Has Dale Earnhardt Jr. Hired His Replacement as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver?

Danica Patrick recently made the announcement everyone expected. The GoDaddy.com spokeperson, and current Indy Car driver will compete in NASCAR fulltime beginning in 2012. However, what no one is discussing is could the man who will be her boss next season, Dale Earnhardt Jr., have actually brought in the one person who could end his reign as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won the award the last eight years in a row. He has done this despite not winning in Sprint Cup competition since June 15th of 2008 at Michigan International Speedway. In fact, in 2010 while driving for one of the elite teams in NASCAR, Hendrick Motorsports, where his teammates were Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmy Johnson, he only managed a 21st finish in the season-long point standings. Meanwhile Jimmy Johnson was capturing his fifth consecutive Sprint Cup championship.

Much of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s popularity stems from his legacy. He is the son of one of the sport’s legends, Dale Earnhardt Sr., who tragically lost his life on the last lap of the sport’s most famous race, the Daytona 500. Earnhardt Sr.’s fans immediately latched on to Dale Jr. as the driver they would now support.

That support becomes most evident any time Dale Jr. can manage to take his Amp Energy Drink/National Guard Chevrolet to the lead of a race. While at a track, or while watching on television, you can tell purely by crowd noise when he has gotten to the front, something not seen with any other driver. It is that same support through fan votes that has led him to be NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver eight years in a row.

Now, for the first time in almost a decade there may actually be a challenger for the award. The ironic part is that she actually works for Dale Jr. Danica Patrick, much like her NASCAR boss, has achieved an incredible amount of popularity not for what she has done on the track, but rather off it. She has appeared in the very popular GoDaddy.com commercials, often very sexily dressed, or surrounded by other partially-clad women. The ads run during not only races, but also events such as the Super Bowl.

Danica, despite what some may think, is not all show, and no go. She has won an Indy Car race, and even led the Indy 500 in it’s late stages. However, her popularity, much like Dale Jr., is for other reasons than just her driving talents.

Patrick, if all goes as planned, should become a full-time driver on the NASCAR Sprint Cup level in 2013. By the end of that season we may just have a new Most Popular Driver, and her name will be Danica Patrick. Wonder if the first person she will thank will be Dale Earnhardt Jr?

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