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Earnhardt Jr. calls out NASCAR for sport's treatment of its followers

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. never wanted to be the voice of NASCAR, the one getting all the questions and shouldering the responsibility for speaking for teammates, colleagues and everyone else in the garage.

'I just wanted to drive, but that's not all there is to it,' Earnhardt said.

Not even close.

Earnhardt has figured that out, evidenced by all he's done leading up the Daytona 500. He took track promoters to task, suggested ways to make races more affordable to fans and even offered to drive for free if his team needed to cut costs in a foundering economy.

NASCAR's most popular driver the last six years, the guy who gained instant fame because of his iconic father and grandfather, has reluctantly accepted his position atop the sport.

'I feel like I take a big role in this sport,' Earnhardt said. 'I am glad to be part of this sport. I am glad to represent the sport, either on my good days or my bad days. I love being a part of it and whatever I got to shoulder that I feel is fair, I am fine with. If it isn't fair, I am not fine with it.'

Lately, Earnhardt has found more unfair.

He ripped track promoters last week for demanding more of drivers' time to help sell tickets. Bruton Smith, chairman of track conglomerate Speedway Motorsports Inc., and his chief lieutenant, Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage, criticized drivers for not helping create buzz and fill seats.

He thought track owners should do more to try to help fans, too. He suggested they buy or build hotels, so the tracks can control the rising cost of rooms during race events. It's a farfetched notion, but it shows how much Earnhardt wants to see change in a sport struggling to sell tickets at nearly every racing venue.

'I just wish it was easier to go see a race, and I want the fans to have whatever they want,' Earnhardt said.