Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has been chosen for the most popular award for the majority of the past decade. Not surprisingly, last December Junior was named NASCAR National Motorsports Press Association's Most Popular Driver for the ninth straight year. Will he make it a tenth time?
I don't believe it will happen, unless he miraculously pulls out a win to break his 138-race winless streak. I don't have anything against the guy, and frankly he's had to deal with a lot of pressure in trying to live up to his late father's accomplishments, but I think it's time that a new driver emerged as most popular and 2012 is likely to be the year that it will happen.
Junior's last win was on June 15, 2008 at the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400 in Michigan. His seventh place finish in The Chase at the end of the 2011 season was his best in six years. In 2010, he ranked 21st and his best finish was back in 2003 when he placed third.
Despite his fairly lackluster career, Earnhardt commented just a little over a week ago on why he believes he's a better driver than the five-time Sprint Cup champion, Jimmie Johnson. Junior remarked, "No, he's a hell of a race car driver, but I feel like I'm the best. I think that's the way you have to feel. I feel that I'm smarter than everybody and I can drive better than everybody and I know a lot of people ain't going to agree with that, but I feel pretty strong about it."
So far this year he seems to have improved, but it's the stats that are remembered ultimately. Junior finished just behind Kyle Busch at the Capital City 400 on Saturday, April 27, another very close second. He's currently at second in the standings, but he still hasn't won a race. Close is not winning, and as Johnson put it recently, "Second sucks."
Maybe he needs a bit of an attitude adjustment. I think it would have been better for him to say, "I feel I'm the best driver, but I'm not in the eyes of everyone else until I prove it out on the track."
But that's just my opinion.
If he wants to remain most popular in the eyes of the fans, he should make use of technology, including Twitter, as many of the other drivers have. Junior has an account, but it appears he's never used it. Maybe he just doesn't care, but eventually his attitude and losses are going to knock him down from that pedestal.
One driver who could give him a run for his money is Brad Keselowski. He's often joking and interacting with fans, and in 2011, he had a rather impressive late season run after being involved in a serious accident that left him with a fractured ankle. Just days later he went on to win his second victory of the season, and in the following two weeks he had a second and third place finish. Just before the month was out he had another victory.
While my favorite driver has been Jeff Gordon for a number of years, I'd root for Keselowski to take over Junior's reign. If he can give us a little more excitement in 2012, I wouldn't be surprised to seem take the honor at the end of the year.
K.C. Dermody grew up watching auto racing at the old Baylands Raceway in Fremont, California, and has been a fan ever since.
More from this contributor: