Earnhardt circles back to NASCAR for NBC
CHICAGO (TNS) — After years of driving round and round, NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed out of his car, joined NBC Sports and hit the road.
“We just haven’t said no to anything,” Earnhardt said one afternoon this week, shortly after appearances on the “Today” show, “The Dan Patrick Show” and “Megyn Kelly Today” but before beating Jimmy Fallon in a cooler scooter race on “The Tonight Show.”
En route to his scheduled debut as a regular race commentator at Joliet’s Chicagoland Speedway with the NASCAR Xfinity Series Overton’s 300 and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton’s 400, Earnhardt couldn’t have veered further afield than a dad refusing to pull over for directions on a family vacation.
So there was Dale Jr. as part of the network’s Super Bowl coverage from Minneapolis, then the Winter Olympics from Pyeongchang, South Korea, then the Stanley Cup Final. All that kept him from the Kentucky Derby was a detour to the delivery room, where he and his wife, Amy, welcomed their first child, Isla Rose Earnhardt.
And while racing fans awaited his return to NASCAR coverage, DIY Networks in June introduced “Renovation Realities: Dale Jr. & Amy,” detailing their efforts to rehab a dilapidated 150-year-old home on Florida’s Key West.
“Now we finally get to go to the racetrack and talk about racing for a change,” Earnhardt said. “I didn’t know what I was going to be doing once I got out of the car, how interested people would be to work with me and what opportunities would pop up.
“If we could fit it into our schedule and it sounded fun and made sense from a brand perspective, we chose to do it, and obviously there was a lot of stuff. The DIY show is a perfect example. Anytime you can get involved in something that’s completely out of the box, where people don’t expect to see you, that’s the best way to connect to new fans and create new fans.”
In some ways, it was a throwback to Earnhardt’s early days in racing, when he was trying to establish an identity apart from his legendary dad, Dale Sr., and was eager to jump on opportunities such as an appearance on MTV’s “Cribs.”
“We like to take NASCAR fans to new places, but it’s more mostly about trying to take NASCAR to places where it hasn’t been before,” Earnhardt said.
NASCAR could use a bump. NBC picks up its 20-race portion of the 36-race Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season with Fox’s ratings for its races reportedly down more than 20 percent from the 2017 season.
Earnhardt’s return to a familiar milieu if an unfamiliar new position in the booth above the track — discounting guest announcing he did while recovering from a concussion during the 2016 season — is being promoted by NBC as “Same Dale. New View.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is ready to slide into the next phase of his NASCAR career, this time as a broadcaster. He makes his anticipated debut in the NBC booth at Chicagoland.