With Dale Earnhardt Jr. off to a hot start this year, everybody said that it’d boost ratings and get interest back into the sport. However, that hasn’t quite occurred as drastically as NASCAR might have hoped as TV ratings are actually down compared to other years.
While most argue the Earnhardt perspective, six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson says it’s too much pressure to put on one person as it’s unfair.
“The sport is bigger than him, it’s bigger than me and it’s bigger than any one person,” he commented. “It takes all of us to make it what it is. I’m very proud of where he is and I have seen the hard work that he has put in and Steve (Letarte) has put in. I pay more attention to my teammate running well than the other effects that take place out there.”
Instead, he says the success of the sport doesn’t depend just on Earnhardt – but rather everybody.
“I think in our sport it takes everyone involved, all the personalities involved, all the drivers on the track, TV personalities and the support of the television network partners, print media, everything across the board to make our sport what it is,” Johnson commented.
With that said, though, Johnson doesn’t dissipate the theory that Earnhardt does the move needle a little and feels that the success so far for his Hendrick Motorsports has been a positive to bringing interest to the sport.
“We can kind of speculate the type of fan base that he has and maybe fans of his father that some say have left our sport because of the change,” Johnson commented. “When he does well their interest comes back in, is it the younger kids? I don’t know where the interest comes from, but it’s a great byproduct of him running well.”
While everybody focuses on Earnhardt’s success, Johnson is looking for his own this weekend in the form of another solid run. Bristol hasn’t always been a good track for Johnson so survival, in his mind, is key this weekend.
One of the aspects that makes it difficult is the issue of traffic on the tight half mile oval. Sometimes lap cars can get in the way and hurt the run that you have, making you loose time and track position. For that reason, many drivers have used the bump-and-run in the past to get through that traffic quicker.
“If it’s a lap down car or somebody that you are not racing for position a little tap on the straightaway usually wakes up whoever is in front of you and they will cut you some slack,” Johnson commented.
Though bump-and-runs have also gotten to become common for racing for position in the late going, with some of those being controversy. Johnson says while some people have gotten used to that practice and grown up with it, that’s not his style. He is more for racing hard and finding the tough way by.
“I have found personally that it takes me longer to set up a bump and run,” he added. “It’s a delicate touch to get in there and to move somebody in the right way. I waste more time doing that than it does to get inside of them to try to pass them. That might also lead to kind of the conversation with Kasey’s closing laps last year and if that happens again, there are some guys that are comfortable and used to it. If I have to I will, but I am probably going to be saying I’m sorry after. It will be in that category of (Dale) Earnhardt trying to rattle Terry’s (Labonte) cage and Terry’s car was all torn up.”
Starting inside the top 12 for Sunday’s race, Johnson’s goal is to simply survive so that way he can head into one of his favourite tracks next week – Martinsville – with some momentum on his side.