Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick are NASCAR’s most popular drivers. If their performances don’t start changing for the better, though, both drivers run the risk of being well-known for all the wrong reasons.
Both Earnhardt and Patrick were sent to the garage early Monday at Bristol Motor Speedway, as the drivers finished the Food City 500 38th and 36th, respectively. Both drivers have had issues staying on the track this season, but even when they’ve been able to actually finish a race, neither have done much to be successful.
Outside of his fifth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9, Earnhardt has just one top-15 finish in the other seven races. While many expected the Hendrick Motorsports driver be rusty after missing much of last season with a concussion, sitting 24th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings through eight races surely wasn’t what Earnhardt or his fans expected.
As for Patrick, given she’s still searching for her first NASCAR race victory, expectations understandably are a little bit lower. But with sponsorships issues during the offseason, as well as some questioning her relevancy, she needs to record some strong finishes this season. So far, she’s done the exact opposite. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has cracked the top 20 just one time in eight races, and currently sits 30th in the Cup standings.
Many people will say the two drivers’ situations are completely different, but that’s only somewhat true. Although Earnhardt has won races, so he has far less to prove than Patrick, he too could soon be walking the NASCAR-relevancy tightrope, as he has just seven victories in the last 10 seasons, the most recent of which came in 2015.
As a sport, NASCAR is actively trying to appeal to younger fans, and in many ways it’s succeeding. Drivers such as Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson are becoming more and more popular, and are outperforming many of the sport’s veteran drivers.
Sure, some older drivers, such as Jimmie Johnson, will stay relevant. But that’s because his success, including his second-straight victory Monday, is almost unprecedented.
Earnhardt and Patrick don’t need to win seven Cup championships, but they at least need to look like they belong. Right now, the only place they belong is at the bottom of the leader boards.
Thumbnail photo via Randy Sartin/USA TODAY Sports Images