Dale Earnhardt Jr. might be the most popular driver in all of NASCAR. Jimmie Johnson is probably the most successful right now; and Danica Patrick has the highest profile. She’s also the most polarizing. While Junior may not win as much as JJ or get the endorsements that Danica does, he’s probably the most well liked.
And his media relations has a lot to do with that. You could interview Dale Jr. for three minutes and have much more material for a story than if you interviewed Patrick or Johnson for 15 minutes. While Jimmie and Danica are almost always vanilla in their interviews (And decidedly boring. They’re boring by design, by management. They’re not boring people), Dale Earnhardt Jr. is usually interesting and entertaining.
When NASCAR opened it’s playoff season (Chase for the Sprint Cup) here in Chicagoland this past weekend, the sport was rocked with controversy. The media had plenty of scandalous topics to talk about.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Dale Jr. (or even Junior if you will) said “this isn’t the first time it’s happened,” in reference to Michael Waltrip Racing trying to manipulate a race.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. also had an interesting reaction to NASCAR levying $300,000 in fines against the MWR the largest total in the sport’s history.
They also docked Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Bryan Vickers 50 points, costing Truex his spot in the Chase, and allowing Ryan Newman in.
Later in the week, NASCAR leadership Brian France and Mike Helton responded to an already unprecedented situation by taking another bold initiative, creating a 13th spot to allow Jeff Gordon in.
“If my job was to write stories about it, I would write my opinion. But my job isn’t to write stories about it, I’m just a race car driver. And I read your story, your story your story (Junior pointed and said to each reporter huddled around him at Chase for the Cup Media Day at Navy Pier this past weekend) and sort of form my opinion from what I read from y’all, from what I saw happen, what I think happened, what I witnessed, and this, that and the other.”
"You just kind of form this whole idea, and everyone is going to have a different opinion, because everybody saw a lot of different stuff. But I'm not worried so much about if NASCAR sent the right message or not," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said.
"I feel like they (NASCAR governing bodies) were put in a really bad situation. They tell us all the time, don't get us involved. Don't do things that...We don't want to be in the middle of it if we don't have to be. Y'all know how to run races, how to restart. Don't drag us into this and have to play big brother."
Since NASCAR awarded Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet with the first Chase race starting in the ’11 season, the winner in Joliet has gone on to win the entire Chase championship.
Matt Kenseth won last night. Tony Stewart did so in 2011 and Keselowski won in 2012.
Paul M. Banks is the owner of The Sports Bank.net, an affiliate of Fox Sports. An analyst for 95.7 The Fan and 1620 The Zone, he also writes for Chicago Now. Follow him on Twitter (@paulmbanks) and Facebook
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