Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Fan Favorite or NASCAR Favorite?

Ben BombergerSenior Writer IFebruary 15, 2009

As I sit here and watch the 51st running of the Daytona 500, I am perplexed. It's no breaking news that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the sport's most popular driver throughout the garage, but it appears he is also the untouchable son of NASCAR as well.

Before I continue, let me say that I am an Earnhardt Jr. fan. But what happened Sunday evening with 75 laps remaining was uncalled for and if it had been any other driver, I think a penalty would have been assessed.

Earnhardt's woes began early in the race when he missed his pit box and fell to the back of the field. After working his way back up through the 43-car field, Earnhardt appeared to have recovered nicely.

Another pit stop, another problem for Earnhardt. As he entered the pit, the right front drivers tire was on a the line—a violation that requires the team to either reposition the car or take a one lap penalty.

For some reason, the team opted not to reposition the car (it appeared they thought they were good, though the official was waving his hands the whole time) and served a one-lap penalty on pit road.

The penalty dropped Earnhardt off the lead lap and as the cars headed for the green flag, he and Brian Vickers battled to be the first car one-lap down.

Earnhardt got an amazing run and attempted to cut inside of Vickers. Vickers moved down the track and forced Earnhardt below the line. The move apparently angered an already ill-tempered Earnhardt, who then retaliated by spinning Vickers in front of the entire field.

Not only did the wreck take out Vickers, but also the day's most dominant car, the No. 18 of Kyle Busch.

While it could be said that Earnhardt was simply racing, it appeared he intentionally hit Vickers in the rear of the Red Bull Toyota to spin him out.

The wreck was eerily reminiscent of a last lap wreck that involved then-Hendrick Motorsports driver Vickers, Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt.

Earnhardt and Johnson were racing for the lead when Vickers spun them both and went on to capture his only Cup Series win.

Now I'm sure Earnhardt fans are going to say that he was just racing, but as a fan myself, it appeared to me that he wrecked him on purpose. Only Earnhardt knows his intentions.

During the red flag, Fox Sports spoke with Earnhardt who said, "I got a run on [Vickers]...he saw me coming. I went to the inside, I didn't try to make a late move or make a surprise, I just eased over there and he went to block me."

He continued to say that he was aggravated by the penalty he got from his tire being an inch on the line and that NASCAR needed to look at that rule as well.

Are you listening NASCAR? Your only son has spoken!

While Earnhardt said he wasn't upset that Vickers got wrecked, he did feel bad for taking out the other cars.

When asked if it was accidental, Earnhardt said, "Yes, it was accidental. I don't want to wreck the field."

Vickers was angry that a penalty wasn't handed down to Earnhardt and spoke of a Nationwide Series penalty enforced on the No. 38 car the night before in which Jason Leffler was penalized five laps for a similar move on the race track.

So should Earnhardt have been penalized? Apparently, NASCAR didn't think so and remember, they make the rules.

On a side note, the wreck is even more proof that NASCAR has got to fix the rule allowing lapped cars to lineup inside the leaders.

While it was announced earlier this week that NASCAR had changed the rule to single file restarts within 20 laps (instead of 10), it still isn't enough.

Busch said it best after being interviewed following his wreck Sunday. Though he was just "playing" with his teammate and working his way back to the front, he was taken out by two lapped cars.

Honestly, I can understand Busch's frustration. You are doing everything right, when you get taken out by two guys who should have dealt with their differences away from the track.