June 18, 2012
When Earnhardt Jr. wins, everyone wins
By DEAN McNULTY, QMI Agency
BROOKLYN, MICH. - Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday was much more than just an end to his dreadfully long losing streak.
You see I am of the opinion that what is good for one form of motorsports is good for all kinds of motorsports.
So Earnhardt’s much celebrated victory brings loads of attention not just to NASCAR Sprint Cup but to IndyCar, Formula One and all the other racing series out there in the motorsports world.
And when you sit down and listen to how excited Earnhardt was at what happened to him and the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team on Sunday, you have to believe there can be few better spokesmen for a sport than the 37-year-old from Kannapolis, N.C.
Too often what we get from professional athletes after wins, losses or ties is PR-speak — hackneyed phrases drummed into them by their agents, owners and coaches.
Not so from Earnhardt.
When informed that his long-time competitor and friend Matt Kenseth — who leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship points battle — had praised the MIS win and suggested Earnhardt was now a favourite to fight for his first Sprint Cup trophy, Junior answered thusly: “I guess it means I’m an all right dude.”
But Earnhardt said he isn’t sure he’d put himself in the championship contender category just yet.
“I don’t know really where we stand, as far as being a threat to win the title,” he said. “I think that’s a great compliment from Matt, but we just want to keep our nose to the grindstone to try to win another race. We’ll just try to keep doing that and win the next race and see what happens.”
Earnhardt, who has never been one to toot his own horn or parade the fact that he is the far and away the most popular driver in NASCAR, spoke of how he is so looking forward to being back at the HMS shop in Mooresville, N.C., on Tuesday to celebrate with his teammates — like five-time champion Jimmie Johnson and four-time champion Jeff Gordon — and how good it would be for his crew to be part of that celebration
“It’s a good deal for the team, and it feels good to win in that shop,” he said. “I got moved into that shop a year and a half ago, and that shop’s got all the trophies and got all the wins with Jimmie and Jeff, and they are used to success.
“So it feels good to be able to bring those guys what they deserve, all the employees will get bonuses or what have you from this win. So it’s a great deal.”
Like a kid who just woke up to his first Christmas, Earnhardt described what he plans to do at the new Hendrick shop.
Every win by a Hendrick driver at the shop is honoured by allowing that team to ring a victory bell and Earnhardt said he can’t wait to get his shot at it.
“We have got this victory bell that I get to take around for the first time since we built (the shop) and ring the hell out of it all over the complex,” he said. “I’m going to ring that damn thing as hard as I can.
“So it’s a big deal for me. But I like seeing the smiles on everyone else’s face. It’s so awesome to see how many other people it affects and how many people are affected by what happened (at MIS).”
On a more serious note, Earnhardt said that there were times, over he past year especially, that he was disappointed in his performances on the race track but that he also knew that the team — with new crew chief Steve Latarte — was going in the right direction.
“I feel like we are getting stronger,” he said. “One of the things (about) last year was, even though I was happy as hell to be with Steve and be able to run well and be competitive, I was a little disheartened that I didn’t progress through the year really.
“We just kind of stayed the same throughout the season. This year, we have gotten faster throughout the year. We started off pretty quick and we have gotten quicker, and quicker, especially these last couple weeks. So that’s been a thrill for me.”
And it should be a thrill for everybody in the sport.
Speaking of Earnhardt, JR Motorsports — his NASCAR Nationwide team — officially announced Monday that Canada’s Ron Fellows will drive in all three NNS road-course races this season in the No. 5 Chevrolet. Those races include Road America on Saturday, Watkins Glen International on Aug. 11, and Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on Aug. 18.
WHERE THEY STAND
NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship
1. Matt Kenseth, 565
1. Lewis Hamilton, 88
IZOD IndyCar Series
1. Will Power, 274