The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs will be remembered for several things, including the eventual champion crowned this weekend in Phoenix, the ongoing feud between Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick, and the debate on etiquette between playoff and non-playoff drivers.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered his thoughts about Elliott-Harvick multiple times on his podcast. This past week, Junior was asked about etiquette between playoff and non-playoff drivers, and the two-time Daytona 500 winner didn’t hesitate in choosing a side and then backing up his decision.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. enjoys watching drama between Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin at Martinsville
Like all NASCAR fans, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was enthralled by the closing laps at Martinsville as Alex Bowman stalked Denny Hamlin, staying close to the No. 11 car, and patiently waiting for the right moment to make his move. With seven laps to go, the No. 48 car got loose going into the corner, slid into the side of Hamlin, and sent him into the outside wall.
This week on the Dale Jr. Download, the show host said if he brought both drivers into the studio, they’d each provide compelling cases about what happened.
“Alex is going to say, ‘It’s a mistake guys. I messed up. I got loose,'” Earnhardt said on the “Ask Jr.” portion of the podcast. “We see it all the time at that racetrack getting into the corner there. Denny’s going to sit here and say, ‘I gave you plenty of racetrack. I wanted you to just race me. Why can’t you race me without messing up?'”
Earnhardt said while some fans didn’t like Hamlin’s behavior after the race when he confronted Bowman before his celebratory burnout, the Hall of Famer wasn’t bothered by the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s actions.
“I really didn’t have a real big problem with what Denny was doing when it happened,” he said. “When it happened, I was like, ‘Oh, this is interesting. This is fun.'”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. likes non-playoff drivers being aggressive and racing for win
During another part of the segment, a fan asked his thoughts on the etiquette of playoff vs. non-playoff drivers. Earnhardt didn’t hold back and talked about a title race in 2017 where this year’s favorite, Kyle Larson, was a non-playoff driver for Chip Ganassi Racing, had the best car, but backed off while racing against the two playoff drivers, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., who were vying for the championship.
“Walking away from that, I was like, man, I wish it wasn’t like that. I wish Kyle Larson didn’t have to race that way all night long,” Earnhardt recalled. “What do you do? How do you fix that?”
Moments later, he answered his own question.
“If you’re going to have all the playoff guys and the non-playoff guys in a race, you want everybody going for the win,” he said. “Every race I’ve ever lined up to get in, everybody was there to win or trying to win or dreaming about winning. You don’t want to ever get in a race and go, ‘Well, I’m going to have a good day and try not to ruin these four guys’ day.’ That’s not racing. I think it’s good to see the etiquette. I think it’s good the see the culture changing a bit to where these non-playoff guys feel like they can go out there and compete.”
Non-playoff drivers don’t get a pass from showing respect and must accept responsibility
Interestingly, the playoff vs. non-playoff driver discussion has often turned into a conversation about respect. Some suggest aggressive driving by non-playoff drivers around the contenders might be considered disrespectful. Dale Earnhardt Jr. said there’s a line where all drivers must be respectful of other drivers, but it’s not specific to a certain time of the year with more on the line.
“There definitely needs to be some respect,” Earnhardt said. “It’s the same respect though you would expect in the first race of the year or the second, third. It’s the same respect that you want all year long. You definitely don’t want non-playoff drivers completely disrespectful toward what’s happening in the championship. You can’t be oblivious to that but at the same time, if they have a good enough car like Alex Bowman, and they can go up there and try and win a clock, you want them to try. You don’t want them to ride behind the playoff drivers feeling like they can’t race. The culture is shifting a little bit and I think it’s a good thing.”
The JR Motorsports co-owner, who has a playoff driver in Noah Gragson battling for the Xfinity Series championship, said non-playoff drivers have to be prepared to accept responsibility if they find themselves in a situation where they affect a playoff driver’s chances at winning the title.
“If you’re going to go out there and take the risk to try to win that race, you got to be willing to take the backlash should you ruin a chance for one of those guys to win the title. You’ve got to be willing to accept that and be able to explain yourself.”
Earnhardt’s voice of reason is spot on. Respect should be shown in every race by every driver. All fans want to see throughout the year is quality but fair racing with the driver of the best car in victory lane after taking the checkered flag.
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