Commentary

Junior on Kyle comparisons to Dale Sr.: 'Give my dad a little more credit'

Kyle Busch is no Dale Earnhardt -- at least off the track. "Give me a break. You know my dad better than that," Junior told reporters Thursday.

Updated: May 9, 2008, 1:33 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a message for all those on the Internet and around office water fountains comparing Kyle Busch to his father after Junior's run-in with Busch last weekend at Richmond International Raceway.

Yes, they are similar on the track with their aggressive styles.

Off the track?

"Personalitywise, they're totally opposite," Earnhardt said Thursday between practices at Darlington Raceway. "Give me a break. You know my dad better than that. Give my dad a little more credit."

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

If I start trying to outrun him and beat him in every practice just to prove a point, I'm going to start wadding up race cars. He's fast. He's an amazing race car driver with a lot of talent.

-- Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Richard Childress, Earnhardt's car owner for six of his seven championships, agreed.

"The personalities are definitely different," said Childress, who tried to recruit Busch to drive for Richard Childress Racing this season. "Kyle is a great race car driver. He's got a tremendous amount of ability. He'll grow into being more patient and poised as he gets old.

"I don't think there is a comparison, personally. Maybe some of the things that happened in their career could be. But as far as comparing the two, they're totally two different people."

To those who disagree -- and there are those who do, including writers who have covered the sport for more than 15 years -- Earnhardt said, "They didn't know him."

The conversation came up at the end of Earnhardt's hauler chat. It was a continuation of the incident between Earnhardt and Busch battling for the lead in the closing laps at Richmond.

Both drivers have said it was the product of hard racing. Many fans, particularly those upset that the accident extended Earnhardt's losing streak to 72 races, believe it was the result of Busch's driving like the senior Earnhardt did to earn the nickname "The Intimidator."

"He's fast. He's running well. He's quick. He's aggressive," Earnhardt said of the 23-year-old Busch. "This is Dale Earnhardt from '89 and earlier. See, Daddy quit doing that stuff after a while."

History says otherwise. In 1999, Earnhardt spun out Terry Labonte on the final lap for the win at Bristol. Fans booed him unmercifully as he headed for Victory Lane.

Afterward, Earnhardt said he didn't mean to cause the wreck, "but I wanted to rattle his cage."

Labonte didn't buy the explanation.

"He never has any intention of taking anybody out," Labonte said at the time. "It just happens that way."

Many of those who profess to be fans of Dale Sr. now once booed him because of his aggressive style. Some might have actually hated him.

"That's the reason them grandstands were black back then because he had such a following," Childress said. "And with such a following like Dale had, you're going to have people that don't like you as well."

Childress added that Earnhardt was just as aggressive before he died on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 as he was early in his career.

"It wasn't so much he pissed them off," he said. "He drove just as hard after that. I think people more expected it."

Busch is in a similar love-hate relationship with fans. That he's in a brewing rivalry with Dale Jr., the driver who replaced him at Hendrick Motorsports this season, only intensifies that.

"We've sort of pinned ourselves in that situation with the changes that we've made," Junior admitted.

Booing or not, Busch said he simply has a job to do.

"You go out there, you get introduced, you put your sponsor's nameplate on your chest and you stick it out there and you keep your heads held high, stay proud and go out there, do your job and let your racing do your talking," he said.

There was plenty of talking Saturday at Richmond. It was so heated that Rick Pigeon, a member of Earnhardt's pit crew and a former member of Busch's, angrily confronted Busch after the race.

"In that situation, I guess Pidge felt personal about it," Earnhardt said. "But it was important that we didn't show our tails. We don't want to embarrass ourselves. We've got a lot of fans that appreciate how to handle yourself, conduct yourself properly.

"It was a bad deal. Wasn't nothing I could do after the race was over with to change how bad a deal it is."

Earnhardt refrained from bashing Busch after the race, saying he wanted to see the television replay before saying anything. Although he said the accident could have been avoided, he didn't pin all the blame on Busch.

Busch, despite a few cracks at Earnhardt Nation on Saturday night, refrained from attacking NASCAR's most popular driver during Monday's test session at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C.

"That's the best I've ever seen him handle a situation," Earnhardt said. "It's good to have rivalries. If he's going to be the guy to beat, which I think he is right now, everybody is going to be watching his lap times and how fast he runs and stuff.

"When you're doing so good, there's a bit of a bull's-eye on you. I think he knows that."

Busch has won twice this season in the Cup series and leads the standings. He has won seven times for Joe Gibbs Racing among the Cup, Nationwide and Craftsman Truck series. He was fastest in Thursday's first practice.

Take that a step further, Busch has six wins in his first 124 Cup races. Dale Sr. had seven wins and a championship at the same point.

Dale Jr. can't concern himself with the comparisons to his father or to him.

"Mentally, you handle your business and you don't let it become a distraction," said Earnhardt, who was third-fastest in the first practice. "If Kyle outruns me or beats me or wrecks me and wins the race, I can't let that … I've got to go out next week and concentrate on what I'm doing.

"If I start trying to outrun him and beat him in every practice just to prove a point, I'm going to start wadding up race cars. He's fast. He's an amazing race car driver with a lot of talent."

He's just no Dale Earnhardt, at least off the track.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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