Folks, in case you haven't figured it out, I'm a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan. I am a fan for many reasons, and most of those reasons have to do with the personality that Dale Earnhardt Jr. exhibited during his career. Part of the reason I'm a Dale Jr. fan is because he has a real appreciation for the way drivers like his dad raced. Dale Jr. is old school, and understands what old school is.
Old school means that you tough it out, you race your guts out, and you never give up. That sounds simple, but you'd be surprised at how many of the current crop of drivers in Cup don't quite get that sometimes.
Most of the hype surrounding NASCAR these days has to do with sponsors, and attendance at the tracks, and manufacturer support. All of those things are important to the sport.
There might be something more important though.
Pure drive. To be purely driven to win, and to prove the critics wrong is plenty of reason for many. To be honest, Dale Earnhardt Jr. hasn't won much lately. Many of his critics say he's got no talent at all, but they are wrong. Dale Jr. has won at every level he's ever raced in, and won championships, except in the Cup. That goal has eluded Junior so far.
Drive isn't enough for Dale Earnhardt Jr. though. He's driven by more than just trying to achieve expectations. He's failed lately in doing that, but a lot of the time that has been because of circumstances totally beyond his control. After a lost lug nut on a pit stop, critics are quick to claim that such an event happened because Dale Jr. has no talent. I don't know what kind of mushrooms those critics are ingesting, but that is plainly ludicrous. How is a driver responsible for a tire changer missing a lug nut?
Back in the 1970's, NBC started a show called Saturday Night Live, with had cast billed as the 'Not Ready For Prime Time Players.' In some ways, the 88 Sprint Cup team is in that situation. They're not quite ready this year. The 88 has been on the bad side of driver error, pit mistakes, and plain bad calls from on top of the pit box this year. One thing is for certain though. The 88 team, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Rick Hendrick will do their best to fix that situation before the 2010 season begins.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't done yet. If not for some pure bad luck, and getting caught up in some other people's stupidity and problems, Dale Jr. could have been in the Chase this year. Not making excuses, because some other drivers could claim the same lack of production, but Dale Jr. is not done. He'll be back, just in time for all the haters to sound off on him.
Part of driving is just the will to do it, and pass cars. Part of it is trying to meet expectations. Dale Jr. even goes beyond that, because Dale Earnhardt Jr. understands a basic principle his dad taught him many years ago. The fans are ultimately the people you really have to keep happy.
Without fans, NASCAR would be nothing. If you're not getting the results on the race track, where it matters the most, you driver harder, and attempt to win at all costs. That spirit will carry a driver farther than even raw talent can.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. probably isn't the best driver in the Cup series. Not on the basis of pure talent, at least. Dale Jr. has a huge following because he's got the heart and the intelligence to never, ever give up.
In that way, Dale Jr. is a chip off the old block.