Cleat Geeks

Pole Position Prophecies: Why Kevin Harvick is Wrong

By now everyone who either follows or is involved with NASCAR has heard Kevin Harvick’s comments about NASCAR’s growth (or lack there of) and Dale Earnhardt Jr’s role in that growth. On his radio show Harivick essentially said that since Jr is NASCAR’s most popular driver but isn’t finishing up front each week that his lack of success has “stunted” NASCAR’s growth. Of course Jr nation didn’t take those comments to well, but Jr himself took the high road saying that while the comments were “hurtful” he still respected Harvick and his role in the sport. Regardless of whether the comments were out of line or not the question has been raised: does Harvick have a point, or are they as wrong as they are controversial?

Overall Harvick’s point isn’t necessarily wrong, it is probably true that had Dale Jr won 7 championships like his father did there would likely be more fans in NASCAR than there currently are. The problem is, to attribute one person’s lack of success with the entire sports short fallings and stagnant growth is incredible flawed for a number of reasons. 1) Though Jr has far and away the most fans in the sport, he does not hold the majority of the the sport’s total fan numbers. Jr’s merchandise numbers and fan numbers are still well under 50% of the sports total fan numbers and merchandise sales. This means that while Jr. does hold significant sway with fans in isn’t nearly enough to dictate how the sports operates or grows. 2) Jr’s popularity hasn’t stopped other drivers from growing their fanbase. Chase Elliott quadrupled his merchandise sales numbers from his rookie year to his second year a rate of which so it’s obvious that other drivers still have the ability to attract fans if they are likable enough. Dale Jr . doesn’t even have the most twitter followers of any driver as Jimmie Johnson has 2.53 million followers to Jr’s 2.23 million.

3) It’s unfair and flawed to pin the entire hopes and the entire future of the sport on a single driver as Harvick has done. Football’s fans did not leave when Peyton retired and they won’t when Brady retires. Hockey didn’t fold when Gretzky retired, and Baseball did not fold when Ken Griffey Jr., Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, or Barry Bonds retired because those sports are bigger than just the success of the individuals involved. If NASCAR’s future really does live by one single driver than NASCAR would be doomed anyways as the Jr’s fans would leave NASCAR whether he’s a champion or not and that is a failure on NASCAR itself to not do a better job growing and diversifying it’s fanbase and not Jr. 4) NASCAR’s shrinking fanbase problems have been discussed before. USA today on July 1st of last season asked 200 fans who reduced the number of races they’ve attended the reason why and the three most common reasons given were the overall cost of the trip, constant rule changes have alienated the more traditional fans, and the fan experience at the tracks have changed, and not for the better. All of these are reasons that would still be present regardless of Jr’s success. And 5)  Jr’s numbers are looked at from a skewed point of view. 26 wins, 256 top tens, and 2 Daytona 500 wins to any normal driver is a perfectly fine career, not mind-blowing, but respectable enough. But since Jr. inherited his father’s fanbase, the fanbase of a driver that had 76 career wins and 7 championships, Jr. was and is unfairly expected to match is father’s success which dwarfs Jr’s accomplishments. As the driver that got his Cup start BECAUSE of dale Sr’s unfortunate death, If Harvick was compared to Dale Sr. in the same light his 36 career wins and single championship would also pale in comparison.

The bottom line is that Harvick’s statement is not only wrong but also revealed some truth behind the reason for the statement, and that’s jealousy. To blatantly call out a fellow driver that has rarely, if ever, said a negative thing about any of his fellow drivers for something he has had no control over makes it look like Harvick sees his numbers, sees Jr’s numbers, and believes he should be more popular and tried to find a not so obvious way to say as much. NASCAR’s shrinking fanbase comes from too many ineffective rules changes, the retiring of the drivers that made the sport as popular as it was, and the replacement of those drivers with drivers like Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and yes, Kevin Harvick who’s attitudes have also alienated NASCAR’s more traditional fans. Whether you believe Jr. has lived up to expectations or not, Whether you believe Jr. is really all that talented or not makes no difference, Harvick’s statements are out of line, untrue, won’t increase his fan following no matter how much he wishes it so.

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