Was it really necessary?

That's what I keep asking myself after Kevin Harvick decided it was time to smack Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the mouth in response to a question "Happy" received on his weekly Sirius XM radio show.

"For me I believe Dale Jr. has had a big part in stunting the growth of NASCAR because he's got these legions of fans, this huge outreach of being able to reach these places none of us have the possibility to reach," explained Harvick. "But he's won nine races in 10 years at Hendrick Motorsports and hasn't been able to reach outside of that. I know those aren't the most popular comments but those are real life facts that you look up and see on the stat sheet."

"I certainly hope that's not the case," Junior responded, admitting it was hard not to take those biting words personally. ""I put a lot into this sport, and I know that I might not have met everyone's expectations, but I certainly exceeded my own and I'm super proud of what I've been able to accomplish. I hope that I brought something to the table and left a good impact."

He added, "I have an incredible amount of respect for him and I found some of those comments hurtful. I still respect him as a champion and ambassador for the sport. That's just the way it is, I guess. I hate that's how he feels."

So, instead of punching back, Dale Jr. has chosen the high road. He's gone so far as to say he understands how Harvick might not have liked what he said at Watkins Glen about driver salaries. Also, while he'd like to communicate with him, Junior is not looking for an apology.

"I'd appreciate a conversation, if we can have a conversation about it," said Junior. "I know Kevin, known him for a longtime, and I feel like it would be great to sit down and discuss what he said, what he meant. We can even talk about my conversation from the Glen that he didn't like."

All this leaves me asking myself did Harvick come up with a nugget of truth no one else dared to say? Or did he take a swipe at the 14-time Most Popular Driver out of anger or even some kind of jealousy? And why did this need to be said now while everyone is celebrating Junior's final races as a full-time Monster Energy Cup Series driver? Couldn't it wait until after the season or next year?

 No one's ever heard anyone say Dale Jr. has hurt the sport. As a matter of fact, most give him credit for expanding the NASCAR universe as one of the savviest drivers using social media on just about any platform you can think of.  Let's also not forget when his father died he was part of the glue that held the sport together, while having to deal publically with a big personal loss. I can't think of anyone who would have wanted to deal with the death of a parent that way.  Junior accepted that was his fate and handled it as well as anyone else could under the same circumstances.

Junior was also able to build a bridge between the hard core Southern fans put off by NASCAR's expansion across the country and a group of new fans he brought to racing with a hip style that was all his own.  He found a way to be country and rock and roll all at the same time. How many people in the United States or the world don't know little or nothing about NASCAR, but know who Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is? The answer is millions.

I concur with Harvick there might be a few more "fannies" in the seats if Junior had found his way to victory lane more, but there's nothing about the sport's recent downturn in attendance that can be directly linked back to the third-generation driver.  I also agree with Harvick these are troubling times, but I wonder how bad it could have gotten without Dale Jr. and his willingness to shoulder the load he was given to carry.

Thank goodness we didn't need to find out.