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NASCAR: Why It Needs Dale Earnhardt To Win

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
AP
Dale Earnhardt Jr.

With a Bud Shootout and Gatorade Duels victory, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 2-for-2 in non-point races, which should come as a relief to NASCAR executives.

The statistics on Earnhardt are scary. In his last 114 real races, Earnhardt has won only twice. That's a winning percentage of 1.75 percent. Anyone else who has that winning percentage in sports isn't even close to marketable.

But Earnhardt still has the juice. How do I know? I was stupid enough to ask that question in Novemberand 85 percent of readers told me that his lack of wins didn't hurt his marketability.

But I do believe his absence from victory lane has hurt NASCAR. Take a look at NASCAR's average television audience below:

YEAR VIEWERS

2004 10.4M
2005 10.7M
2006 7.9M
2007 7.3M

Ratings are down everywhere, so to say in a vacuum that NASCAR viewership is down doesn't really mean much. But last year NASCAR chairman and CEO attributed some of the decline to Earnhardt.

"It would have helped if he would have been competitive," France said last November. "He didn't win an event and he certainly didn't make our playoffs. And that's unhelpful if you're trying to build ratings."

The are several others counting on "Little E." Adidas is a big player. They're making Climacool gear and other merchandise that they will begin selling at Sports Authority stores across the country today.

It will test if fans will buy anything Dale Jr., as none of the adidas stuff has any of the sponsor logos on it.

Then there's the sponsors of course. We'll be keeping a close eye on Amp, the energy drink owned by PepsiCo . Here's the market share data as of now, according to Beverage Digest:

Energy Drink Market--2007

Monster 28 percent
Red Bull 25 percent
Rockstar 15 percent
Full Throttle 8 percent
Amp 6.5 percent

Amp is in the exact same place it was when it signed Earnhardt in September. So what would be considered a major victory for 2008?

Said Beverage Digest publisher John Sicher: "In a fast growing category like energy drinks, if they gain a point or two (in market share), that's a major accomplishment."

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com

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