Earn­hardt cir­cles back to NASCAR for NBC

The Standard Journal - - NATIONAL SPORTS - By Phil Rosen­thal Chicago Tribune

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.”

/ AP file-Terry Renna

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.

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