Family and friends know that I’m a big fan of NASCAR and also a Dale Earnhardt, Jr., fan, as I was a fan of his father, who died in the Daytona 500 in 2001.
Unfortunately, while he’s by far the most popular driver in the sport, he’s not been the most successful when it comes to the statistics that matter most: wins and championships. Not that he doesn’t have the talent, despite the few naysayers out there, but you could tell, especially the last few years, that he was frustrated that the team he drives for and that bears his father’s name, Dale Earnhardt, Inc., wasn’t giving him the support he needed.
The team is run and owned by his father’s widow, his stepmother Teresa. This past year, Dale Jr. and his sister Kelley have been pushing Teresa to give them majority ownership in DEI as their father intended—which they say he made clear before his death—and they’ve been negaotiating very hard over it this season.
Now it’s become clear as of this morning that Dale Earnhardt, Jr., will not be driving for the team that bears his and his father’s name next season. He announced in a press conference this morning that he’s open to offers from other teams. I can imagine that he won’t lack for offers to fill up his dance card.
As for his sponsor and his car manufacturer, Dale made it clear he wants to drive Chevrolets and that he’d like to stay with Budweiser. Certainly Anheuser-Busch would be crazy to lose its association with the most popular driver in the sport. What would Sunday afternoons at the track be without a sea of red (from Bud-logo-wearing fans) filling the grandstands tens of thousands strong?
I think this is the best thing for Junior given his aspirations. He’s 32 years old now. He can expect his prime racing years to last for another decade or so. It’s very clear now he won’t pass or match his father in the number of championships won or even in sheer domination of the sport. Frankly, as long as Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson are racing, it will be difficult for any other driver to dominate NASCAR.
But there’s still plenty of time for Junior to make his mark on the sport on the track at least in great enough measure to match the fan appreciation off the track.
I’m looking forward to what next year will bring, but I’ll also predict that with this monkey off his back, Dale might have some surprises in store for the rest of this season.