DETROIT — Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he found comments from Kevin Harvick “hurtful” over whether Earnhardt’s lack of championships while also being the sport’s most popular driver has stunted the growth of the sport.
Harvick, who has a weekly two-hour show on SiriusXM’s NASCAR channel, on Tuesday said it’s confusing to him that Earnhardt can be the sport’s 14-time most popular driver when he hasn’t won a title, compared to Jimmie Johnson, who has won seven.
“For me, I believe that Dale Jr. has had a big part in kind of stunting the growth of NASCAR because he’s got these legions of fans and this huge outreach of being able to reach different places that 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,” Harvick said.
“I know that those aren’t the most popular comments, but those are real-life facts that you look up and see on the stat sheet. Imagine how popular he would have been if he won two or three championships?”
“The growth in the sport has not reached the levels that it should have because our most popular driver has not been our most successful driver,” Harvick said. “… He hasn’t been anywhere close to our most successful driver.”
Earnhardt, at the Chevrolet unveiling of its 2018 NASCAR Cup Camaro ZL1, seemed surprised by the comments of the 2014 NASCAR Cup champion.
“I have an incredible amount of respect for him,” Earnhardt said. “I found some of those comments hurtful. I still respect him as a champion and ambassador for the sport.
“That’s just the way it is, I guess. I hate that’s how he feels.”
Earnhardt has won 26 races, including two Daytona 500s. The 2017 season will be his final one in Cup, and he sits 23rd in the standings, winless this year.
He disputed the notion that he has stunted the growth of NASCAR.
“I certainly hope that’s not the case,” Earnhardt said “I put a lot into this sport, and I know that I might not have met everyone’s expectations, but I certainly exceeded my own and I’m super proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish.
“I hope that I brought something to the table and left a good impact.”
Harvick replaced Earnhardt’s father when Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed in the 2001 Daytona 500, so he has a natural connection to Earnhardt Jr., in addition to driving for JR Motorsports from 2014 to 2016 in the Xfinity Series.
“I’ve got a unique type of respect for Harvick that’s different from most of the drivers because of his history and more recently with what he’s done with JR Motorsports — he brought an attitude and a commitment and a change in performance,” Earnhardt said.
“He brought new partnerships, just numerous, numerous things that he brought to our company that we still feed off of today and we still have success today because of that impact that he made at JR Motorsports.”