Junior Just Being Junior

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been taking some hits lately.

This week, in one of the racing publications, a reader wrote that Earnhardt, Jr.’s behavior was bad, and that his famous father would be turning over in his grave.

The reader, of course, couldn’t be more wrong. For starters, what’s Earnhardt, Jr. being compared to? Kevin Harvick?

Best I can tell, Earnhardt has not hit anyone lately, or been parked by NASCAR, or, well, uttered some cuss words on TV.

So what’s the fuss?

Earnhardt, is, and seemingly always has been, honest. Honest with the media, honest with the fans, honest with those around him. If he’s not, mind you, he’s got a career in Hollywood.

That honesty is refreshing and can sometimes leave a bad image in the minds of some, dare we say, conservative fans.

So Earnhardt gets in a national magazine and says he’s not a social drinker, but when he does pound some back, he does so to get drunk. Well, duh. Who doesn’t?

Not to get off on a drinking tangent, but isn’t someone who admits what they’re doing as Earnhardt did a bit better off than those hundreds of thousands around the country who can’t go to sleep at night without a brewski or two.

And for crying out loud, the guy is sponsored by the biggest beer maker in the world.

Drink up.

Surely, Earnhardt Jr.’s public persona does seem to differ from what we all thought we knew about his father.

But for years, diehard fans of the seven-time champion put up with his bull-headed driving style, which left many drivers wrecked on the sidelines, without nary a peep. And the father also came up at a time when there was much less media, and certainly Rolling Stone wasn’t snooping around unless it was looking for a story on rednecks in the infield.

After winning at Talladega last weekend Earnhardt, Jr. was asked how he was able to keep his perspective with all of the attention these days.

“I think that if I didn't act accordingly and act right, I don’t know if [crew chief] Tony [Eury] and the guys would have anything to do with me. “I get out of hand once in awhile. And they remind me they’re the ones who are working seven days a week and I’m the guy sitting home on Mondays and Tuesdays.”

Ironically, the letter slamming Earnhardt, Jr. appeared just days before what would have been his father’s birthday, which is this coming Monday.

Rather than slam the guy, fans should actually embrace Earnhardt, Jr.’s. openness. Look around. How many drivers speak their minds? How many are worth listening to? Earnhardt, Jr. is one of the few.

Speaking of Talladega, last Sunday’s race scored some huge Nielsen numbers.

The Aaron’s 499 averaged 11.6 million viewers last Sunday afternoon up against usually stiff competition from the NBA on NBC and a variety of sports around the dial.

It was the most watched race since last year’s event at Rockingham, the race after Earnhardt was killed.

Had Talladega scored the same numbers in prime time, it would have ranked somewhere in the top-25 shows for the week. Likewise, the program earned strong enough ratings with male viewers to have finished third overall in prime time.

And the race drew fairly impressive numbers in some major markets around the country. In Chicago, ratings were up 107% compared to the same event a year ago. Cleveland was up 47% and Pittsburgh was up 58%.

Finally, wasn’t there something just a tad bit cheesy about NASCAR week on “Wheel of Fortune?” Hard to put my finger on why, but I just got an uneasy feeling. Now, one can’t downplay the impact of having NASCAR connected to a top-rated game show, but I nearly spilled by Kellogg’s Corn Flakes when I heard Vanna White talking about pit stops, followed by an in-studio pitstop of guys cleaning the spinning wheel game piece.

Yikes, what’s next, NASCAR “Hollywood Squares?” NASCAR “The Real World?” Or how about “NASCAR Blind Date?”

Hey, in this world anything is possible.

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