Last December, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick had a conversation that was four years in the making. For the 2021 season finale of the Dale Jr. Download podcast, Junior welcomed Harvick on the show to discuss comments he made in 2017 that Earnhardt played "a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR." According to Harvick, his dig was a reaction to what Earnhardt had said about NASCAR drivers' salaries during his farewell tour.
Clearly, Earnhardt's comments and Harvick's response to them had hurt each driver in different ways, more so than any on-track feud could have, and nearly ruined a longtime friendship. Thankfully, they were able to sort things out.
If you remember anything about Earnhardt's final full-time season in the NASCAR Cup Series, you know that he was getting dragged into the media center each week to answer a whole host of questions. And these weren't cookie-cutter questions, either. During a media appearance at Watkins Glen, the conversation turned to drivers' salaries and Earnhardt gave his honest assessment, saying that said younger drivers "taking smaller contracts" was good for the sport, since more money would go to teams and keep the business sustainable. In other words, it freed up the money that the vets were asking for.
Well, Harvick was a veteran driver and also in the middle of negotiating a contract, so Earnhardt's comments definitely didn't sit well with him.
"For me, I was like, 'Man, I thought he was on the drivers' side -- and then talking about salaries going down," Harvick told Earnhardt. "And I'm like, I've got to change the narrative of this conversation.'"
Harvick did just that, and then some, when he appeared on his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show Happy Hours and went in on Dale Jr. and his NASCAR career.
"I think some of the growth in the sport has kind of been, has not reached the levels that it should have because our most popular driver hasn't been our most successful driver," Harvick said. "Dale Earnhardt Jr. has won the most popular driver for however many years in a row, and he has been our sport's most popular driver, but he hasn't been anywhere close to being our most successful driver. And when you look at other sports, and when you look at basketball, and you look at football, and you look at their most popular drivers, they're also right at the top of the list as their most successful drivers.
"So for me, I believe that Dale Jr. has had a big part in kind of stunting the growth of NASCAR because he's got these legions of fans and this huge outreach of being able to reach different places that 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 that those aren't the most popular comments but those are real-life facts that you look up and see on the stat sheet."
Harvick went even further and implied that Junior's overall popularity relied more on his pedigree, namely being the son of Dale Earnhardt Sr., than his performance on the track.
"Imagine how popular he would have been if he had won two or three championships," Harvick said. "That's what this is all about. His dad was popular because of the fact that he won seven championships, and he was out there grinding every week. That hasn't happened."
During the podcast, Earnhardt admitted that while Harvick's comments hurt him immensely, he also understood where he was coming from and wanted to use their time together as an opportunity to clear the air.
"I texted you after I heard about the comment, and I said, 'Damn, that sucked,'" Earnhardt said. "And you said, 'It probably made you feel the way I feel about your comments.'"
"You know, I've used this show for a long time to talk to people that I have these differences with. My feelings are hurt or I've had a fight or an argument. Me and Kyle Busch, somehow got in that studio over there and had a conversation and we get along OK. I wouldn't say we're best friends and we don't go to dinner but we're good. With your history, I've known you for a long time, and I want to talk about that hurt my feelings so bad when you did that. And I knew that 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. I hope that beyond today we can both agree that it's regrettable and get back to being friends."
Fortunately, Harvick wanted to patch things up just as much as Junior did.
"That's the one thing about this sport that most people don't know," Harvick said. "You have to be around people and you have people that you have a lot in common with that sometimes, and I think for me, I choose to almost be silent and just go away from things and not talk about them and just not be around them. And that's probably, all the time, not the right way to do it. For me, I say stuff that you look back on, and you're like, 'Oh my God, why in the world would you say that?' I think as you get older, you start to -- I'm the same way, it's good to fix those things."
Considering all the things that Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick went through together during their racing careers, it's awesome that they were able to look beyond a petty disagreement and go back to being friends again. Some things are just bigger than NASCAR.