Dale Earnhardt Jr. still No. 1 in souvenir sales, but Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick make big gains

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. may soon start hearing more footsteps of Austin Dillon closing in on him.

Maybe not so much on the racetrack, but certainly in online souvenir memorabilia sales, according to a story in the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

While Earnhardt is going for his 12th consecutive Most Popular Driver Award this season, he also continues to be No. 1 driver on the NASCAR.com Superstore list of online souvenir and memorabilia sales.

But Dillon is climbing fast, going from 22nd last season (his last in the Nationwide Series) to 10th this season (his rookie Sprint Cup campaign).

Blake Davidson, vice president of licensing and consumer products for NASCAR, explained Dillon’s surge in an email response to the News-Journal.

“There was a lot of anticipation and excitement about having the No. 3 back on the track,” Davidson said. “Here we had a very talented, up-and-coming driver in Dillon behind the wheel of a car owned by his grandfather, Richard Childress, with the number that Dale Earnhardt made famous.

“Those are great storylines. Dillon had already won two NASCAR Nationwide Series championships, so he’d built a sizable fan following before he arrived at the Sprint Cup Series.”

Citing figures provided by the NASCAR.com Superstore, the News-Journal reported that seven of the top 10 drivers with the hottest selling merchandise changed positions from the 2013 year-to-date listing.

The biggest climbers in the rankings were Dillon (up 12 spots), Kevin Harvick (five spots) and Jeff Gordon (one spot).

Dropping in the rankings from 2013 to 2014 were Tony Stewart (two spots), Danica Patrick (two spots), and one spot each for Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards.

We don’t know if it’s a coincidence or not, but four of the top eight drivers on the list race for Hendrick Motorsports.

In addition, eight of the top-10 drivers are powered by Chevrolet. Sixth-ranked Kyle Busch (Toyota) and ninth-ranked Carl Edwards (Ford) are the only non-Chevy drivers on the list.

What are the hottest-selling items?

“Die-cast replicas and apparel (t-shirts, hats, jackets) are the two most popular categories,” Davidson told the News-Journal. “The die-cast is kind of like our sport’s jersey — it represents an authentic replica of what is on the track. Those have always been a major item for fans.

“We offer the very same hats that drivers are wearing themselves, so that creates a connection between the fan and driver. (And) the Daytona Rising Collection gives fans an opportunity to take home a piece of track history, including the actual seats where they may have once sat to watch the Great American Race.”

Here’s the breakdown, with this year’s rank, driver name and last year’s year-to-date sales ranking (source: NASCAR.com Superstore):

1) Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 1 in 2013)

2) Jimmie Johnson (No. 2 in 2013)

3) Jeff Gordon (No. 4 in 2013)

4) Kevin Harvick (No. 9 in 2013)

5) Tony Stewart (No. 3 in 2013)

6) Kyle Busch (No. 6 in 2013)

7) Danica Patrick (No. 5 in 2013)

8) Kasey Kahne (No. 7 in 2013)

9) Carl Edwards (No. 8 in 2013)

10) Austin Dillon (No. 22 in 2013)

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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.