Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Thank You Dale Earnhardt Jr., Damn that was fun!

Dale Jr. brought it strong!
I've always felt a sort of camaraderie with Dale Earnhardt Jr. despite not knowing him personally. When I heard he has an Elvis Presley room because his mother liked him, that was all I needed.

At the time Junior was just starting to make a name for himself rather than being Dale Earnhardt's son, I wasn't too cozy with Junior. I thought he might have a silver spoon and was just given good cars, beginning with the Busch Series and then later in Cup. From 2000-2004, he won 15 of his 26 career Cup races and do so driving the No. 8 car his Daddy built for him.

In his 2004 season, I got to see first hand his hold over NASCAR Nation as he won the Daytona 500. I remember it well because President George W. Bush had his motorcade drive up to the concourse where I was in a beer line and I had to stay there for 70 minutes. At least there was a TV above the beer stand. Junior dominated that day, as was the case on most restrictor-plate race tracks with Dale Earnhardt Inc. performers.

My most fantastic Junior moment came in the 2001 season when he won the July Daytona race, the first NASCAR race there since his father passed there. It was magical. It had to happen that way to build his legend, and it grew even larger. He's the NASCAR Prince.

But Dale's wife, Junior's step-mom Theresa, had other plans for a successful team. She found a PR person to help run the team into the ground. And in the process, they lost their golden child who flew away to Hendrick Motorsports.

But from 2007 on until his retirement at the end of Sunday's Homestead race, he had won only nine more races and seven of them came in 2014-15. Teammate Jimmie Johnson was dominating the series, but his rub somehow never happened in the garages.

The thing I'll always remember about Junior is his enormous fan base everywhere I went on the Cup circuit. They were so friendly and honest about reality. Great BBQ. They loved their driver, thick and thin. And I had some of the best parties ever with Junior Nation in 2004 and 2014. He's a powerful force. He's NASCAR Royalty and people just smile when they talk about him. Love that.

I am pleasured to say I saw his 2004 Daytona 500 win, him helping Michael Waltrip get his first win in the tragic 2001 race, and also him just being the public's driver. I feel vested in emotions spent on Dale Jr. and I'm okay with that.

Dale Jr. brings it wherever he goes. He's the guy that has theme music following around just so his entrances are done with justice. I'd like to think it was the Elvis intro to C.C. Rider.

The best thing about Dale Jr. doing broadcasting next year is that his fans will watch just to hear him say anything, and we all know he's going to be cool as hell with social stuff on his mind coming in at a relatable way. For not jumping into Twitter until lately, the dude has the hang of it now.

I'm not sitting well with the new era of drivers, but just like all of them, I'm moving on as a fan as well. I'll always be there keeping my charts, figuring out who the best is at each track, in each practice, but I cannot deny that something is really different with NASCAR 2017. People? Attendance? Passion? Rivalries?

Who knows, but I'll be watching the 60th Daytona 500 in February just because of family tradition.

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