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Kevin Harvick believes Dale Earnhardt Jr. shouldn’t have been as popular as he was based on the fact he never won a title, a mindset Earnhardt didn’t appreciate.
“I have an incredible amount of respect for him,” he said of Harvick, per Bob Pockrass of ESPN. “I found some of those comments hurtful. I still respect him as a champion and ambassador for the sport. That’s just the way it is, I guess. I hate that’s how he feels.”
Harvick started the controversy Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio by saying Earnhardt has had a negative impact on racing.
“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.
Earnhardt, who is set to retire at the end of the 2017 season, has only one top-five finish in the sport’s top series in the last 10 years. Despite this, he has earned NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver award for 14 straight years, including last season when he missed half the year due to injury.
On the other hand, Harvick won the championship in 2014 and is far from a household name. Even Jimmie Johnson with his seven championships isn’t as well-known among casual fans as Earnhardt. Still, the fan favorite doesn’t believe his popularity has hurt the sport.
“I certainly hope that’s not the case,” Earnhardt said. “I put a lot into this sport, and I know that I might not have met everyone’s expectations, but I certainly exceeded my own and I’m super proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish. I hope that I brought something to the table and left a good impact.”
Although much of his built-in popularity came from his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., fans don’t seem to care as much about success on the track as Harvick would like.