If Dale Earnhardt Jr. ever needs another NASCAR driver to empathize with, he need only seek out Danica Patrick.

Earnhardt recently has been in a war of words with Kevin Harvick, who said Earnhardt’s immense popularity in spite of some uneven on-track success has stunted the growth of NASCAR. But Patrick, whose star power is massively disproportionate to her winless stock-car resume, isn’t buying it.

In a recent interview with Popular Speed’s Tom Jensen, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver was asked whether one driver realistically could raise the bar for NASCAR, and her response was pretty revealing.

“I think Dale did (raise the bar),” Patrick said told Jensen. “I’m a little bit defensive of situations like that, because I am more popular than my results. And it’s not my fault — if that’s the right way to say it. It’s not as though I’ve done something to steal something, you know what I mean?

” … The fact is, Dale would have loved to have won every race he entered into, just like I would. But that’s not the way it goes, so then it goes beyond that to a personality.”

She’s right. Although she and Earnhardt first and foremost are professional drivers, it’s their personalities and endeavors away from NASCAR that allow them to transcend the sport. But there are noticeable differences between the two.

Patrick’s off-track business ventures are well-documented, and anyone who wants to know what she’s up to at any given moment need only visit her incredibly busy Instagram account. Now, Earnhardt’s no social-media slouch, and he’s certainly not camera shy, but there’s a bit more mystery attached to him, and Patrick thinks that’s made a huge difference.

“Dale, while he has some personality traits that are reserved and definitely not available, it’s also what I feel makes him sought after,” Patrick told Jensen. “Because he’s elusive and you don’t really know that much about him.”

With his retirement from NASCAR on the horizon, we’ll soon learn just how much Earnhardt means to the sport. And it might not be long before we also can put Patrick’s career into perspective.

Thumbnail photo via Matthew O’Haren/USA TODAY Sports Images