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Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Time’s up for NFL’s replacement refs

- sfowler@charlotteobserver.com
Wednesday, Sep. 26, 2012

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is many things – a racer, a team owner, an entrepreneur and a contender for his first Sprint Cup championship.

But for much of the fall he also is an NFL fan – a diehard Washington Redskins supporter who also plays in several fantasy football leagues and watches the league religiously.

So it isn’t surprising that Earnhardt had an opinion on the replacement ref controversy that reared up Monday night after the final play of the Green Bay-Seattle game.

“It’s not quite working,” Earnhardt said Tuesday of the replacement refs. “I think some action needs to be taken to shore up an agreement with the refs to where we can bring them back.”

“This season has a little asterisk next to it. It’s kind of stained in a way that’s irreparable. It’s frustrating to see this happen because there’s a lot of football fans out there that would rather things be different.”

When John Fox was the Carolina Panthers coach, he answered almost any question on any subject outside of football with a “No comment,” sometimes adding that he liked to “stay in my own lane.”

Earnhardt, thankfully, doesn’t do that. He is known as one of the best interviews in sports because he doesn’t stay in his own lane – on or off the track.

Earnhardt sits seventh in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings. It has been a very good year for him, but he has had a so-so first two races of the 10-race playoffs.

Said Earnhardt, who has been among the top three drivers for much of the year: “It ain’t coming to us. … I’m not going to paint it up like it’s all roses.”

But he still believes his team is in the hunt. Earnhardt Jr. has won NASCAR’s most popular driver award nine times in a row, but he still is searching for his first Cup title at age 37. His late father won seven championships.

Earnhardt has been much more of a factor this year, however.

Tuesday, he did a teleconference with reporters and then made an appearance at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in uptown Charlotte, where he answered questions from several hundred fans.

Besides Earnhardt’s take on replacement refs, these were among the most interesting questions and answers:

What does he like to cook? (He loves to grill steaks, experimenting with odd seasonings, and makes a mean Greek salad. Until a few days ago, however, he had never baked a potato.)

What is his favorite all-time race to watch? (The 1979 Daytona 500 – not just the end that featured a famous fight, but the entire thing, which he can describe in exquisite detail.)

What is he working on most as a driver? (His attitude – he didn’t like his “body language” after his most recent race but said it is “easier to bite my tongue than it used to be.”)

Will he ever get married? (He ducked it.)

What’s Danica Patrick’s real cell phone number? (He ducked it.)

Of the 10 questions the fans asked, none were about Earnhardt’s chances at the 2012 title. But that’s the biggest question of all. Because if Dale Jr. ever answers that one affirmatively, NASCAR will bask in one of the biggest jolts of positive publicity it has ever enjoyed.

Fowler: Twitter: @Scott_Fowler; sfowler@charlotteobserver.com

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