their true intent. One such driver that comes immediately to mind for practicing contact passes that often times would result in carnage is the aforementioned seven time NASCAR Cup Champion, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. By the sheer number of on track altercations in which Senior’s front bumper found the rear bumper of his competitor, with the outcome benefiting Senior, it’s easy to see how one could be skeptical of any denial of intent to wreck or nearly wreck a competitor coming out the mouth of an Earnhardt. However, Saturday’s race involved Junior, not Senior. And there is a big difference.

In fact, the driving styles and the demeanor of the father and son have very little in common. Dale, Sr., unlike his son, adhered to what might best be described as a “whatever it takes to win” approach to racing. It’s a style that often times saw a frontrunning competitor left hanging on for dear life after having had their “cage rattled” by the man who had earned the moniker “The Intimidator” as a result of his driving tactics. Often after a controversial ending to a race, Earnhardt, Sr. would deny any ill intent and shrug off the incident as just one of those racing things. This approach to driving, though, earned Dale, Sr. a tremendous following that liked his particular brand of racing, as his style contributed greatly to him becoming the best known and most financial prosperous racer of his time.

Arguably, Junior enjoys an even larger fan base and financial success than his father, but his approach to driving a racecar is distinctly different from that of Senior's. To date, Junior has won two Busch Series championship titles and 17 Cup Series races, as well as accumulating three Top 10 end-of-season point finishes in the Cup Series. The racing success the younger Earnhardt has enjoyed, though yet to match that of his father’s, has been accomplished primarily through speed and finesse while piloting his car. At no time have fans, as they often would with his father, expect Junior to make overly aggressive passes for wins. It simply has not been his style.

This is not to say that Junior has never wrecked a challenger or instigated a wreck that was of his making. Junior has made mistakes, and in the past, he has also accepted responsibility for poor judgment on the track. But the degree of care that Junior puts forward to prevent such incidents are much greater than that of a driver such as Dale Senior would consider necessary. Few have had the audacity, and, some would argue, the tacit approval from NASCAR to push and shove their way to the front in a manner lacking the refinement Senior often demonstrated. The hit-and-run tactic dubbed “The patented Earnhardt maneuver” often ended with Senior’s challengers for the win shaking their fists at him as they awaited assistance from track emergency vehicles to tow their race cars back to the garage area. But Junior simply does not share his father's philosophy.

Perhaps the difference between father and son can best be understood by recognizing the very different circumstances that the two drivers experienced in establishing themselves as NASCAR Cup drivers. Earnhardt, Sr. came to the sport with little more than the shirt on his back and a desire to win. Winning was essential for Senior to secure a job in the sport and achieve success for not only himself, but his family. The hard charging driving style he brought with him quickly generated media interest and endeared a large following of race fans to Dale, Sr., as well as polarizing another large segment of fans that did not find his hardline approach acceptable to them. But regardless of one's point of view as to Senior's driving techniques, they proved to be immensely successful, earning him not only great personal wealth, championships, and fame, but also generating greater interest for NASCAR across the country.

Junior has inarguably been afforded a less difficult path to Cup racing, due in large part by traveling the road already paved by his father. Not to minimize the pressures of following in the footsteps of The Intimidator, but there has never been any need to emulate or better Senior's on-track performance. Junior has, from the beginning of his racing career, needed only to demonstrate that he had both the desire and talent to compete at the Cup level in order to get his chance, and he has done just that. There is no intent on Junior's part to race as intensely as his father felt was necessary for him to find success in stock car racing. Dale, Jr., is under no threat of financial ruin, nor is he possessed by the fear of not being able to garner a competitive ride. No, Junior is secure in his career, and clearly comfortable in his own skin.

Junior also has an amiable way of carrying himself that exudes a healthy self-confidence in his abilities and a sincere desire to be liked and respected by his peers. There was no smugness or arrogance on his part when questioned about the circumstances surrounding his controversial Busch Series victory. His demeanor after the win was tempered and clearly indicated that although he wasn't overjoyed at the means in which the victory was accomplished, there was nothing he could do about it, and he did not feel culpable in any wrongdoing in regards to the outcome of the race.

Two accomplished drivers racing nose-to-tail in the waning laps of a race, pushing their machines to their limits at high speeds for a win, will sometimes cause one or both competitors to trip themselves up. That is very possibly what happened to Carl Edwards. Junior didn't slip…Edwards did. Some, including Edwards believe that Junior should have, or could have backed off and allowed Edwards to gather his car up and motor on to the victory. Junior said there was nothing he could do.

Despite what observers of the incident may think they saw, there is only one guy that knows for sure what happened from the vantage point of his front windshield, and that is Dale Earnhardt, Jr. No television camera angle could possibly provide to the viewer a true depiction of the greatly accelerated closing rate that occurred as a result of Edwards' bobble as he came off the turn. The momentary deceleration by Edwards necessary to save his car from hitting the wall, coupled with the acceleration simultaneously experienced by Junior as he took a “bite” exiting the turn, created the situation that ended in the contact. Critics claiming that Earnhardt, Jr. could have slowed enough to avoid the wreck occurring are doing nothing more than offering unsustainable conjecture. Clearly, Junior’s reputation speaks for itself.

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Randy
08/23/2006 04:45 AM
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Best write up yet I’ve seen by a media person on this deal.

Frank
08/23/2006 05:12 AM
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Couldn’t of said it better myself.Its just plain old racing and thats it.

Margaret
08/23/2006 06:17 AM
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Thank you for your perspective and the skill with which you expressed it. This article is a definite keeper!

IDJRFAN
08/23/2006 06:43 AM
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Great Article. Thanks! I just think that anyone that says “Dale Sr” that many times in an article shouldn’t go out in any lightening storms for awhile.LOL Everyone knows it was Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jr. Again, great article.

John
08/23/2006 06:53 AM
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Very good article: another thing that has not been brought up is a car that Jr. owns was running right beside Carl Edwards, that could have been taken out if he had intentionally wrecked Carl.

Marion
08/23/2006 07:50 AM
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Was there this much controversy when Lefler took out both Waltrip and Jr on last lap a few years ago? How come its always what Jr does? Good article. Thanks

Barbara
08/23/2006 09:02 AM
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Great article!! I also did not believe that it was intentional. As you said, Jr’s rep speaks for itself. But it was scary to see Jr so startled when Carl hit his car! Bad Carl!

Tammi
08/23/2006 09:34 AM
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WOW ! Great article…love it !

Ginger
08/23/2006 09:37 AM
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Thank you for an objective, and more importantly, a factual article. We don’t get too many of these kinds. Jr is not Sr and never will be. He is not a hot-head and has a reputation for clean racing. A reputation is everything, and Carl is getting one he won’t be able to change overnight.

Dan Glass
08/23/2006 10:33 AM
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At a Alanta race a couple of years ago, Carl Edwards out of a turn behind Jr; Jr tries to move up in front of Edwards; Edwards nose taps Jr’s right rear and sends Jr through the infield. This started Jr’s down fall for a championship run. Only about 1/4 of the race had been run. Now I ask Carl [edited]!!! Do you think you could have backed off and let Jr inline??!! Well apparently not! So what does Jr do? Takes the blame!!! I was so hot I could have killed MR ED..wards!! So take a page from your own history Carl and let it go.[edited]

*Portion of this post edited by The Frontstretch
Dave
08/23/2006 10:50 AM
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Great article! Finally a subjective opinion on the race. There are so few of those.

Jeanne
08/23/2006 10:59 AM
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Thanks for such a great article. Others in the media were not so objective and quick to pass judgement on Junior. Those of us who have watched him for many years know that he makes mistakes from time to time but always owns up to them. Therefore, when Junior says it was not intentional you can bet the farm on it.

Jeannie
08/23/2006 11:07 AM
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I totally agree with you. Jr’s reputation speaks for itself. Carl’s actions was all undcalled for. He could have hurt Jr’s hand with his actions. He never gave it a thought while he was acting so childish. But you can bet one thing Jr would have never acted in that manner. Jr Rulz.

Amie
08/23/2006 11:17 AM
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Wonderful article!

Sunny
08/23/2006 11:20 AM
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Another Great Article!

You do a wonderful job of articulating the differences not only between Sr. and Jr., but also defining Jr.’s humility which differentiates him from some of his peers!

Although I’m not a Jr. fan per se, I certainly appreciate his ability and understand why he has so many fans in his own right!

Looking forward to reading your future articles!

don
08/23/2006 11:59 AM
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I never did like Dale Earnhardt. Jr is a different person, and easy to like. I just wish his fans were half as nice as he is. Maybe it’s the Old Dale Earnhardt fans that act just like he did. Most non Jr fans when asked why they don’t like him, give his fans as the reason.
And by the way, Dale wasn’t Dale Sr. he was Dale Earnhardt

Colin Baird
08/23/2006 01:28 PM
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Dale Earnhardt was Dale Earnhardt, and Junior is Junior. Along the same line, Richard Petty is Richard Petty, and Kyle is Kyle. Comparing either of the sons to their fathers is like comparing oranges to apples, and is totally unfair to all four of them.

just recently, Junior negotiated with his step-mother to get the rights to his own name. Now it seems that Junior is going to have to negotiate with the media to get his own identity. The media in the sport of racing is no different that any other news news media. They sensationalize every drop of news that they can come up with. And if they can’t come up with any news, they just make some up. There is no honesty in news reporting just like there is no honesty in the NASCAR organization itself. Both groups go hand in hand. That’s why NASCAR has deteriorated to nothing more than professional wrestling on wheels.
Bill
08/23/2006 02:03 PM
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Thank you for your perspective. This issue has been discussed feverishly this past week with people on both sides of the issue. During the last lap of a race, NOBODY is going to back out to give somebody a chance to recover, even if he is capable of it. Jr. was so close that I’m not sure he could have backed out even if he tried.

I do think that many fans out there think that Jr. is a continuation of Dale Earnhardt, which he is not. I have actually grown to like the guy much, much more than I ever did his father.

Diane
08/23/2006 02:43 PM
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Thank you for the great article. You see the Dale Earnhardt Jr this fans sees. A very humble sincere man. I think he is to quick sometimes to take responsibility for incidents that happen on the track. If he wrecked Carla he would have told him he did it. He looked Carl in the eyes and told him he did not wreck him. I believe him.
I admired the man Dale Earnhardt very much for the way he fought his way to the top. Not a big fan of his style of driving.
I think Dale Jr is a kinder version of his father and therefore does not get the respect he so rightly deserves as a driver. Yes, he is Dale Juinor his own man. He is not a carbon copy of the father, but the heart, desire, and talent are there.
To me what Carl did under yellow was the equivalent of taking a loaded gun on the track and shooting it at the unexpected driver.
Again, thanks for your perspective.

Joe
08/23/2006 03:01 PM
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Junior is one of, if not the cleanest driver in Nascar today. Carl truly is acting like a moron and Nascar fans are getting fed up with him! And what about Nascar’s decision to fine him a measely 20,000 dollars and probation? PROBATION??? I thought he was already on probation for his childish actions at Pocono? Is this double secret probation?? Geez…

Nikki
08/23/2006 03:40 PM
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Edwards’ probation for his actions at Pocono was for the NEXTEL Cup Series, where this recent probation is for the Busch Series.

Greg
08/23/2006 03:47 PM
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I remember a few years ago, Jr’s crew chief was informed by nascar, “if he touches another car this race, we will park him.” That was after several bumps of other cars.

Karen
08/23/2006 04:30 PM
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Someone who gets it! I’m continually amazed at how some writers spend tons of ink trying to figure out why Junior has fans. You get it! Very nice article.

rob
08/23/2006 06:10 PM
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i’m tired of the perfect jr not taking responsibility for his actions. he should have been blacked flagged for rough driving. one hit is ok but three…. come on now.

Donna
08/23/2006 07:07 PM
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Very well written article. Jr. has grown up the last year or so and he is to be commended for that as well as his driving style

Denny
08/23/2006 07:48 PM
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OVER8TED

scotiajohn
08/23/2006 08:08 PM
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A superbly well crafted article. You captured father and son as well as I could have imagined.

May
08/24/2006 02:08 PM
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It’s about time someone wrote a nice article about Dale Earnhardt Jr. He races clean. Carl needs to stop whinning about stuff he does himself.

Joe
08/24/2006 02:50 PM
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#99 He should have been… Nascar is going to get tough on these guys? Yeah right! Carl took out Junior a few years back, you didnt see Junior showing his butt after the race. I can’t believe now there’s a driver more annoying than the Busch brothers.

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