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Monday, June 18, 2012

Junior won at Michigan; he won it for himself, not for his father

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on pit road, as his team c...
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on pit road

Congratulations to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for his win at Michigan International Speedway Sunday. He drove a good race, led plenty of laps, and held off Champion Tony Stewart for the win.
A Dale Earnhardt Jr. autograph
A Dale Earnhardt Jr. autograph (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Maybe now everyone will get off Junior's back and leave the poor guy alone. I have for some time, felt sorry for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. In all the years I've watched NASCAR, and I admit I'm a newbie by most standards, at only eight years, but I have yet to see Junior live up to the enormous expectations and hype laid upon his head by fans, the pundits, and NASCAR brass. I'm not sure anyone could live up to that, (except maybe for Tony Stewart's herculean performance last year, when he won five out of ten races.)

So much pressure has been put on Junior that it has obviously had a negative effect. His name is evoked by announcers dozens of times during every race, pre-race, or post-race show, no matter what he does. Clearly, evoking Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s name is a mandate by NASCAR itself, since as a fan favorite, to NASCAR, that translates into dollars.

No matter what Junior does on the track, his name is mentioned--a lot! Excuses are made for his doing things like driving by his pit stall or making some other boneheaded move that only a rookie would make. After a few of those, the hype seemed to tone down a little. That all changed with Junior's latest run of obvious good luck. Junior has been running well, leading laps and being consistent enough to earn points. Finally NASCAR is getting what it wants. Maybe they will back off a little now that Junior has won a race.

Who am I kidding? They will never leave him alone. Now we will be hearing, and it has already begun, Junior can be the champion. There will likely be more pressure on him to not just win again, but to lead the points battle now and during the Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Championship. Yes, Junior has a big fan base, so he is NASCAR's favorite son. Let's face it--as the son of the late Big E, Junior will never be left alone to be his own person.

Not only does that affect him, but it also affects the other 42 drivers who are unable to compete on a level racetrack, so to speak. And it is so unfair to those of us who are not card-carrying members of Junior Nation.

We are called haters. We are not haters. We are just not blinded by the BS.

Funny, Junior's big win came on Father's Day, yet I didn't hear anything in post race interviews with Junior about winning this one for his father's memory, except by the media. It seems clear to me that Junior is very uncomfortable with the position he has been put into--living in his father's shadow. It has obviously been very difficult for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to live up to they hype. It would be difficult for anyone. I'd love it if they would leave him alone, for his sake as well as ours.