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08/10 2017

Kevin Harvick says Dale Earnhardt Jr. has stunted NASCAR’s growth

jimmie johnson signs nascar extension hendrick motorsports through 2020

Kevin Harvick believes that Jimmie Johnson should be NASCAR’s most popular driver.PHOTO BY LAT PHOTOGRAPHIC

THE 2015 CUP CHAMPION BELIEVES JIMMIE JOHNSON SHOULD BE MORE BELOVED

BY:   MATT WEAVER

Kevin Harvick believes that Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s struggles on the track have prevented NASCAR from reaching its peak popularity.

Speaking on his weekly “Happy Hours” SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show, Harvick said he believed attendance and television numbers would be stronger if the sport’s 14-time most popular driver was a perennial contender.

“I’ve been totally shocked by the vibe of Dale’s last year,” Harvick said. “I really thought it was going to be tons of fans showing up to the racetrack, buying crazy amounts of souvenirs and the souvenir sales aren’t up for the sales that he has in his last year so far. The crowds really haven’t changed. In my opinion, it’s been from his lack of performance. He hasn’t performed well in the race car.”

Earnhardt has struggled mightily in his final full-time season. He is currently 23rd in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship standings and has posted a career worst 22.0 average finishing position through the first 22 races.

“It’s a funny situation when you talk about his last year and what you thought it would be,” Harvick said. “It’s the strangest situation that we have. In my opinion, this is where I think some of the growth in our sport has not reached the levels that it should’ve because our most popular driver hasn’t been our most successful driver. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won the most popular driver for however many years in a row … But he hasn’t been anywhere close to being our most successful driver.”

Earnhardt has won 14 most popular driver awards but has yet to win a championship. He does have 26 career victories only more than two four times in his 19-year career. However, he did earn back-to-back Xfinity Series championships in 1998 and 1999.

“He hasn’t been anywhere close to being our most successful driver,” Harvick said. “For me, I believe Dale Jr. has had a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR because he’s got these legions of fans, this huge outreach of being able to reach these places none of us have the possibility to reach. But he’s won nine races in 10 years at Hendrick Motorsports and hasn’t been able to reach outside of that. I know those aren’t the most popular comments, but those are real life facts that you look up and see on the stat sheet.”

As a result, Harvick believes that seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson should be the most popular driver.

“It’s really confusing to me,” Harvick said. “In my opinion, Jimmie Johnson should be our most popular guy because he’s won seven championships. You look at the souvenir sheet every week and he’s (ranked) three, four, five coming off a championship year of what he sells in souvenirs. That part, to me, is a little bit confusing.”

Johnson has always been well-liked in the garage but has enjoyed variable popularity with fans who rarely enjoyed the decade of dominance that included seven championships in 10 years.