Will There Ever Be A NASCAR Driver As Marketable In The Media As Dale Earnhardt, Jr.?

Every week in NASCAR predictions and picks, there is more than just a checkered flag riding on a race. The more victories a driver racks up, the more sponsorship and media opportunities that come with it. 

What is frustrating for many NASCAR drivers is that it’s not just winning that determines their popularity – although that definitely plays a factor. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., for example, had 26 wins in his NASCAR career, which is definitely good but not all-time elite (31st in history). 

Earnhardt Jr. also has a net worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 million. Joey Logano has the same amount of wins in his career as Earnhardt, Jr., but his net worth is “only” $44 million. Many factors go into what a driver earns, but media marketability is definitely a factor. 

Earnhardt, Jr. was the Perfect Superstar

Make no mistake, Earnhardt, Jr. was/is a great driver, but he also had opportunities that very few other personalities in NASCAR have ever – or will ever- have in history. Earnhardt, Jr. is the son of the late Dale Earnhardt, “The Intimidator,” who was one of the most popular drivers in history. The Senior Earnhardt tragically passed away on the track after a wreck in the February 2001 Daytona 500. 

It’s not the best way to get it, but Earnhardt Sr.’s death significantly improved Junior’s popularity. After Senior’s death, generations of #3 fans jumped over to support the #8 Budweiser car. 

Earnhardt, Sr. rubbed many people the wrong way – literally, as he’s probably the most famous example of the phrase “rubbin’ is racing.” Junior is much more mild-mannered, which added to his popularity, but he still had a confident edge, often wearing his hat backward like another Jr., Ken Griffey. 

Mountain Dew, Wrangler, Nationwide Insurance, the National Guard, Cessna, Chevrolet, Budweiser, and High Rock Vodka are just some brands that have partnered with Junior over the years. He also appeared in the movie BASEketball, the series Arli$$, and voiced himself in King of the Hill

Other NASCAR Drivers Have Appeared in Movies 

One of the big struggles with increasing driver popularity is that it’s hard for the average fan to know who is who considering their faces are covered in a helmet and crammed in a car. Besides the Earnhardt’s, if you show the average person a picture of a driver, the only ones they could probably pick out are Danica Patrick and Richard Petty. 

Even though the current crop of NASCAR drivers may not be household faces, they are still getting out there. Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, and Daniel Suarez all made cameo appearances as Uber drivers in the movie Stuber, and Austin Dillon and his wife have their own reality show, Life in the Fast Lane.

Maybe one of the reasons the average citizen is losing touch with NASCAR familiarity is that there hasn’t been a really good racing movie since Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Earnhardt, Jr., Darrel Waltrip, and Jamie McMurray all had cameos in that film, while Petty, Rusty Wallace, Neil Bonnett, and Harry Gant were all in Days of Thunder before that. 

The retired, back-flipping Carl Edwards was one of the more media-savvy drivers in recent years, appearing in Chicago Fire, Royal Pains, Guiding Light, 24, and the Bill Engvall show, among others. Logano and Brad Keselowski appeared in the blockbuster Sharknado 3.

Since NASCAR drivers aren’t really that familiar among the general public, they often get scripted to wear their racing uniform or sit in front of a banner with their name on it. You don’t have to do that with an Odell Beckham, Jr. or a Bryce Harper cameo, but maybe NASCAR will get to that point someday. 

There are plenty of young drivers to lead the charge of appearing in movies and TV, but it really doesn’t look like there will be another Earndhardt, Jr. for a while.

Photo by Andrew Roberts on Unsplash


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