Richmond, Dale Jr. and NASCAR Cup from a NASCAR Fan’s View

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Rusty Norman

The big news this week wasn’t about the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup teams taking on their next challenge at Richmond International Raceway and it was hardly even mentioned how Jimmie Johnson won his second race in a row. It wasn’t about how many penalties were handed down in different ways since the races at Texas and Martinsville or how many different crew chiefs there are for this weekend. No, the big news (just in case you’ve been completely out of touch or had your head in the sand since last Monday’s race) is that Dale Jr. is going to retire at the end of the 2017 season…

Yeah, I know that’s not new news to you if you’re a real NASCAR fan but it is true. Dale Jr. announced his plan for retirement on Tuesday and the news has been received and reacted to in diverse ways. It has been spoken of as the “end of NASCAR” and some have even threatened to stop following NASCAR all together since there will no longer be a well known Earnhardt competing in the Cup series. (Well… even that’s not quite true since Jeffrey Earnhardt does compete at the present time even though not all that well known other than by name at the present time.

So… here are my thoughts on NASCAR’s most popular driver for the last 14 years and his retirement. First of all let me say something that won’t mean a great deal to many younger fans but I’ve been a NASCAR fan for longer than Junior has been alive. That’s a long time (just in case you’re wondering) and I’ve had a number of favorite drivers and not all of them have been NASCAR champs but all have been champions in my opinion. I won’t go into a long dissertation about any of them at this point but there have been many.

I have to admit when Dale Jr. came into Cup I wasn’t really a fan but I did follow his progress, maturity and growth. Even though I felt he was rough around the edges and didn’t really have grip on who he really was when he was younger, I have watched him become more and more of a driver and person that I like. I like the fact that he is real these days (what you see is what you get) and he has a lot of common sense. I guess I could go into a long monologue of what I like about him now as compared to 20 years ago. I can’t say there haven’t been others I wasn’t particularly fond of when they came in to Cup but my opinion of them did change as they changed.

I felt that way about Jeff Gordon when he left his Busch team to join Hendrick Motorsports. I wasn’t that much of a fan of his for about a year or so. Much of my thinking about his move was based on very little information about him. I thought he kind of left his team in a lurch and with very little warning and I thought it was unfair to them and I just didn’t like it. My perception was based on my opinion of him at the time but I was still very impressed by him and his abilities as he drove. But even at that time it didn’t take all that long for me to become a Jeff Gordon fan. I was a Jeff Gordon until he retired and I am still a fan of Jeff Gordon and what he accomplished in his career as a driver and since his retirement.

Maybe that’s why I have watched Dale Jr’s. career with a lot of interest and why I have come to appreciate him more and more over the years, especially since his dad died in that terrible racing accident at Daytona and how he has grown from that time. Besides, he’s not leaving NASCAR completely, he’s just moving away from visibility as a driver and I expect we will see and hear a lot from him in the years ahead.

Richmond International Raceway is a tough ¾ mile track and is fast and a test of a driver’s ability. One of the nice things about it is that it isn’t just a one groove race track. They’ll be able to run the low groove, the middle and the high, even right up next to the wall. Even when they miss their marks, they have a little bit of room to catch it without taking out the person next to them or the ones they’re trying to pass. One of the interesting things about this race is this year’s lower down force package. It has made for new challenges and interesting communications between drivers and crew chiefs and the one thing the drivers have asked for most is more grip. They want more of it just about everywhere on the track. They’re not necessarily going to be getting it but it hasn’t stopped them asking for it so far.

So… will this be the weekend the JGR Toyotas finally make the trip to Victory Lane? Well, Matt Kenseth did win the pole and it is a place where Denny Hamlin performs well at. I’m not so sure that’s making a statement and I’m not so sure it will translate into a trip to Victory Lane when the checkered flag drops at the end of the day. It is food for thought though. But then so is the fact that Kyle Larson has been on a roll and was fast during practices, especially the last one on Saturday.

I wonder if Dale Jr. might take home the trophy when this one is over. He has to have lot less pressure on him now that he’s made his announcement but I think he wants to win more now than ever. It does remain to be seen how the Hendrick teams will fare and there is no way this fan is going to rule out the possibility of Jimmie Johnson making it three in a row. Well… maybe that is expecting a bit too much… BUT… it can definitely happen…

See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© April 29, 2017 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, and
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