Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been in the news this week for all of the wrong reasons. He finished 40th at the Coca-Cola 600 and now his crew chief is on the hot seat. Today there is a story in the Dayton Daily News that serves as a reminder why Earnhardt Jr., in spite of his troubles, remains the sport’s most popular driver.

The story, entitled "NASCAR’s Dale Jr. elates a local boy," reads:

Mikey, 4, the son of Mike and Angela Jones, was born with a serious medical condition called VATERL Syndrome, which affects his vertebral, cardiac, trachea/esophageal and renal systems, and limbs. Mikey’s heart did not function properly. As an infant, Mikey underwent a large intestine resection, and at just 4 months old he endured open-heart surgery. But since the age of 4 months, Mikey has been delighted whenever NASCAR races showed up on television.

The Kids Wish Network arranged a meeting between Mikey and his favorite driver in South Carolina.

Mikey was tongue-tied at first and just kept handing Earnhardt items, including a wooden car that he had made for Dale Jr., and things to autograph. At the end of the meeting, Mikey overcame his fears, grabbed Dale Jr. by the leg and gave him a big hug, saying, “I love you, Junior!” Earnhardt smiled and patted Mikey on the back. “I love you too, buddy,” he said.

While watching the race, Mikey’s mother Angela said: “I’ve never seen him smile like that – it was the time of his life. He was on cloud nine the whole time!”

NASCAR’s Dale Jr. elates a local boy (Dayton Daily News)

Mikey’s racing dream comes true (Kids Wish Network)