Essentially, Harvick was suggesting that that Earnhardt's enormous popularity, in spite of on-track success, is preventing him - and the sport at large - from attracting new fans. "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".
"(Earnhardt) hasn't been anywhere close to being our most successful driver", Harvick said.
Harvick said he had just given his honest opinion in response to a fan question on social media about Earnhardt's performance in his final season of Cup competition. But he's won nine races in 10 years at Hendrick Motorsports and hasn't been able to reach outside of that.
Yet he will still end up being NASCAR's most popular driver for the 15th consecutive season despite the fact that this season has been arguably his worst ever, as he now sits in 23rd place in the championship standings as the second-lowest driver among drivers driving for top-tier teams, and he has just one top 5 finish (5th place at Texas) through 22 races so far this season. "Imagine how popular he would have been if he won two or three championships?"
Harvick, who has a weekly two-hour show on SiriusXM's NASCAR channel, on Tuesday said it's confusing to him that Earnhardt can be the sport's 14-time most popular driver when he hasn't won a title, compared to Jimmie Johnson, who has won seven.
Popularity of athletes in sports is generally driven by success. "And I didn't take anything that he said the week before personal, either".
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To date, he's won 26 career races, including the Daytona 500 twice.
"First off, I got a unique type of respect for Harvick that's different from most of the drivers because of his history and most recently with what he's done with JR Motorsports", Earnhardt said during the unveiling of the 2018 Camaro ZL1 Chevrolet will use in Cup next season.
"I certainly hope that's not the case", Earnhardt said, via ESPN.com "I put a lot into this sport, and I know that I might not have met everyone's expectations, but I certainly exceeded my own and I'm super proud of what I've been able to accomplish. So, I have an incredible amount of respect for him and I found some of those comments hurtful". "I brought something to the table and left a good impact".
Harvick replaced Earnhardt Sr.at Richard Childress Racing following his death in 2001.
"But I still respect him as a champion and ambassador of the sport", said Earnhardt. "I hate that's how he feels".