NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell on life after Dale Jr.

One of the hot topics in the wake of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement announcement has been: Is NASCAR in trouble?

It’s a fair question, because the up-and-coming drivers don’t seem to have the same sort of big, magnetic personalities drivers like Earnhardt, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon had.

There are a lot of opinions on this, but a very important one comes from NASCAR itself. Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and the guy who basically runs the show these days, attended Tuesday’s news conference and answered a few questions afterward, saying he was optimistic about the future of the sport.

Among his answers:


— The current crop of young drivers do have personalities that will attract fans, O’Donnell believes, but “they’ve got to win” more often in order for fans and media to recognize that.

“People like winners,” he said. “We’ve taken some steps in the Xfinity Series to move out some of the Cup drivers. The reason for that is we want drivers exposed to winning — (then) they’re interviewed more, people get to see their personalities.”

O’Donnell said there’s “no doubt” the drivers’ personalities will be exposed as they start to have more success.

— It’s one thing for NASCAR to be more involved with developing personalities and scheduling TV show appearances or similar opportunities, but there’s only so much the sanctioning body can do. At some point, O’Donnell said, the drivers have to step up and “take those personalities outside the sport.”

“It’s important for us to work together, but it’s also on the drivers,” he said. “They’ve got to want to do some of these things outside of the sport to help grow the sport as well.”

— O’Donnell is comforted by the fact Earnhardt isn’t going away and wants to remain part of the sport. He believes Earnhardt can continue to help NASCAR develop the young drivers’ personalities, both as an Xfinity Series team owner and other ways that haven’t yet come to light.

In addition, O’Donnell feels Earnhardt will continue to give feedback on NASCAR’s direction (as Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon have in retirement).

“He’s not hesitant to send you a message every day on, ‘Here’s what I thought about the race’ or ‘Here’s some ideas you all need to explore,'” O’Donnell said. “He cares about the long-term health of the sport. And I think the other drivers he’s interacted with, especially the younger drivers, see that and know that’s important going forward.”

10 Replies to “NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell on life after Dale Jr.”

  1. Can’t remember which race it was when Larson was heated (for him) in an interview. Needs to show that passion more and he should be the next big thing. A few years ago I started rooting for him along with Jr, just because I wanted to have a succession plan in place. I’m glad I did cause damn is he fun to watch. Plus it doesn’t totally ruin my day if Jr has a bad day. Still have someone to watch. But, I will say last year’s chase once he was out it really did affect how much attention I paid.

    1. I agree! I started following Larson because I knew Dale would eventually retire. I really like him , super talented! So Dale retiring is not that traumatic for me as I have been following two drivers for awhile.

  2. what personality does Dale Jr have? lol that’s an understatement if you ask me …NASCAR isn’t in trouble because he’s retiring it’ll be in trouble if they keep changing rules and formats ….

  3. So offensive to the other drivers when others are claiming the son of a icon is retiring. Big freaking deal, what has he done lately? The sport will be healthy with the talent currently. The issue is not the talent, or personalities it is directly related to what Brian France and his greed is doing to the sport. Time will tell. But to say the tents are going to fold because of Junior is leaving is an insult to fans who support other drivers and the greater drivers who actually defined the sport in the past and made it what is is. Brian France’s is the problem manipulating and meddling the sport, lining his greedy pockets at the expense of a great American tradition is the problem, not the natural ebb and flow of drivers coming and going.

  4. The very last point is critical. Junior will definitely have NASCAR’s ear in the future — and I hope he takes advantage of that. He made a comment in his Dale Jr. Download podcast last week about the All-Star Race format changing every year, making it impossible for the fans to even understand what’s going on. Junior has a way of delivering that honest feedback on behalf of the fans without coming across mean-spirited. France, Helton and O’Donnell should pick up the phone next year when Junior calls to talk racing.

  5. Hey Steve ODonnell recall when you sold out drivers personalities (Kurt Busch Daytona suspension etc) and leveraged fan loyalty for corporate sponsorship deals?

    How’s that works out?

  6. You continue to amazement.
    Great SUMMARY ON BIG NEWS. Longer email will follow, but I’m too busy right now to write it. Alan

  7. (lost it, starting again)

    Alan’s vid broke me up, will try later to finish reading other links here & do an email to ya. Keep doing what you’re doing!

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