Its Sunday afternoon and I am waiting for the Monster Energy Cup series to begin racing at Richmond International Speedway. President of NASCAR, Brian France held a “Surprise” press conference where he basically stated that Monster is a great sponsor, the younger drivers are the future and Dale Earnhardt Jr will be missed. This past Tuesday the media were informed that Dale Jr would be holding a “Surprise” press conference at Hendrick Motor Sports where he calls his No.88 Nationwide Chevy Cup team, home. The NASCAR community knew why but did NOT want to hear it …Dale was going to announce that he is retiring at the end of this 2017 season. This retirement is very different than that of Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon or Richard Petty. Dale has been carrying this sport on his shoulders since the tragic death of his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr. On February 18th, 2001 racing the last lap of the Daytona 500 with Dale Jr and DEI teammate Michael Waltrip battling for first …in what looked like a normal crash …yet was something much worse , we lost Dale Earnhardt. The biggest name in NASCAR . Dale Jr lost not only his Dad but the opportunity to create his OWN legacy. Maybe out of the car he can.
We are into the second stage of racing in Richmond, Kenseth is in the lead and Dale Jr is struggling in the middle of the pack. The team communication has been in and out of sync. Jr has always done well here in the past and Junior Nation is anticipating a much-needed win. Last season Earnhardt Jr had to step out of his car due to a concussion, this year is supposed to be his redemption. That ONE thing that has eluded him his whole career …a Monster Cup Energy Championship. It would be the Cinderella story thus loosening the shackles of frustration from fans of his Father. The moment Dale Sr passed and the image of Dale Jr still in his red no. 8 Budweiser fire suit splashed on our TV screens informing us of his Father’s demise …JR Nation ( Fans of the Father became the Sons) was born. This was not a death due to illness , this was tragic , this was on the track , this was in front of us all , this was a king passing the torch to the prince (?)…that last part was not a request , it was never what he wanted, it was forced upon him and to this day especially now the Nation wants that Cup Championship. It is with deep regret that I inform you that Dale Jr’s fate in the sport of NASCAR came and went at the expense of his Father’s legacy. It is of my opinion we will never know what could have been had Dale Sr walked out of that car. Carrying that burden can only go so far. NASCAR has tried to reinvent itself many times since 2001.
During his retirement press conference, Jr mentioned that the future of NASCAR is already here. We are witnessing the new generation of drivers that have cornered the Social Media market and are vastly more aggressive than the “Jr” generation. He is correct, currently, the races are dominated by names like Larson, Blaney, Bubba and Elliot. The “Stigma” of the NASCAR fan has softened with a much-needed diversity of drivers and fans. This year premiered huge changes to the sport as well as a new major sponsor, Monster and I believe that NASCAR has finally found something that are bringing new and older fans back into the fold. One would think with Jr making his announcement would put a sudden screeching halt to any growth …I believe the opposite. On its own terms, NASCAR will come back.
Junior has a lot to be proud of; a great racing career, the most popular driver 16 years and counting, Junior Motorsports is wonderfully successful and with his recent marriage to Amy Reinhardt things can’t get any better except one thing. Jr Nation is currently going through the five stages of death and predicting that this resignation could kill the sport altogether. I vehemently disagree. This sport has endured social criticism, tragic deaths and witnessed fairytale finishes, colorful personalities, and historic family legacies …the Earnhardt name will always be a part and will go on. This fan would like to thank Dale Earnhardt Jr for all he has done for this sport and the fans. He has always lead the way in how to accept a fan base and keep them coming back for more. To all of those younger drivers …be like Dale, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
BTW – Jr didn’t win Richmond but there is plenty of time left for the season…
By Robyn Vandenberg