With Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring as a full-time driver after the 2017 NASCAR season, a huge fan base will soon, effectively, enter free agency.
You can bet other NASCAR drivers have ideas on how to win Dale Jr. fans over to their cause.
“If I was running first and he was running second, I could let him win,” Ricky Stenhouse Jr. joked. “That would probably get a lot of his fans for next year.”
Stenhouse Jr. added a win in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona last weekend to his earlier victory this season at Talladega. He was slated to start Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 Presented By Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway in the 18th position.
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A vital challenge for NASCAR going forward, Stenhouse Jr. said, is to keep Earnhardt Jr. fans engaged with racing.
“There is definitely going to be a void there with him not racing,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “The way I look at it, I doubt there is going to be any one person who is going to take all those fans. I think it is important for us to keep them (as) fans of the sport, engaged with what we are doing.”
Stenhouse Jr. figures his wins at Talladega and Daytona, tracks synonymous with Earnhardt Jr. and his family, should boost his bid to woo Junior Nation.
“(Earnhardt Jr.) gained a lot of his fans at those two racetracks,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “I figure winning there can’t hurt.”
Dale Jr. finds ‘ease of mind’
Even with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s pending retirement, he says little has changed when he is at the racetrack.
“It’s business as usual, to be honest,” Earnhardt Jr. said.
Away from the track, however, Earnhardt Jr. says the fact that he will no longer be a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver after this season has changed some things in his life.
“I think that, during the week, things aren’t quite as tense or there is a little more ease of mind knowing there is a definite end point,” he said. “So, during the week, I think I’m a little more relaxed and able to not stay so wound up like I used to be.”
No IndyCar talks
The IndyCar Racing series ran at Kentucky Speedway from the year the track opened, 2000, through 2011. The open-wheel series put on some of the most entertaining racing in Kentucky Speedway history.
The bumpy original racing surface in Sparta likely got too rough for IndyCar. Now that the track has been repaved twice, that obstacle has been removed.
Yet it does not sound like IndyCar will be back in Kentucky any time soon.
“There’s nothing going on,” Kentucky Speedway General Manager Mark Simendinger said Saturday. “We haven’t even had the first IndyCar test here yet. We had a couple (scheduled) that got cancelled.
“So I have nothing to report on (IndyCar).”
Louisville native Ben Rhodes led five laps and won the first stage in Thursday night’s Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 in the Camping World Truck Series.
Rhodes, 20, appeared to have a truck capable of challenging for a victory. However, a wreck early in stage two ended Rhodes’ night after 41 laps. He finished 27th.
After starting Saturday’s rain-delayed Alsco 300 Xfinity Series race 28th, Owensboro native Jeff Green finished 37th after ignition problems sidelined his car after 53 laps.
The best finish in a NASCAR-sanctioned race at Kentucky Speedway by a native Kentuckian remains the fifth place finish by Owensboro’s David Green, Jeff’s older brother, in 2007 in a trucks race.