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Monday, Jan. 23, 2017

The reinvention of Dale Jr.

Posted Thursday, September 20, 2007, at 10:24 PM

Will the business side of racing make Dale Earnhardt Jr. settle down?

NASCAR's fan favorite -- just think of him for a little while longer as '8' -- may be one of the sport's best drivers but he's been "sowing his wild oats," as the old expression goes, for quite a while now.

The man who once had a bar in his basement and Budweiser on his car as of Wednesday swigs Mountain Dew, a drink carrying an appropriate name for a sport with roots in moonshining but not bearing its namesake's punch.

And Dale Jr. arguably doesn't bear his namesake's power. Yet. Although among the top echelon of NASCAR and definitely a true winner, he's not quite as much of an intimidator as his dad.

I'd attribute that partially to personality differences and partly to the fact that Junior maybe enjoys the non-racing aspects of being young more than his more-focused father did. And who can blame him? You can't regain those years.

But soon '8' becomes '88' and, along with new car sponsors, will soon have his own candy bar and serve as a product pitchman for shoe and electronics companies. Oh, yeah, he'll also be driving the car in between promotional activities. And, when he wins, he'll have to pitch his sponsors immediately after risking his life for several hours. I'd call that pressure.

It's been said that soon-to-be-boss Rick Hendrick will make Junior change some of his casual ways.

Let's hope that '88' can remain his own man as much as possible. No need to strip away someone's personality completely just to boost their career.

Things may be coming together for '88' to be number 1 -- at least in the final standings. We'll wait and see.

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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.