Junior thinks 500 win would be big deal

February, 16, 2012

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- What would be bigger for NASCAR: Danica Patrick or Dale Earnhardt Jr. winning the 54th running of the Daytona 500?

The question was posed to Earnhardt as media day came to a close on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.

"ME! FOR ME!," said Earnhardt, his voice growing a few octaves higher than normal. "Hell, she don't drive for me in the 500, so it wouldn't make a difference for me if she won or not.

"But if I won it, it would be a big deal for me. As far as what everybody else thinks, everybody is going to have a different opinion on that."

It's an interesting choice to ponder. A win for NASCAR's most popular driver in the biggest race of the year, ending a losing streak that dates back to 2008, would be huge for the sport.

But so would a win for Patrick in a sport in which no woman has come close to Victory Lane in the "Great American Race." Imagine all the casual fans that would draw.

A Patrick win would make national newscasts that don't typically mention NASCAR. It would have immense historical significance, like Tiger Woods winning at Augusta National.

An Earnhardt win wouldn't be nearly as significant.

But Earnhardt wasn't thinking about what's good for the sport when answering the question. He was thinking about what is good for him.

"I'm frustrated we didn't win last year," said Earnhardt, who owns Patrick's Nationwide Series car. "I'm ready to get back to that. I want to win a race pretty bad. Daytona, this is probably the worst odds for me all year because of the way the racing is here.

"This is going to be a fun experience, but I'm looking forward to getting to Phoenix and the rest of the tracks to start getting control of my destiny and to start making things happen and start winning races."

Yes, you are reading correctly. Earnhardt, once the king of restrictor-plate racing, believes he's better off at non-restrictor-plate tracks. That says a lot about what he thinks about the tandem drafting and uncertainty of NASCAR's effort to return to the pack racing that made Daytona and Talladega so unique.

"I am looking forward to going to a track where I am driving the car and I can make a difference," Earnhardt said.

You can debate that, too.

But for now the debate is Danica or Dale Jr. winning at Daytona. Who do you think would be bigger for the sport?

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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