NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fact or Fiction: Why Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Friday Was Less Important Than His Saturday

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will stand by his word and not drive the No. 3 car again
FACT

While it was an incredible sight seeing Dale Earnhardt Jr. pilot the famed No. 3 to victory lane Friday evening, don’t expect to see it again anytime soon… and certainly not with Earnhardt Jr. as the driver. It was easy to doubt him at first because I expect Junior to have a full career and many, many years to slip into the seat of a No. 3 car again – and let’s face it, there were A LOT of Wrangler shirts in the stands – but those thoughts were pretty much put to bed after his comments following his historic win.

“I will never do it. I’ll never rethink it. I’ll never consider it. I think that it’s important for everybody to know that that’s as concrete as it gets. I’ll never do it again,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense for me to do this again. I think in the Nationwide Series, it makes enough sense, and I really wanted to do it, and I’ve done it. I don’t ever want to do it again. And I’ll never change my mind, ever.”

That seems pretty straight forward to me. And I get it. Earnhardt Jr. inherited more pressure than he could have ever asked for and even after two Nationwide championships, 18 Cup wins and a Daytona 500 trophy, the majority of NASCAR fans still aren’t satisfied. You saw what happened this weekend, and even Earnhardt admitted it… second place would have been a failure Friday night.

Now, just because Earnhardt said he will never drive the No. 3 again don’t be surprised to see it in the Nationwide Series with a different driver. I expect the number to be retired from Cup action – whether official or unofficial – but I could see a guy like Austin Dillon eventually bring the No. 3 he’s currently driving in the Truck Series to the Nationwide Series. No matter who’s driving the hallowed number – if anybody ever drives it in Sprint Cup or Nationwide action again – the No. 3 will always touch people’s hearts just like it did Friday night.

Dale Earnhardt Jr’s fourth-place finish Saturday was more important than his win Friday
FACT

There’s not one Earnhardt Jr. fan who didn’t get chills watching him end his winless drought at Daytona in a car donning the No. 3, but his fourth-place finish in the Coke Zero 400 will ultimately prove to be a more valuable run. By recording his third top 10 in his last four races, Earnhardt has positioned himself for a Chase berth, jumping past Carl Edwards and Mark Martin into the 11th spot.

While I will admit that his win Friday night was undoubtedly one of the most memorable of his career, the ability to survive the carnage on Saturday and not overdrive a car that wasn’t good enough to finish in the top 10, let alone the top five, and somehow manage to finish fourth was much more important. It shows a growing patience from the not-quite-young-anymore driver, and with the Chase looming closer, I think Earnhardt would choose a playoff berth over a Nationwide win, regardless of car number. I’d like to believe Jr. Nation would as well.

The heated exchange between AJ Allmendinger and Richard Petty reveals a rift at RPM
FICTION

During a scene not shown on television for whatever reason, AJ Allmendinger was seen expressing frustration to car owner and NASCAR legend Richard Petty, eventually walking angrily away from his car owner. Media members in the Daytona media center watched in awe as the 10-15 second episode played out and the normally mild-mannered Allmendinger turned his back to one of the sport’s greats. While neither was quoted after the incident, RPM vice president Robbie Loomis had this to say:

“I always say the car owner shouldn’t talk to the driver anytime after the race, especially after an accident… I think Richard’s been here so many times, he’s been through this stuff and he was just trying to get him to loosen up and let the boys do their stuff on fixing the car and getting back out there. Anytime you talk to somebody at the wrong time, it always causes discussion that needs to be worked out. That’s all that happened.”

We’ve seen teammates fight teammates, but a driver expressing frustration in public to an owner is something we have haven’t seen much of. Still, I think Loomis has it right. Petty simply showed up at the wrong time, and while he may be a seven-time champion and 200-race winner, it wasn’t the right place or moment to talk to his heated driver. Allmendinger has an excellent opportunity to be the ‘A’ driver at RPM next year and I don’t see him throwing that away. If anything, after the dust settles from all of this Petty may come out impressed with his driver’s passion and be even more willing to make him the face of the organization.

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