Dale Jr. still NASCAR’s best hope for gaining mainstream fans


Earlier this month on its website, Forbes released a story that will be in its Sept. 23 issue on Danica Patrick’s impact on NASCAR so far in her first full-time season of Sprint Cup racing. As you’d expect from that particular magazine, there’s a lot written about Patrick – and NASCAR as a whole – from the business and marketing perspectives.

It’s a well-written story from the author, Kurt Badenhausen. But the headline could be something more than a few race fans will take issue with: “A Winning Danica Patrick Is NASCAR’s Biggest Hope To Restart Growth.”

With all due respect to Forbes, if Patrick is indeed NASCAR’s biggest hope to return to its not-too-distant salad days, they’re going to have to hope for a little while longer.

Restrictor-plate racing notwithstanding, Patrick is not a regular contender for victory. At most tracks, she’s still just trying to gain experience. In time, she could be something pretty good in Cup, but there’s still a ways to go before she gets to that point. Let’s see where she stands around mid-season next year.

So if Patrick’s not NASCAR biggest hope, then who is it?

Come on. Who else could it be?

A winning Dale Earnhardt Jr. remains NASCAR’s best opportunity to augment their diehard base with the casual and mainstream fan. Unfortunately for the series, its biggest star – while competitive enough to run in the Top 10 most weeks – hasn’t been doing a lot of winning lately, with just two victories in the last seven seasons.

But while Earnhardt has cooled off a bit after starting 2013 strong, he’s still in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, which begins this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. And he has the opportunity to make a statement when it truly counts.

That’s the beauty of the playoffs in all of sports. You may be having an iffy year by some standards (maybe even your own), but if you can still make the post-season, you have the chance to catch fire at the right time.

One minute, you’re an afterthought. The next, you’re a champion.

And should Dale Jr. become a champion this fall, NASCAR would indeed reap the benefits. While he has been unable to win regularly, he remains the most popular driver in the sport by a considerable margin.

And more importantly, if you walked out on the street and asked any Tom, Dick and Jane if they knew of any NASCAR drivers, he’s still likely to be one of, if not the first name to tumble out of their mouths.

Should Patrick improve by a noticeable margin in the next year or two, perhaps Forbes’ assertion will come true eventually. But at this point and time, Earnhardt is the one NASCAR executives should be crossing their fingers for to do well.

IMSA: Sebring victories for ESM, Porsche, and Paul Miller Racing

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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A thrilling final three hours of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring saw the lead change hands multiple times and fuel strategy even come into play in the run to the checkered flag.

In the end, Tequila Patron ESM rebounded from early-race heartbreak – the No. 2 Nissan DPi dropped out after contact in Turn 1 – to take a Prototype victory with the sister No. 22 in the hands of Pipo Derani, Nicolas Lapierre, and Johannes van Overbeek.

GT Le Mans honors went to the No. 911 Porsche 911 RSR for Porsche GT Team after Patrick Pilet passed the No. 62 Ferrari 488 GTE of Toni Vilander to take the lead, and co-driver Nick Tandy held the lead through the final stint to seal the victory for Pilet, third driver Frederic Makowiecki, and the Porsche team.

The GT Daytona victory went to Paul Miller Racing in the No. 48 Lamborghini Huracan GT3, with drivers Bryan Sellers, Madison Snow, and Corey Lewis.

Reports on all three classes are below.


A terrifying accident for the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R, in the hands of Tristan Vautier, set the stage for what looked like a late-race shootout between ESM, Wayne Taylor Racing, Mazda Team Joest, and Action Express Racing.

A cycle of pit stops saw the No. 31 Whelen Engineer Racing Cadillac take the lead, with Felipe Nasr at the helm, ahead of Pipo Derani in the No. 22 ESM Nissan.

However, Derani, who held the lead prior to the pit sequence, made quick work of Nasr on the subsequent restart to retake the lead, and he took off into the darkness from there to win by over 11 seconds.

Renger Van Der Zande brought the No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Cadillac home in second, a solid rebound after the team failed to finish the Rolex 24 at Daytona, while Nasr ended up third after having to save fuel on the last stint.

Mazda Team Joest seemed poised to challenge for victory with their No. 55 RT-24P, but a clutch problem that saw them struggle to exit the pits reared its ugly head again after their final stop, with driver Harry Tincknell unable to get the car going and losing a lap in the process. Tincknell ended up sixth at the checkered flag.

Of note: the aforementioned Vautier was not hurt following his massive crash, in which the car pushed out wide exiting Sunset Bend and made hard contact with the outside tire barriers, launching the car into the air on impact.

Vautier did climb from the No. 90 Cadillac unscathed, however the car was destroyed on impact. The incident ended a promising run for the Spirit of Daytona squad, which had been running inside the Top 5 after starting the race on the pole and leading early on.

GT Le Mans (GTLM)

The finish looked set to come down to a Porsche vs. Ferrari duel, as Porsche GT Team and Risi Competizione battled for the GTLM victory in the final hours. Toni Vilander had the Ferrari in the lead with less than two hours remaining, but had a hungry Porsche driver in Patrick Pilet all over the back of him.

Eventually, Pilet was able to draft his way by Vilander on the Ulmann Straight, and co-driver Nick Tandy held the lead after taking over the car from there.

BMW Team RLL then emerged as a threat in the final hour, with Alexander Sims getting up to second the No. 25 BMW M8 GTLM, but could not get close enough to Tandy to mount a challenge, finishing more than six seconds behind.

Laurens Vanthoor brought the No. 912 Porsche home in third to put two Porsches on the GTLM podium.

Risi Competizione, with Alessandro Pier Guidi finishing the race, faded to fifth, with Ryan Briscoe in the No. 67 Ford GT from Ford Chip Ganassi Racing getting around for fourth.

GT Daytona

Paul Miller Racing enjoyed a comparatively smooth run to the finish, controlling the GTD lead for much of the closing stages, with Bryan Sellers having a strong final stint to seal the victory by a margin of over eight seconds.

The win is also an emotional one for the Paul Miller team, as it is their first triumph since 2016 and comes at one of the marquee events for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

Alessandro Balzan put on a late-race charge in his No. 63 Ferrari 488 GT3 to finish second for Scuderia Corsa, while defending race winners Mercedes-AMG Team Riley Motorsports rounded out the podium, with Jeroen Bleekemolen bringing the car home in third.

Of note: Michael Shank Racing appeared to have a shot at the win following an effort of herculean proportions. The team’s No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 was destroyed in a practice crash on Thursday – driver Justin Marks suffered rear-brake failure and pounded the tire barriers in Turn 13.

The No. 93 team skipped qualifying to ensure the car was repaired sufficiently for the race, and their efforts were rewarded with a very strong performance that saw them leading as the final three hours began.

The sister No. 86 also ran strongly, running as high as third in the final hours.

However, both cars faded over the final stints, with the No. 93 finishing seventh and the No. 86 ending up eighth.

Results by class can be found here – overall race results can be viewed here.

IMSA continues its 2018 season with the Bubba Burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach on April 14.