Almost instantly after Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced in April he plans to retire from NASCAR at the end of the 2017 season, people started speculating what would happen to the 14-time most popular driver’s fan base.
Will Junior Nation stick with the Earnhardt family and get behind his nephew, Jeffrey, or back another Hendrick Motorsports driver? Will his fans leave the sport altogether?
During his Dale Jr. Download podcast this week, the No. 88 Chevrolet driver weighed in on the subject. Although he made the argument for why his fans could choose to cheer for the “young guns” – including Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suárez – he compared teammate Jimmie Johnson with Kyle Busch and explained why they’d be good options for his fans too.
“We’ve got Jimmie on one end of the spectrum and Kyle on the other – those are two guys that are obvious choices if you want to go with winners winning now,” Earnhardt said, suggesting that some fans might want to keep their loyalty with veteran drivers after he retires.
This season, Johnson has three race wins – earning his 83rd career win Sunday – while Busch won the NASCAR All-Star race but is still searching for his first points victory.
More via the Dale Jr. Download podcast:
“(With Johnson), obviously you’re going to be able to get a guy that’s winning races now – and championships. If you’ve become an admirer of what he’s accomplished – tying Cale Yarborough in wins, seven-time champion tying my dad and Richard Petty. He’s (an) all-American, great personality, family man. Not afraid to get his hands dirty. Just (an) all-around cool guy. So he’s an obvious choice for the good guy. The good cop, bad cop – that’s what we’re going to play here.
“Then you’ve got Kyle Busch. He wears the black hat. Wins a lot of races, creates a little controversy here and there, not liked by everyone, but he does have a rabid, core fan base. He does drive the candy car – lot of young fans like Kyle Busch just ‘cause he drives the candy car. And I do like M&M’s myself. Kyle is gonna keep it interesting. You’re going to be entertained. He ain’t changing.”
This isn’t the first time Earnhardt has argued Busch’s questionable behavior is good for the sport, but, obviously, so is his teammate’s. So if Junior Nation is leaning toward rooting for a veteran, why not pick between the good boy and the black sheep?