Last week, Dale Earnhardt Jr finished 39th in the Auto Club 500 from Auto Clube Speedway, thanks to an engine failure. The bad finish dropped Jr to 35th in points, putting him in danger of being outside of the top 35 in owners’ points when NASCAR switches from last season’s owners’ points to this season’s after the fifth race.
The Monday after the race, the media sounded the alarms, perhaps rightfully so. After all, NASCAR’s prodigal son, and most popular driver, would be in danger of missing a race.
Throughout the week, story after story, and column after column, highlighted Jr’s plight. Many stressed the need for a good finish, which Jr earned quietly in last weekend’s Shelby 427 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
One day after the Shelby 427, in which we saw Mark Martin lose an engine and finish 40th, I wonder if we’ll see the same amount of coverage that Jr received. My guess is no.
One could argue that Martin is just as talented as Jr. One could even argue that Martin is statistically better than Jr (career-wise.) But why won’t Martin receive as much media coverage? He’s on a high-profile team. He’s considered a Chase and championship contender.
Perhaps Matt Kenseth’s lost engine will be the bigger story, he was the points leader, after all. He also finished dead last. Still, you would think Martin would warrant the same coverage, at least, as Jr. Right? I mean, he lost two engines in as many weeks. He shares a shop with Jr at Hendrick Motorsports. There’s got to be some media value there.
But, at the end of the day, Martin’s blown engine will not receive as much coverage as Jr’s. Why? Because Jr is like the Dallas Cowboys of NASCAR. Every thing that happens to him and his team receives big coverage because it will generate clicks on a website.
Love him or hate him, most every NASCAR fan will read stories about him. Some hope the story will give them hope, while others hope the story will call him overrated and provide substance to their arguments that he is overrated.
In his Inside Line column , David Caraviello may have described the situation best. He wrote:
Any other driver misses his pit board in the Daytona 500, and it’s a non-story; Junior does it, and it’s a crisis. Any other driver crashes with Brian Vickers trying to get a lap back, and it’s a controversy; Junior does it, and it provokes debates over the most overrated athlete in history.