Junior needs a relief driver

Published 10:13 am Monday, January 22, 2018

It’s going to seem strange in another month when “Speed-Weeks” begins. Right now, I’m wondering how a trio of NASCAR drivers are going to scratch their ‘Daytona Itch’.

Four plus weeks away from the green flag dropping at the World Center of Racing, and right when most Cup drivers are finishing up their pre-season testing, getting ready for FanFest at Charlotte Motor Speedway, or doing that last-minute DIY around the house before their day jobs begin, it won’t be so for Danica Patrick, Matt Kenseth, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 2018.

This week, Danica learned that one of her former sponsors, internet domain-name company GoDaddy, will pony up the money for her ‘Danica Double’ races in the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500; after which she says she’s hanging up her fire suit for good. While there were times I agreed with some that her presence in the sports was more show than substance, I think she came to every track every week ready to race. But you can only mire in mediocrity for so long.

But how lucky can a girl be? Turns out she’s on the rebound from Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. by now dating Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

As for Kenseth, he wins the next-to-last race of last season (Phoenix) and then drives his last ride a week later. Before I say there’s no justice in racing, I also want to go on record as believing we haven’t seen the last of Carl Edwards (2017 retiree) behind the wheel either.

Hard to believe that unless someone gets the late Dale, Sr’s, grandsons Bobby or Jeffery, a Cup ride for the 500, this will be the first year since 1979 that an Earnhardt has not raced at Daytona. Well, the boys’ uncle, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., won’t be behind the wheel, either.

But before you feel bad for Junior, he’s going to be super-busy this February. First, he’ll join Bob Costas and company in Minneapolis at Super Bowl LII; then, he’ll be traipsing the frigid steppes of South Korea at the Winter Olympics. Not a bad bunch of gigs if you can get ‘em.

Meanwhile, earlier this week, Junior, who’s walked away from plenty of hard crashes during his recently-retired racing career, found himself on the short end of what I’m calling a turpentine war.

Wednesday afternoon he was out for a drive at his home near Charlotte, which received several inches of snow. After stopping to help a motorist that had run off the road, Junior skidded on an ice patch in his pick-up, and – in his words – “center punched a pine tree.” He then unashamedly posted his mishap to the Twitter-verse primarily to assure his fans and followers that he’s OK.

“NC stay off the roads … five minutes after helping these folks I center-punched a pine tree,” Junior wrote. “All good. Probably just needs a new alignment.”

Besides, we can’t laugh at Junior’s pain too much: after the first Good Samaritan incident, he went right back to helping another motorist stuck in the snow. No Instagrams this time; turns out this lucky soul was a cop. Added to misery, or notoriety, depending on your perspective: Joe Gibbs’ driver, Daniel Suarez also ran off the road, too; skidding in his Lexus.

Maybe this was an early warning since Junior is probably going to be facing something like he experienced Wednesday when he gets to Minneapolis and Pyeongchang. My advice to Junior is find a relief driver right now who also speaks Korean.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.