Dale Earnhardt Jr. And Kevin Harvick Discuss Harvick’s 2017 Comments Blaming Junior For Stunting NASCAR’s Growth: “That Hurt My Feelings So Bad”

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The year was 2017.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had announced his retirement in April of that year, and the rest of the NASCAR season served as a farewell tour for the sport’s most popular driver.

There was fanfare and tributes at just about every race after the announcement, and all the talk in the garage area and in the media center was about Junior’s retirement.

Until August.

On August 8, 2017, during an episode of Sirius XM radio show, Happy Hours, Kevin Harvick dropped a bomb that would immediately become the top headline in the media and the main topic of discussion in the garage area.

What did he say?

Well, he basically blamed Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for 15 years in a row, for hurting the growth of the sport.

“For me I believe Dale Jr. has had a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR because he’s got these legions of fans, this huge outreach of being able to reach these places none of us have the possibility to reach.

But he’s won nine races in 10 years at Hendrick Motorsports and hasn’t been able to reach outside of that.

I know those aren’t the most popular comments but those are real life facts that you look up and see on the stat sheet.”

Ouch.

Now, it’s no secret that Dale Jr. never had the success on the track that his father had. He never won a Cup Series championship (in fact the best he ever finished was 3rd in the standings way back in 2003) and he only won 26 Cup Series races during his 18-year career. And he didn’t win ANY races during his last two seasons.

But for somebody to come right out and say that the sport’s most popular driver, one with the last name Earnhardt at that, had hurt the sport’s growth was…huge.

And Junior admits that it hurt.

Harvick and Junior had come up through the ranks of NASCAR together. That had both entered the sport around the same time, and Harvick had taken over Junior’s dad’s car after the senior Earnhardt had been tragically killed at the start of the 2001 season. Harvick had even spent two years driving for Dale Jr.’s Xfinity Series team, JR Motorsports.

Hell, Harvick’s first date with his wife was in Junior’s basement.

So yeah, they had been big buds.

But what happened to change all of that and cause Harvick to go after Earnhardt Jr. during what was supposed to be a “victory lap” season of sorts before he hung up his helmet for good?

Well Harvick recently joined The Dale Jr. Download podcast, where he and Junior discussed the comments publicly for the first time – and tried to bury the hatchet.

Harvick admits that he probably didn’t handle the whole situation very well, but he also explained why he said it: He was pissed at comments that Dale Jr. had made the previous week about driver salaries.

It turns out Harvick was in the middle of contract negotiations with his Stewart Haas Racing team. But in the middle of those negotiations, Junior had spoken out on driver salaries and basically said that drivers getting paid lower salaries was good for the sport.

What exactly were Junior’s comments?

“You’ve got more drivers coming in being offered — and accepting — contracts that are a fifth to a tenth of what veterans are getting paid. And that’s money that can go into the team.

These sponsors aren’t giving teams the money they used to, so everybody’s got to take a little cut. Everybody’s got to dial it back. Everybody’s got to realize they’ve got to accept some of that difference.

You’ve got a guy who you think has got a lot of talent, very young, lot of potential — and a veteran who is established but he wants three, four, five, six times the amount of money. I mean, you’re going to go with a younger guy because it’s a better deal financially.”

So yeah, you can see why Harvick, a veteran driver who’s demanding a veteran’s salary in the middle of a contract negotiation for his job wouldn’t like those comments.

And Harvick admits that his comments towards Junior were meant to change the narrative with the media, who had begun questioning whether Junior had a point and whether drivers SHOULD actually be paid less.

“I was like, ‘Man, I thought he was on the drivers’ side.’ And then talking about salaries going down.

And I’m like ‘I’ve got to change the narrative of the conversation.’

We had the Happy Hours show at that particular time, and the narrative about drivers’ salaries was gone at that particular time because of everything that was said on the show…

I think as you look at that, taking a dig at the drivers and their salaries and everything that was said at that particular moment, that was just something that I didn’t want in the news and didn’t want that to be a topic of conversation.”

Harvick also admitted that he regrets handling it the way that he did, and regrets making the comments:

“I think as you look at that, definitely not the right way to handle all that…

It’s kind of like getting out of the car. You’re mad about what somebody says, and then you fire back and then you’re like ‘Well, can’t take that back.’

I’m not hiding from it, but…”

For his part, Junior said that the comments served as a painful reminder that he WASN’T winning as much as he should have been – especially coming from a close friend like Harvick:

“With your history – I mean, I’ve known you for a long time…but that hurt my feelings so bad.

And I knew you didn’t feel that way. I knew that you weren’t just having a general conversation, I knew it was a hatchet job because of what I’d said.

But I did want to fix it at some point.”

In the end, both Harvick and Junior admitted they could have handled things better on their end and agreed that they were ready to bury the hatchet and move on with their friendship.

And it only took 4 years to finally get it all straightened out.

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