By HEATHER WILLIAMS
2:53 PM CDT, June 18, 2012
Tony Stewart may not think it's a national holiday, but Junior Nation sure isn't hearing that. People I didn't even know were NASCAR fans were Facebooking and tweeting about Dale Earnhardt, Jr's win on Sunday. And tv outlets that never even give NASCAR a second thought, or in the case of ESPN, only throw it a courtesy bone on SportsCenter, were all the sudden taking notice. The biggest name in NASCAR, picked up his first win in four seasons.
"It's a big deal for me," said Earnhardt, Jr. "But I like seeing, you know, I like seeing the smiles on everyone else's -- on everybody else's face. I'm going to enjoy this and I am enjoying this. It's so awesome to see how many other people it affects and how many people are affected by that kind of what happened today."
Just to give you idea how much of an impact has on the sport, I did a story about 10 years ago where a NASCAR merchandiser told me that Junior makes up about 75% of their sales. My guess is, with the evolution of Jimmie Johnson in the sport, that number is a little smaller these days, but based on the reaction he gets at every track I've ever been to, my guess is it's not much.
"I don't know what it means for him personally to get that win but I know that even if he acts like it's not," said points leader Matt Kenseth. "It's probably a burden, having all your fans talking about you and writing stuff about you and not winning, but this year, you could see it was going to be a matter of time. Really they have been the guys all year."
That burden has been lifted, if only for a week. Junior has never been much of a road racer, so repeating in Sonoma this week will be tough. But as for the rest of the season, there really is no reason why he cant keep winning. They have been a solid team all year long and a real contender for the championship.
"Today really solidifies and justifies our efforts and we can move forward to try to do more, do more good things. I think this is really great for everybody," said Junior.
And national holiday or not...there is joy in Junior Nation this week, and with good reason.
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