|Junior Speaks Out|
Don’t be surprised if Dale Earnhardt. Jr., never says another word following a race. I’m not talking about the regular “we had a good car and I want to thank…” drivel all the drivers spout after your typical race.
I’m talking about Junior’s emotional comments following Talladega this past weekend. There’s been a noticeable backlash from fans, media – and a total lack of support from drivers and car owners – to those comments.
Junior doesn’t speak out often. He’s not the most articulate driver in the garage. But when he does speak beyond the typical post-race interview, his comments are heartfelt and genuine. And that’s what we got at Talladega.
"If this is what we did every week, I wouldn't be doing it – I’ll just put it to you like that," Earnhardt said after being caught up in last weekend’s 25-car accident. "If this is how we raced every week, I would find another job.
"I don't even want to go to Daytona or Talladega next year, but I ain't got much choice."
Much has been made of Earnhardt calling the fans “bloodthirsty.” Well it didn’t exactly go down like that. He was responding to a reporter who said the fans liked the big wrecks caused by restrictor plate racing.
“It’s not safe, wrecking like that. That’s ridiculous man,” said the five-time Talladega winner. He seemed to be questioning whether the fans really do look forward to the big wrecks. “It’s bloodthirsty if that’s what people want. That’s ridiculous.
“For longevity of the sport, that ain’t healthy. I don’t care what anybody says, for the good of the sport, I mean it’s good for the here and now, and it will get people talking today, but for the long run that’s not gonna help the sport.
Earnhardt was right. They were talking about the crash during the opening five minutes of the Today Show on Monday morning. Joking about it would be a better description. In fact, it should have been downright embarrassing for NASCAR and its fans. And if fans like the wrecks, they have an odd way of showing it. Both Talladega attendance and television viewership were down. NASCAR said it was because the date for the race changed. Right.
Earnhardt got little support from his fellow drivers. Teammate Jeff Gordon came the closest, but his comments following a question about Earnhardt’s remarks were mild compared to Junior.
“I remember when coming to Talladega was fun,” Gordon said. “I haven't experienced that in a long, long time. I don't like coming here. I don't like the type of racing that I have to do.
"But if I'm a fan, I would love that. I think it is incredibly intense. It's wild. It's crazy. You're going to see it. Sometimes that balance that NASCAR has to deal with doesn't mean -- I mean, I don't have to be happy and be all excited about coming to Talladega. I don't expect that.”
NASCAR’s Robin Pemberton was rather dismissive of Earnhardt.
“I’ve been down here for over 60 races,” Pemberton said. “Everybody has comments about different race tracks. Some of them don’t like road courses. Some don’t like restrictor-plate tracks. That’s why we have different venues. They don’t always have their best races at those places. Everybody has their opinion. That’s fine.”
Perhaps because of the backlash, by midweek Junior was backtracking. “I regret making a bit of a scene and not considering the fact we're going to be in a totally different racecar for 2013,” he said. “It's probably going to present a totally different style of racing at those tracks. So I probably have a bit more of a positive outlook on the potential for that style of racing to be really good with the next car.”
I hope Junior’s right, but don’t bet on it. No question the new cars look better. But during tests of the 2013 car at Talladega last week we continued to see plenty of bumper-to-bumper racing.
Unfortunately, the real loss in all of this may be Junior thinking twice next time before speaking out. And that will be too bad. What the sport needs are more drivers willing to share their feelings, not another driver reading from a cue card.
Junior was right the first time. It ain't healthy.