During his retirement press conference on Tuesday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was asked who the NASCAR world should be excited about as it ventures into a future without him on the track full-time.
The 14-time most popular driver’s response was lengthy, but he went out of his way to name four drivers.
Then Earnhardt listed off Wood Brothers Racing’s Ryan Blaney and Roush Fenway Racing’s Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., who competes in the Xfinity Series.
“You see the stuff that Blaney and Bubba do, and they’re not afraid to really show their personalities,” Earnhardt said. “That’s completely different than any of us older guys. We’ve never been like that. So this is a new batch of guys that are going to do things in a new way. They’re going to bring a lot of color and excitement and energy to the sport. We’ve just got to get them in front of the fans, let the fans get to know them, and I think the rest will take care of itself. But I’m thrilled. We definitely have tons of talent. There is no question. But I love the people they are.”
Blaney, the son of former Cup driver Dave Blaney, has an unique relationship with Earnhardt that’s been in the spotlight this year. Blaney is neighbor of Earnhardt’s and lives on property he owns.
Their friendship was slightly strained after incidents at Phoenix and Martinsville.
On Friday at Richmond International Raceway, Blaney addressed the “positive and negative” to being endorsed or even talked about by the biggest figure in the sport.
“I have seen both sides of that this year to be honest,” Blaney said. “From the Phoenix and Martinsville deal to him saying that stuff. He has a very big impact of what people think, whether it is fans or in the garage area. Him talking up younger drivers or the sport in general is going to get his fans excited about the future of going forward even though he won’t be driving next year.
“What he says will be very important. I know he has always said great things about the sport and drivers in it and been very positive which makes him a great person and great ambassador for the sport. It means a lot to hear him say those things. Like I said, I know he says that about a lot of young drivers and try to set everything up for the future, but it is nice to be a part of that conversation when he speaks.”
Larson, who is in his fourth full Cup season with Chip Ganassi Racing, said it is ” pretty cool to be in that category” created by Earnhardt.
“Hopefully we all have a lot of Junior’s fans kind of dispersed to cheer for us and don’t just leave the sport totally,” Larson said. “It’s going to be interesting to see, with him retiring, how it changes the sport, popularity-wise. It could be good. It could be bad. Who knows? I think all of us young guys are ready to kind of fill in his shoes a little bit.”