Sport: Dale Earnhardt Jr. knows how NASCAR can make a comeback - - PressFrom - US
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Sport Dale Earnhardt Jr. knows how NASCAR can make a comeback

21:00  09 august  2018
21:00  09 august  2018 Source:   freep.com

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.© David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images Dale Earnhardt Jr. NASCAR is making a comeback — at least according to Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The former racecar driver and current NBC broadcaster acknowledges NASCAR hasn't been the same recently, but has a feeling the sport is back on the rise.

"I'm puzzled, as most people are, about the perception of our sport today," Earnhardt Jr. told the Free Press. "What I do know, though, is that this season and since this last offseason, there's been a change in the air. I know that's cliche, but I don't know how else to explain it because I can't point to anything tangible. But there's been an energy in the races when I'm watching them.

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"I think that we are doing amazing work as a broadcast team. I think the damn product on the track is perfect. I couldn't ask for anything more over the last several weeks. If we keep doing that week in and week out, we're going to make it back."

Earnhardt Jr., who will call the Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday, was arguably the face of NASCAR for a long period of time. During his 19 years behind the wheel, he was voted the most popular driver by fans 15 consecutive times (2003-2017), won 26 races and had 149 top-five finishes.

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"I've always been honest, and I would say in the first half of my career there was a lack of focus. There were a lot of races won and good moments, but there were some missed opportunities," said Earnhardt Jr. "I don't want to be too hard on myself because it's hard not to do that in everything. ... I think it's fair to say my career was cut short due to injuries that I've sustained. But I don't know if there was a lot left either."

During his racing career, Earnhardt Jr. drove alongside other popular personalities like Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards.

Johnson is the only one still competing.

Earnhardt Jr. believes today's drivers have plenty of personality and wonders why that hasn't increased the sport's popularity.

"When I look at the drivers, there are a lot of really colorful personalities, there really are. The drivers are all engaged in social media with the fans way more than I did when I was young," Earnhardt Jr. said.  "It shouldn't feel that way, but it does. Just pulling names out of a hat, knowing Brad Keselowski, and Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson and all these guys the way I do, they're not bland people. They're all very dynamic people."

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Earnhardt Jr. has watched every race this year and says the racing isn't the problem.

"There's an energy there that's new. There's an urgency that's new," he said. "Those guys are driving their guts out and it's giving us some freaking amazing content and some awesome finishes. ... Outside of Kentucky, every race has been a bombshell. As far as the product on the race track, it's great. It really is."

When asked for solutions to help NASCAR make a comeback, Earnhardt Jr. mentioned concerts the night before races and carnivals outside the tracks. He'd also like to see the venues become more appealing to young people.

"If you look like our race tracks and the experience of going to a race, not much about it has changed," Earnhardt Jr. said. "There's a lot of little details that makes that experience for someone that is 18-25 years old, that we never really picked up on. ... You need an environment that's fun from start to finish. We won for so many years in the '80s and '90s off of the pure racing product, and while that still matters and that's the primary piece of the ticket, I think in today's world you've got to offer a little bit more bang for your buck."

Earnhardt Jr. has seen a switch this season in NASCAR. And while he knows it's going to take some time, he believes NASCAR is heading in the right direction.

"It's not going to be overnight. We're not going back to our peak by November," Earnhardt Jr. said. "But it's in the process of remembering what NASCAR was in its peak in the 2000s. ...  I feel like we're on our way."

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The Brickyard will serve as the finale of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season for the first time this year.The retired NASCAR star and NBC analyst will lead the field in the pace car to start the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next month.

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