Maybe the most popular driver in NASCAR would be worth a little ratings boost in 2018 to one of the sport’s broadcast partners.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans have had time to come to terms with the idea that Junior won’t be racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2018. Yet they still might get to see plenty of him each week anyway.
Sports Business Journal cites industry sources in its report that Earnhardt is talking to both Fox Sports and NBC Sports, calling it “the clearest sign yet that Earnhardt is close to a move to the booth.” While the 42-year-old driver still has some contractual obligations to appear in a few XFINITY Series races in 2018, it would not be hard for him to work around those and join one of the NASCAR broadcast teams on a regular basis next year.
The question is which one. Fox has the more star-studded ex-driver lineup of the two networks that cover NASCAR races, adding Jeff Gordon as an analyst alongside Darrell Waltrip and play-by-play man Mike Joy when he hung up his firesuit. That team also has Michael Waltrip, so it doesn’t appear to need Junior that badly, though it would certainly welcome him.
NBC doesn’t have nearly as glamorous a squad of announcers, and one would think that getting Earnhardt to join its team would mean more — especially since NBC Sports broadcasts the playoff races. Heck, fans might even stop dreading the midseason switch from Fox to NBC as many do now.
Interestingly, Earnhardt Jr. was not part of the all-driver broadcast Fox just puled off at the Pocono XFINITY race earlier this month, an experiment it says it’s willing to try again. Still, if Junior really wants to become a broadcaster, is anyone going to turn him down due to a lack of experience?
Not if they’re smart. Despite some understandable hand-wringing, NASCAR will be fine when Earnhardt retires thanks to an outstanding crop of young talent, but it wouldn’t hurt to keep him in a highly visible role. He’s likely had a microphone pointed at him more than any other current driver, so it’ll be interesting to see him on the other side of it, and it sounds like it could happen soon.