Love to hate 88

Clearing the boards: Dale Jr. answers his cybercritics

Updated: May 3, 2012, 1:30 PM ET
By Ryan McGee | ESPN The Magazine

Dale Earnhardt Jr.Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesHeading into Talladega on May 6, Earnhardt's winless streak stands at 138 races.

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Sure, he's been named NASCAR's Most Popular Driver nine times. Yes, through eight races this season, he was sitting pretty in the top five, giving Junior Nation something to crow about. But Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s critics always have plenty to say, especially about whether the Intimidator's son truly deserves the racing spotlight. Junior's victory drought of nearly four years provides plenty of ammo for message-board taunts. We asked Junebug to respond to some of his most vocal detractors.


"It is more important to him to be buddies than win a race. Tony Stewart will spin out his mom to win. JR, be more like Tony." Posted on bumpdrafter.blogspot.com
EARNHARDT: "It's easy to be aggressive when your car is good. But you can't be aggressive when you're sitting there trying to hang on to your ass all day running 25th. Hell, you're just going to piss everybody off. When the car's good, I can be more aggressive, and I'm willing to do that. I get fired up and see opportunities and see the win right there in front of me, and I can get aggressive. Every driver is that way when they smell that opportunity. We just hadn't been good enough for a while for me to be like that. Now we are."

"The reason he's doing better now is that his problem was between his ears." Posted on a nascar.com forum
EARNHARDT: "I do take it very hard when we're struggling. I feel a lot of pressure because I know I'm lucky to have a lot of fans, and I feel like I let them down. But I think any racer will tell you that confidence is huge. Right now I have a lot of confidence in my cars, my team and my crew chief [Steve Letarte]. All that definitely creates more confidence in myself."

"Is it just me or is Junior's beard getting out of hand? He looks like Opie from Sons of Anarchy. Do you think it will be too hot come summer? I saw him on ESPN and thought I saw an eagle nesting in it." Posted on Yahoo's NASCAR From the Marbles
EARNHARDT: "This sounds like my mom; she and my sponsors like me to stay clean-shaven. During the winter, when I'm off their radar for a while, I'll grow the beard out. Then when it's time for the season to start, I'll pop up with it and they get irritated. If I have a lot of sponsorship appearances coming, I'll trim it up. Fans either hate it or love it, and they tell me all the time. It can be really annoying inside the helmet because it's itchy, but otherwise it's great. And we're running good, so I ain't shaving it."

"Without his name, he'd be racing around go-kart tracks on weekends." Posted on SceneDaily.com
EARNHARDT: "I've been hearing this my whole life, especially when I was a kid. And then when I started racing, back on short tracks, guys would try to wear me out about it. But my dad made all us kids work for everything. We built our own late-model cars back in the day. Me and my brother would work on them at night after I'd been changing oil at the car dealership all day. And once I got in the car, if I hadn't had some success somewhere along the way, my name wouldn't have helped. Not even Dad would've put up with me."

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Ryan McGee | email

ESPN The Magazine, NASCAR