Tampa Bay Sports Day

Earnhardt’s Retirement Good for NASCAR and Dale

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is retiring, and good for his decision. Concussions aren’t pretty and they certainly don’t lead to long term quality of life. He has suffered them, and the doctors say he’s a liability to suffer more.

So, take everyone’s advice: Get out while your brain is still intact.

A question for you: Will he be missed?

You say: What a dumb question. Of course he’ll be missed!

I say: You’ll get over it. It might be best for everyone, especially NASCAR.

You say: Sacrilege!

I say: Wait! Before you call hellfire and damnation on my poor old bald head, let me explain.

1. Dale Jr. isn’t his own man to many fans. He’s Dale Sr.’s son. Since they can’t dig up Sr. and get him back in the No. 3, many use Jr. and No. 88 as their stand-in. All the adulation and the Most Popular awards are a bit misdirected; they should put them on Dale Sr.’s grave, not Jr.’s mantle. In the long run, reincarnations don’t work.

2. Dale Jr. meets a lot of criteria in racing but being a great racer isn’t one of them. He’s had the benefit of terrific equipment but he’s a weak third to his two most prominent teammates, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.

3. Dale Jr.’s record is overblown because of his success on superspeedways, which you must admit are the easiest races to win assuming you have great cars under you. If you take his entire 19-year career, his average finish is 16th place. Same as Ryan Newman, and would anyone notice if he went to the pit box instead of the driver’s seat? Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne are just a tick behind in average finish.

Would anyone miss them?

Dale Jr.’s presence on the track skews the national attention to our sport. People tune in and see the guy everyone talks about, then they see the No. 88 back in the pack so often that not even the house shill, Darrell Waltrip, can hide the fact.

There are terrific drivers out there; the energy expended in promoting a mid-pack driver will be moved forward, and maybe the national observers will find out more about the Larsons and Elliotts and the big pack that’s just a Hendricks engine from stardom.

Please, let’s miss Dale Jr. A wonderful fellow with a great future ahead, as long as he keeps his head away from solid objects. But let’s be glad that he’s in the pits. For his sake and NASCAR’s.