Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Thursday he isn't to blame for stunting NASCAR's growth, rejecting the "hurtful" theory put forward earlier this week by 2014 NASCAR Cup Champion Kevin Harvick.
“I have an incredible amount of respect for him,” Earnhardt said of Harvick, according to ESPN’s Bob Pockrass. “I found some of those comments hurtful. I still respect him as a champion and ambassador for the sport.
On Tuesday, Harvick argued on his SiriusXM radio show that Earnhardt is partially responsible for "stunting the growth of NASCAR," noting his popularity far exceeds his success. Nearly two decades into his NASCAR career, Earnhardt has 26 wins, but the North Carolina native has never won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
“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?”
Concussion problems limited to Earnhardt to 18 races last year, and the two-time Daytona champion hasn't won a race since 2015 – a stretch, according to Harvick, that has contributed to NASCAR's lackluster growth.
“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.”
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