I've read on various forums this week that somehow Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s win at Michigan Sunday was "not legitimate", or "should have an asterisk beside it." Excuse my language, and I'm going to try to keep this as close to G rated as I can, but those assumptions by a few of the talking heads and some of the fans are complete bull squeeze. I just have to laugh when I read people who should know better, and indeed do know better, that a win under a yellow flag is somehow not a legitimate win.
In that case, following that logic, I suppose the late Dale Earnhardt should have his 1998 Daytona 500 victory stripped and deleted from the record books. Dale finished that race under caution, but what some people forget is the fact that in Nascar, the driver who crosses the start-finish line first, whether it be under caution or green, whether he's driving straight ahead or backwards, or upside down, is determined to be the winner. The win Sunday was legitimate. If indeed Dale Jr. passed the pace car, he did not do it to the point that Nascar felt like it was a foul. Dale Jr. was indeed warned to keep his position, but that's not the first time this has happened. Nascar declared the 88 car to be the winner, and that's that.
Fans of Nascar, and members of the media that cover the race, I've got a message for you. Deal with it. When the green flag drops, anything can happen. Engines blow. Tires blow. Ignition boxes fail. Belts break. Cars hit a patch of oil or some other slick substance and spin. Drivers make mistakes. If you think Nascar can orchestrate the events that unfold on a track, lap after lap, for 400 or 500 miles, you are deluding yourself. More importantly, and more obviously, If you think that all the people involved can keep such trickery a secret, then you are indeed delusional. It's simply not possible. Nascar, for all it's faults, has to play this game straight up. If it didn't, people in the garage would all be running for the nearest microphone to voice their complaints. Sometimes we do hear complaints, but most of the time those are addressed and dealt with, not always to the complainer's satisfaction, but they are dealt with all the same.
Nascar is not in the business of providing staged performances. They provide the basics needed for racing, and the drivers and the teams put on the show. Does Nascar like it when Dale Jr. wins a race? Of course it does. But then again, they don't seem to care much if he gets spun while leading a race either. Nascar has told drivers in the past that "You need Nascar more than Nascar needs you." Dale Jr. has been frustrated when he's been knocked out of what looks a sure win, but he's also been gracious about it. He doesn't point fingers, and he usually goes overboard to take blame when in all actuality, he deserves none.
For a driver with no apparent talent, according to some, Dale Jr. has accomplished a lot in his career. He's won a lot of non points races, such as the Bud Shootout, and the Winston. He won two Busch Series championships, and has now won 18 Cup races. A lot of other drivers, who some say are much more talented, have struggled to accomplish half as much in their careers as Dale Jr. has. I have to laugh sometimes when I read on message boards something to the effect of "I know my driver is the best in the field, but wish he could finish better than 15th." Hey, fans? I've felt that way before too, when it was my driver. I knew my driver was capable of better finishes, but the equipment or some other gremlin was keeping him from winning or finishing in the top 5 or so.
When it gets right down to it, it's racing. Every week, there are 42 drivers that don't win. It doesn't mean they aren't great drivers. Nobody that can't drive a race car gets to this level. Every single driver in this field is there because they are the best of the best when it comes to stock car racing. Did Dale Earnhardt help Dale Jr. get his start in racing? Of course he did. Dale Jr. is not the only kid in the sport to be helped by benefit of what their name was. Kyle Petty knows what I'm talking about. Dale Jarrett knows what I'm talking about. John Andretti and Casey Mears know what I'm talking about. Talent basically doesn't care about names though, and none of these drivers would have ever made it as far as they did without talent of their own.
You cannot win two Busch Series championships and 18 Cup races just because your daddy was Dale Earnhardt. Some people forget that most of Dale Jr.'s Cup wins came after his father died. Probably somewhere, there are people that question the validity of every one of those wins. I know people still question his 2004 Daytona 500 win, and his 2001 Pepsi 400 win. I just have to laugh at these people, because lunacy is fun to read sometimes.
Dale Jr., you finally got the big W! Congratulations to you, and I hope you enjoy this week. Your talent as a race car driver first drew me to you, and made me watch you, but your character and personality have made me a fan.