August 26, 2009
Following this week's Your Turn, I thought it time I chimed in (despite my oft questioned credentials) on a subject I have yet to broach, entirely because it wasn't merited. I imagine that it won't be a popular topic, and also, it will. Because if I've learned one thing in life, it's that there are two kinds of people: those who believe there is only one NASCAR driver in this world and those who know the difference.
I'm talking about Dale Earnhardt Jr.
If you haven't heard of him, he's a NASCAR driver. If you haven't heard of him, you look funny, because you were born without ears.
He's the most popular active driver in NASCAR, and arguably 1-C in lifetime ranking. He's had a stranglehold on merchandise sales for the better part of the decade. He's won 18 races in his career (with 88, yes 88, top-five finishes). That puts him in the top 40 (out of 177) for all-time wins, and in the top 10 (out of 37) among active drivers (and I'm including in those 10 the mostly retired Awesome Bill from Dawsonville, Texas Terry, and his brother, the wax figure formerly known as Bobby Labonte).
He has more wins than Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, and arbitrarily, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Sterling Martin and Derrike Cope (hey, he won the Daytona 500, too). Were those guys, aside from Kyle's antics, questioned, debated, and generally violated as much in the media? I don't think so, and Cope once raced a car sponsored by the rock band Poison (which set a Guinness Book record for butt ugly).
His dad is an icon, and like it or not, is partly responsibly for this debate. (Unlike Jr., and this is often forgotten, Sr. had his moment as the series heel.) His stepmom definitely eats Coco Puffs, because she is bat&@?! crazy, ultimately driving him from his Daddy's team. And he let Marisa Miller go.
Looking at such credentials, the only stat that makes me question his skills is that last one. (Does his game just suck?) Walking out on Teresa was intelligent for any number of reasons. I defy anyone to come up with a solid excuse for Marisa.
Where was I? Oh yeah, when presented with the proper environment (and when properly updated on pit stall location), he can clearly drive. Now, I recognize that he's blown lately, but give him some time, because he's still racing and he happens to work for the same guy that brought Mark Martin out of a career coma (and got Jerry Nadeau a fricking win).
Oddly, with Jr. the debate tends to stem from his popularity as a function of his results. They are inversely proportional, and to many, that's his problem. He can't possibly be so popular and win so little.
Why? Why is it such a big deal that his popularity be predicated on excellence?
Look, people loved the Brady Bunch. Parachute pants were the rage. The Ford Explorer was the top FOUR cars traded in under the cash for clunkers program (in order, 1998 model, '97, '96, and '99; the '95 was 7th and the '94 8th). Some 7.5 million people live in the metropolitan Boston area. ABBA is third on the all-time records sold list. Yes third, yes ABBA: "You can dance/you can jive/having the time of your life/ooh...see that girl/watch that scene/dig in the dancing queen."
Clearly, you can suck and still be popular. The thing is, Junior doesn't suck.
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