NASCAR Can Start Touting Someone Other Than Dale Earnhardt Jr. Now – Forbes
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (who else?) made the biggest news in NASCAR this week when he said he and his wife, Amy, are expecting their first child, a daughter. This caused the crew at the “Glass Case of Emotion” racing podcast to playfully suggest baby names. Talladega was one.
A video snippet from the taping of the podcast was one of 12 on NASCAR’s front page of videos. Five of the 12 had something to do with Earnhardt, who is now just five races, count ’em, from calling it quits. One video was a retrospective on his history at this week’s track, Kansas Speedway, where he is 0 for 21.
Earnhardt said he likes Kansas Speedway because it is a fun track to drive and it is in the Kansas City metropolitan area, which means he can get delicious barbecue. He was a good sport about all of it, which is why he is NASCAR’s most popular driver by a mile.
But it seems as if this #Appreci88ion Tour is never going to end, kind of like the old 500-mile races at Pocono. Fan fatigue is clearly setting in. NASCAR is still determining a Cup champion, and the 10-race playoffs are kind of the potato salad on the plate of Dale Jr. ribs.
Earnhardt was not among the 16 drivers to qualify for the playoffs. His final season in the series has included no victories and just one top-five finish, way back in April at Fort Worth, Texas. The Cup series will return to Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 5.
On Sunday, Earnhardt made his final Cup start at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, the big track at which he has posted six of his 26 career Cup victories. Earnhardt won the pole position for the race and stayed in contention after three smoky wrecks took out most of the field.
He finished seventh. But NBC, battered by plummeting ratings, reported that the race produced a 2.84 rating on broadcast TV, or 4.7 million viewers, about 32% more than the same race attracted in 2016, which was carried on cable by the NBC Sports Network.
And the stands at Talladega, which are said to hold about 80,000 fans, appeared to be packed ― no aerial shots of mostly empty grandstands this week. The track presented Earnhardt with one of his late father’s old racecars, so it was pretty much a good weekend all around.
Brad Keselowski won the race to stay in solid contention for his second series championship, but this was clearly Earnhardt’s day.
The playoff field will be trimmed to eight drivers from 12 after this week’s race, but NBC certainly will keep an eye on the 88 car.
Earnhardt has won only once at Martinsville, Va., where a Cup race is to be run Oct. 29, and once at Texas, in his first race there, in 2000. But he has won three times at Phoenix, site of a Nov. 12 race, including his most recent Cup victory. So he will have more to talk about then.
With no series championships, Earnhardt’s most critical contribution to stock-car racing has been as an ambassador and, with his country-fried humor and good-ol’-boy accent, as a throwback to the era ruled by his dad, the gruff, pushbroom-mustached Intimidator.
But his farewell tour has gone a little over the top, and lasted too long, and there are no fewer than five past champions still in contention for the 2017 title, including Jimmie Johnson, who could top both Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard Petty by winning his eighth Cup title.
Johnson is from Southern California and was not a part of stock-car royalty, and NASCAR has barely pushed him. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a marketable commodity, and NASCAR will stick with its royal roots as long as it can. Wait until he goes into the broadcasting booth next year.