KERCHNER: Earnhardt Continues To Promote NASCAR

Mike Kerchner

CONCORD, N.C. — Those who said NASCAR was losing its best spokesperson when Dale Earnhardt Jr. retired at the end of last season couldn’t have been more wrong.

Earnhardt is doing more to raise the status of the sport outside the cockpit than he possibly could have done had he continued to race.

While his astute observations and vast knowledge of NASCAR racing’s past have, without a doubt added intrigue to NBC Sports’ coverage of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and the Xfinity Series, what he’s doing away from the track may be having a greater impact in driving new viewers to the sport.

While on a publicity tour for his new book, “Racing To The Finish: My Story,” Earnhardt did numerous television interviews on shows such as ABC’s “Good Morning America,” where his honesty about his life, his racing career and his enthusiasm for his newborn daughter made more than a few viewers yearn to know more about the third-generation racer and the sport that made him relevant to a national audience.

The same could be said for the DIY Network television show “Renovation Realities: Dale Jr. & Amy,” which he co-hosts with his wife, Amy. There are lots of eyeballs watching Earnhardt these days that never saw him drive a race car. And most of those couldn’t pick Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson or Jimmie Johnson out of a lineup.

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– We were surprised the breakup of seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champions Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus didn’t receive more attention.

What Johnson and Knaus achieved during 17 years together in a time when some driver-crew chief pairings barely last a season is remarkable in so many ways.

There is no question it was the worst season of Johnson’s career with no victories to show for his effort, but breaking these two up seems like overreaction. Yes, they had a bad year, but the entire Hendrick Motorsports team struggled until Chase Elliott found some consistency late in the season.

Maybe Johnson will find new life with Kevin Meendering calling the shots for the No. 48 team, but this change certainly makes it seem less likely Johnson will become the first eight-time Cup Series champion; a notion that seemed a virtual lock two years ago.

– While the IndyCar Series season was long over and NASCAR and NHRA were in the midst of playoff runs to crown champions, prestigious late-season short-track events were being run throughout the land.

Popular New York veteran Tim McCreadie, who won the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals and the World of Outlaws Craftsman Late Model Series championship in 2006, scored the biggest victory of his career when he topped the 48th annual World 100 at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway.

McCreadie’s No. 39 late model was towed to the race in an enclosed trailer behind a pickup truck and was surrounded by better funded teams with tractor-trailers hauling their equipment.

The son of legendary modified racer “Barefoot” Bob McCreadie banked $51,000 for winning late model racing’s most prestigious event.

– After years of Matt Sheppard and Stewart Friesen dominating the big-block modified portion of Super DIRT Week, fans at Oswego (N.Y.) Speedway were treated to a new winner as Larry Wight earned the $50,000 top prize for winning the Billy Whittaker Cars 200.

– Only a week after the death of Greg Hodnett, Lance Dewease scored one for the Pennsylvania Posse, banking $56,000 for winning the Champion Racing Oil National Open at Williams Grove Speedway. Dewease, who was inducted into the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame earlier this year, dedicated the victory to Hodnett.

– The buzz around the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas sure seems to have lost its steam in recent years. We didn’t even realize the Formula One Circus was on U.S. soil until the press releases relating to practice began arriving in our email. A far cry from the first couple years of the event.

– Steve Torrence’s dominant start to NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship will be remembered for years to come. The Top Fuel hot shoe won the first four races during the Countdown and as October wound down only one mystery remained: Could he win all six races during the NHRA playoff run? Stay tuned.