2011-12-08 / Sports

Earnhardt Named Favorite Driver

By Gerald Hodges

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior Nation has spoken once again.

Fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr. voted him the Most Popular Driver for the ninthstraight year. Earnhardt Jr. earned the award after receiving the most online fan votes among all eligible Cup drivers throughout the 2011 racing season.

Fans cast nearly 1.5 million total votes throughout the 2011 campaign. The nine other finalists were (in alphabetical order): Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Bobby La-bonte and Tony Stewart.

Earnhardt finished seventh in the points standings, his best finish in six seasons. But, he did not surpass the numbers amassed during his first season at Hendrick Motorsports. In 2008, the No. 88 team won at Michigan, scored 10 top-fives, 16 top- 10s and led 896 laps.

This year, Earnhardt earned four top-fives and 12 top-10s. But the most glaring statistic is the number of laps Earnhardt led: 52. That’s the fewest number of laps he’s led since he began racing the Cup full time in 2000.

“We would definitely liked to have won a race, and opportunities to do that are running low,” Earnhardt said. “As far as the points go, I think we made a decent account of ourselves, but I do feel like, and I think our team understands, that we’re better than even where we are now in the points standings. We feel confident that we can improve.”

Tirades, tantrums, and sports psychologists

Anyone involved in automobile racing needs to be able to handle defeat.

Kurt and Kyle Busch, two of the most talented racers in NASCAR, still have a long way to go.

This year the two brothers were in hot water almost every week. If it wasn’t a demonstration against another driver, it was some type of shenanigan in the garage area, or in Kyle’s case speeding along a public highway at 128 miles per hour in a 45-mile speed zone.

During 2011, the pair put on a display, reminiscent of two 6-year-olds fighting over an ice cream cone.

The worst thing about their behavior is that they never seem to learn from their actions.

After each incident, there is usually a public apology and a fine, followed by statements from their race teams and sponsors, stating that the drivers’ actions hadn’t represented corporate policy.

The latest deal involved Kurt, and it may cost him his job at Penske Racing.

He verbally lashed out and pointed his middle finger at Dr. Jerry Punch, who was standing by for an interview in the garage area in the season finale at Homestead.

It’s understandable Kurt was upset after having blown a transmission in his car, but don’t spew anger and bitterness on someone not involved.

After being fined $50,000 by NASCAR for his actions towards Punch, Busch said he is seeing a sports psychologist to address “personal issues.”

Kurt’s 2011 crew chief, Steve Addington, resigned last week to join Tony Stewart. Busch said he doesn’t believe Addington’s decision to leave the team had as much to do with his behavior as it did Addington being offered a job as Stewart’s crew chief.

Tell us another one, Kurt.

Both car owners were willing to sign the two brothers when Jack Roush and Rick Hendrick, their previous other team owners, let them go.

During races, both brothers use profuse profanity in radio communications with their teams. Much of it is belittling to the crew chief and those who help prepare the car.

In addition, several extra people are required to watch over them, from the crews to the business managers, team executives and public relations reps. Every time they do something regrettable, those are the people who end up working overtime in an attempt to smooth things over.

They are the ones that go around whispering apologies, swallowing their pride to say over and over, “I am so sorry, but, well, you know how he is.”

And lastly there are the fans, the people who have dedicated loyalties to Kurt and Kyle. Their reward for that allegiance is to constantly be put in the position of defending the indefensible. “Thanks for your support,” the brothers essentially say to their fans. Then they turn right around and do something else negative within a couple weeks.

Is there a place for anger and passion in auto racing? Yes.

But I think sooner or later, even their most dedicated fans are going to say, “Enough.”

On a more positive note, the final race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup featuring Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards earned the largest viewership ever for a NASCAR Sprint Cup race on ESPN.

It averaged 6,799,000 viewers and earned a 4.6 household coverage rating (4.0 U.S. rating), according to the Nielsen Co. The viewership average broke ESPN’s previous record of 6,668,000 viewers for the 2008 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.

Final figures do not include a rain delay from 4:45- 6 p.m.

Ratings for the Chase increased 14.8 percent from 2010, averaging a 3.1 U.S. rating compared to 2.7 for last year.

Racing trivia question: Mark Martin has never won a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. How many times has he finished as runner up?

Last week’s question: What is the relationship between Austin Dillon, the 2011 Camping World Truck Series Champion, and Richard Childress? Answer. Richard Childress is the grandfather to Austin and Ty Dillon.

Contact the Racing Reporter at hodges@race500.com.

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