Dale Earnhardt Jr. would likely trade some of his popularity for success
For example, the popular guys in high school may get the girls, but they are often viewed with anger by the outcasts of the school, and with jealousy by the other slightly less popular kids trying to climb the popularity ladder. Even worse is that popular people are under the most scrutiny of all. If they screw up, everybody knows and gets on their case about it, often making them the most insecure people in the whole school because they have so many standards to live up to.
I have a feeling that over the last couple years, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has had plenty of moments where he wishes he weren’t so popular.
If his name was Dale Jones, we wouldn’t care that he’s sitting 21st in points. But his last name is Earnhardt, and that means he has big shoes to fill.
One way you can tell whether a driver is enjoying his year is how a driver interacts with the media. Having been around the drivers, you can clearly tell during interviews which drivers embrace that side of the career (Carl Edwards is particularly into the media work) and which drivers just want to go to their trailer and get away from you (Paging young Mr. Busch).
Every time I’ve seen Dale Jr. interviewed over the past few years, either in person or on television, you can tell his mind is elsewhere. He looks distracted, like he’s thinking about something else and is just going through the motions. He knows he is obligated to do the promotions and media stuff, but in the back of his mind he’s just running down the possibilities why the hell he is running so bad.
He knows how many people are fanatical followers of his racing career, and that has to be something he contemplates in addition to his own disappointment at running mid-pack or worse for much of the year.
One thing is certain, and that is Dale Jr. will always have plenty of fans.
But if someone else, like Tony Stewart, were to all of a sudden see a huge surge in popularity and take the title of most popular driver away from Jr., I don’t think he’d be too upset.
If he wasn’t the No. 1 obsession of all the fans and wasn’t endlessly scrutinized by the media, maybe he could concentrate on racing and getting back to Victory Lane.
I’m not making excuses for Jr. He has Hendrick equipment and that should be enough to get him back into Victory Lane on any given week. The new crew chief seems to be working out better, but now it’s time for him to put the pedal down and win a race or two before the year ends.
I’m just saying that, psychologically, being the guy everybody wants to win has to be a bit taxing.
Just like the high school quarterback with the cheerleader girlfriend, there comes a day when the most popular player will disappoint with a game full of interceptions and fumbles.
Then the question must be asked: Are you good enough to be the most popular? Time will tell if that’s the case with Dale Earnhardt Jr.
And if he loses the crown, we’ll see whether he can finally focus enough that he can regain the ability to fight back and regain that crown … if he even wants it.