By Jared Turner
Saying what many others undoubtedly believe but are reluctant to actually articulate, Kevin Harvick suggested on SiriusXM Radio last week that Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s lack of on-track success is at least partly to blame for NASCAR’s stagnant growth in recent years.
Yeah, you think? It doesn’t take someone with a PhD to understand that when a sport’s most popular driver or team wins on a consistent basis, the natural result is increased fan interest in the form of more fannies in seats and more eyeballs on the television.
On the flipside, mediocrity from a most popular driver or team leads people to tune out and find something better to do with their time. Anyone who thinks Earnhardt Jr.’s dearth of victories hasn’t had a detrimental effect on NASCAR is simply in denial. Imagine what would happen if Earnhardt Jr. — NASCAR’s most popular driver the past 14 years — could somehow catch fire like Tony Stewart did in 2011 when Stewart ripped off five victories in 10 playoff races and captured the championship after an underwhelming regular season in which he came up empty in all 26 starts.
You don’t think this kind of turnaround for Earnhardt Jr. would send the NASCAR world soaring to unprecedented heights over the season’s final weeks? Of course it would.
For as much as Earnhardt Jr. has done for the sport — and he has done an awful lot — he’s just never lived up to the promise he showed early on when he won back-to-back XFINITY Series championships and multiple races as a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie.
Unfortunately, instead of taking Harvick’s candid assessment to heart and perhaps using it as motivation to finish out his final season on a strong note, Earnhardt Jr. called Harvick’s comments “hurtful.” Yes, Junior, sometimes the truth does hurt.