Dale Earnhardt Jr is arguably the face of NASCAR racing. Having been the recipient of the “Most Popular Driver Award” for thirteen years in a row – there’s little evidence to suggest otherwise.
On top of that, Dale holds the most awards achieved by a Sprint Cup driver. That is why fans – old and new – were absolutely devastated when Dale Jr announced his retirement earlier on in this season. To some, it was a shock and to others it was just a sign of the inevitable. Whether people were aware or not, NASCAR is set to change drastically after his departure.
Fans across the world hoped that this last season would be laden with success, wins, points and an entry into the ten-race Playoffs. Now the Playoffs are upon us and, unfortunately, they lack Dale Jr’s presence. However, the question is: Does it really matter?
Let’s take a look at how he’s performed this season: In the last 27 races, Dale has had an average finish of 21st place. Within these, he’s had zero wins, one top 5, four top 10 and fifteen top 20 finishes. He’s had one pole position, an average starting place of 17th and has led 37 laps. Finally, there have been seven races that he did not finish and his highest finish was 5th.
Those statistics are quite poor when you compare them to some of the other drivers. And yet, for a man whose father was a NASCAR and racing legend, it matters very little – despite this season has being somewhat frustrating both for him and for his fans.
It started off badly during the Daytona 500 when Kyle Busch spun out and Dale was a victim of the chaos that ensued. That incident set the tone for the rest of the season where he encountered not only more bad luck, but also a complete lack of speed and strategy.
There’s no question that Dale has underachieved during his last season – and it’s a shame that this will be the final memory that we have of him as a driver before he retires.
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 26, 2017
On the other hand, Dale has a total of 26 wins under his belt. Would another win make a difference? Perhaps not. That fact alone shows what an impactful career Dale Jr has had. Mediocre season or not, he’s still the Dale Jr that everyone loves.
He’s still “water cooler Dale” from the Nationwide advert and he’s still the same loveable, passionate, determined and dedicated character he always was.
Some may claim that his injuries last year have been what impacted his final season, causing him to fall short of notable success. Whether that’s the case or not, Dale Jr’s legacy and impact upon NASCAR is untouchable.
— Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) August 9, 2017
The answer to the question “does it matter that Dale Jr’s final season has been mediocre?” is a resounding “no.”
Why? Dale Earnhardt Jr is NASCAR and will never be forgotten for his contribution to the sport. Dale Jr fans young and old will always be Dale Jr fans at heart.
He has helped shape NASCAR into the Motorsport that we all adore. While his retirement is heartbreaking, “Dale Jr: The Man” will live on and we will continue to love him whether he’s on or off the track.
Ultimately, it’s “Dale Jr: The Man” who created his reputation and earned himself the “Most Popular Driver Awards.” And he’ll forever remain “The Man”, regardless of final season statistics.