Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s popularity waning?

July, 14, 2011

Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't just slipping in the Sprint Cup standings. He is also slipping in popularity.

NASCAR's most popular driver over the past eight seasons dropped out of the top 10 of the recently released Harris Poll listing America's favorite male sports stars.

Earnhardt was ranked as high as fifth in 2004 and 2006. In the past four years he has gone from sixth to eighth to 10th to out.

In the past four weeks, Earnhardt has fallen from third to eighth in the Cup standings with finishes of 21st, 41st, 19th and 30th.

But all isn't bad news for Earnhardt. Danica Patrick, who drives part time for his Nationwide Series team, held strong at third on the female list behind tennis sisters Serena and Venus Williams.

Patrick's star power is yet another reason NASCAR is so excited that she is considering a full-time move from the IndyCar Series to stock cars in 2012. She will likely drive a full Nationwide season for Earnhardt's JR Motorsports and a handful of Cup races for another team, perhaps Stewart-Haas racing, which, like JRM, is connected to Hendrick Motorsports.

The other good news for Earnhardt is that he's headed to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where he has finished fourth and eighth in his past two starts, and where he has 10 top-10s in 23 starts and a respectable average finish of 16.8.

Earnhardt shouldn't feel too badly about dropping out of the Harris poll, either. LeBron James fell from sixth to out, Brett Favre from fourth to out and Tiger Woods from first to fifth.

New York Yankees star Derek Jeter, who recently collected his 3,000th hit, moved into the top spot by way of the 2,163 adults surveyed online from June 13-20.

And Earnhardt isn't concerned with popularity as much as he is with making the Chase with only a 21-point advantage over 11th place and no wins for wild-card security.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer


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