Throughout much of his NASCAR racing career, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the most popular driver. Earnhardt Jr. became the face of the sport for many years that provided him an elevated platform. All that guided fellow driver Kevin Harvick to take a verbal shot at him.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s NASCAR career
Dale Earnhardt Jr. spent nearly two decades in the sport, where he experienced varying levels of success.
Before coming onto the scene as a full-time Cup Series driver, Earnhardt Jr. won back-to-back Xfinity Series championships. He followed that with a lengthy career, where he earned 26 Cup Series wins, 260 top-ten finishes, and 15 pole positions.
Earnhardt Jr. also has a pair of Daytona 500 wins that helped him earn induction in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In light of all that, Kevin Harvick had some choice words that bashed his longtime colleague.
Kevin Harvick says Dale Earnhardt Jr. ‘stunted the growth of NASCAR’
Throughout much of his NASCAR career, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s struggled to find consistent success.
Despite that, he remained the most popular driver in the sport that helped him earn 15 Most Popular driver awards. In Earnhardt Jr.’s final season in 2017, Kevin Harvick openly criticized the No. 88 driver for stunting the sport’s growth. (H/T NBC Sports)
“(Earnhardt) hasn’t been anywhere close to being our most successful driver,” Harvick said. “For me, I believe Dale Jr. has had a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR because he’s got these legions of fans, this huge outreach of being able to reach these places none of us have the possibility to reach.
“But he’s won nine races in 10 years at Hendrick Motorsports and hasn’t been able to reach outside of that. I know those aren’t the most popular comments but those are real-life facts that you look up and see on the stat sheet.”
Much of what Harvick voiced is centered purely on Earnhardt Jr.’s lack of consistent success as a Cup Series driver. He experienced only 26 career wins, including nine victories over 10 years.
With the platform that Earnhardt Jr. had as the most popular driver, it provided an unrivaled gateway into NASCAR fandom. Harvick’s frustration was rooted behind Earnhardt Jr.’s inability to take advantage of that unique platform, as any sustained success could have brought in more fans.
These are highly critical comments toward Dale Jr., but further underlines that it was a missed opportunity for NASCAR to grow even greater.
Impact on NASCAR remains strong in retirement
These are undoubtedly strong comments from Kevin Harvick, but there isn’t any ill-will toward Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt Jr. was NASCAR’s most popular driver with an outreach in with fans that no other driver during his time had. It’s certainly fair to argue that he could have done more for the sport had he been more successful.
Earnhardt Jr. struggled with his health late in his career, but he put together a lengthy run with plenty of opportunities to win races and championships. That said, he hasn’t wasted that elevated platform in his retirement.
He first wrote a book that detailed his health issues that brought light to the concussions problems that many drivers experience. Meanwhile, he remains tied to NASCAR through his broadcast duties with NBC Sports covering races.
Earnhardt Jr. also has a weekly podcast called the Dale Jr. Download, where he interviews many of the sports’ biggest names, both past and present. His impact on NASCAR remains strong as he uses his public recognition to bring more eyes to the sport.