By: Candice Smith @Chief187s
Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning his sixth race at Talladega Superspeedway in Sunday’s Geico 500 was exactly what was needed.
It was what was needed for Earnhardt Jr. and his team to get into the season-ending Championship Chase.
It was what Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief Greg Ives needed to fit in and relax in the Cup garage.
It was what Earnhardt Jr. needed to release some pent up emotion, tell people important to him what they mean to him, and acknowledge his famous late father.
It was what Earnhardt Jr.’s fans, “Junior Nation”, needed to keep their collective fandom positive and upbeat. In reality they never abandon their driver, but wins certainly stoke their passions for him.
And, lastly, it’s what NASCAR and possibly the country needed to see to create such adulation.
It’s no secret that Earnhardt Jr. is the most popular driver in NASCAR. For the last 12 consecutive years he has been voted and awarded this honor.
People love him.
If you haven’t attended a live NASCAR race in recent years perhaps you don’t understand.
If you haven’t been to a live NASCAR race when Earnhardt Jr. led even one lap you don’t understand.
No matter what, the crowd goes insanely wild when Earnhardt Jr. leads a lap. They ALL get to their feet, wave their arms, and raise their voices in pure joy and appreciation of the 40-year-old driver.
When looking at the fans that populate the track during a NASCAR weekend the Earnhardt Jr. t-shirts, jackets, hats, and gear far outnumbers any other driver’s colors.
No other driver commands the same attention, money, or respect that Earnhardt Jr. does. It’s not that other drivers aren’t more impressive statistically – Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Tony Stewart come to mind, but they don’t connect with their fans the way Earnhardt Jr. can and does.
Earnhardt Jr. has simply won the hearts of his fans – nearly all NASCAR race fans.
People love him. They really, truly, unabashedly love Earnhardt Jr.
So, when Earnhardt Jr. can take the lead in a race. When he can keep the lead and, like he did at Talladega this weekend, win the race, the reaction far and wide is astounding.
Usually when a driver takes the checkered flag a majority of the crowd at the racetrack begins to vacate their seats to find their car to go home.
When Earnhardt Jr. wins a race the crowd goes nowhere. They are pinned to their area, cameras pointed on their driver, and celebrating with their hero.
Everybody wants to be a part of the magic. And Earnhardt Jr. makes it that way – a race goer does not merely witness a win from Earnhardt Jr., they are a part of the experience because he includes everyone.
At a time when the country is reeling from social strife, political dissidence, and poor self-image, the microcosm that NASCAR can be shows that its citizens need good guys to look up to, a hero to believe in, and a force greater than themselves to root for.
Is Earnhardt Jr.’s win really that weighty?
Maybe not, but it certainly meant something to a whole lot of people. It made a gaggle of NASCAR fans into a peaceful community.
For a while all was right in the world.
Not everybody was happy but the majority was.
When was the last time the majority felt that way? I’d argue to guess it was when Earnhardt Jr. earned a grandfather clock last fall.
Can he fix a nation? Cure cancer? Make a peaceful world?
No, of course not.
But he certainly makes a lot of people really happy just by existing.
For me, that’s enough.
I’m in awe of the phenomenon that is Earnhardt Jr.
Congratulations on the win Dale Jr.
And good for us who got to live it with you.
Looking forward to next time…