Despite being retired from full-time racing since 2018, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is still one of NASCAR’s biggest ambassadors. He regularly shares his thoughts on the sport through his job as an analyst on NBC’s portion of the broadcast schedule and his popular podcast.
It’s on the latter that the two-time Daytona 500 winner has candidly admitted to the lengths his team would go to have the best car on the track. Junior often refers to it as “innovation.” NASCAR calls it cheating.
This past week, Earnhardt shared a photo on Twitter that provided a specific example from the past when his team got creative in trying to “find speed” during a race. Interestingly, it got the attention of a couple of notable NASCAR names, including Denny Hamlin and Rodney Childers, who both had unpleasant experiences with the governing body over the subject this year.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. openly talks about cheating
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a phenomenal storyteller. During episodes of the Dale Jr. Download, he regularly takes his listeners behind the scenes of what it was like during his career, including the dirty details of how his team was always trying to find ways to be the fastest car on the track.
Last summer, after years of holding a grudge against Jimmy Spencer following his comments about the July 2001 Daytona race that Earnhardt won, the Hall of Famer welcomed Spencer as a guest on his podcast. While addressing their conflict, Junior bluntly acknowledged his willingness to cheat.
“I don’t think I ever drove a legal car. I hope I haven’t. And I don’t want to,” Earnhardt told his guest. “I want my crew chief to be as aggressive as they possibly can be. I don’t think that the 2001 July Daytona winner was a factory-legal, by-the-rulebook car. Everybody had to do whatever they needed to do to try to win the race. I’m sure there was some great creativity in the car. And I wouldn’t have had any problem with anybody questioning the legality of my race car. I just think it was frustrating because you made it sound like that it was a fix from the top.”
Earnhardt tweets photo of team ‘working hard’
Earnhardt’s willingness to discuss what teams will do to find an advantage is refreshing. Everyone knows it’s going on. Most prefer not to talk about it.
Last week, the former driver provided his audience with a concrete example of what “getting creative” looked like when he shared a photo on Twitter that showed a view out the front of his car with a stack of Budweiser decals on the hood and a description of what fans were seeing.
“Wanna know what working hard to go fast looks like?” he tweeted. “It looks like 15 Bud decals stacked one on top of the other in front of the roof cam because it was a count or two less drag in the wind tunnel. The Eurys were hard workers.”
Denny Hamlin and Rodney Childers respond
Earnhardt’s tweet received considerable feedback, including a couple of responses from individuals whose teams felt the wrath of NASCAR this season for violations with the Next Gen car.
“You can reduce 2 counts today with 1 piece of tape apparently,” Denny Hamlin replied, referencing his race at Pocono, where officials found a piece of tape and disqualified him after initially declaring him the winner.
Hamlin wasn’t the only NASCAR figure to respond. Kevin Harvick’s crew chief Rodney Childers, who received a four-race suspension and $100,000 fine for modification of a vendor-supplied part following the second race at Talladega, added a thought of his own.
“That would be an indefinite suspension for ‘working hard’ these days,” Childers wrote.
If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying has been a phrase used in sports for years. It was true when Earnhardt raced. It’s still true today. It’s a game of cat-and-mouse between the sanctioning body and the teams. And it’s no surprise that the teams who have mastered getting creative without detection are typically the ones who are the most successful.