There was a time when a pointed critique from Dale Earnhardt Jr., seemed to send papers shuffling inside the NASCAR officials' hauler. At least that was the perception, which alone is a powerful notion within the sport. NASCAR's most popular driver and crown prince at times seemed amused and empowered by that realization.
He equated launching beer cans with free speech when they rained upon the track at Talladega Superspeedway in April, 2004 after the field was frozen under caution in the final laps and Jeff Gordon coasted to victory, one spot ahead of the crowd favorite. Oddly, he mused how it might have been good that he finally got the bad end of a controversial decision.
But three months later, the green-white-checker rule took effect, eliminating such situations.
So Earnhardt's candid, measured assessment of the current Sprint Cup car last weekend would seemingly have some clout. Apparently not so much anymore. After his string of disappointing seasons, his fall from the ranks of the weekly competitive, is he just another voice in the garage? He, after all, and his family have been around this sport for a couple of years.
NASCAR president Mike Helton didn't sound very accommodating - borderline dismissive - in response to some of Earnhardt's suggestions.
"There's some frustration there that I think contributes to his comments," Helton said. "His dad would come in when he was having a bad stretch, he (would say), 'Man, I'd like to change something.' And I think that's what (Junior) was talking about."
Didn't sound like it.