After the generalized exhaustion of my last two weeks (five days at racetracks, two Saturdays of commutes from one track to another, etc.) we’re going to do something a little different in this space. Don’t worry; we’ll still critique Sunday’s Pocono 400 later this week. But the fact I was at the race covering it, not watching on TV makes it a little difficult to turn around so quickly.
So instead, we’ll turn to perhaps the biggest NASCAR person of note that has entered the world of television in 2018.
That man is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt returns to NASCAR television Wednesday after taking time off for the birth of his daughter, Isla Rose, at the end of April.
Earnhardt Jr. has had an interesting year. He traveled to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea and took the experience in. He’s made appearances on various NBC programs, including the “WednesDale” edition of NASCAR America. Admittedly, that show actually recalls the NASCAR Now roundtables that used to air on Mondays which Allen Bestwick led.
Saturday night saw the premiere of Renovation Realities: Dale Jr. & Amy on DIY Network. Here, the Earnhardts and a small battalion renovate a 150-year-old home in Key West. If anything, Amy’s more the star of that show than Dale since her primary profession is that of an interior designer.
Heck, last night, Earnhardt also appeared on NBC during Game No. 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Vegas Golden Knights and the Washington Capitals. He’s not the only NASCAR personality to appear on TV during the Stanley Cup Finals as Kurt Busch was at Game No. 1 in Las Vegas.
Starting in just under four weeks, you’ll see Earnhardt Jr. on a more regular basis as he assumes his role on NBC’s NASCAR broadcasts. What’s that going to look like? Well, a fan tweeted at Rick Allen and asked. Earnhardt Jr.’s reply was… in some ways, normal racing television.
Everyone’s in the booth. I’ll be talking when the others aren’t talking. Heck I may talk even when they are talking. Except when Rick talks. No one talks when Rick talks. https://t.co/2xzs7nyrjo
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) June 4, 2018
Apparently, there is going to be a four-man NBC booth with Earnhardt Jr., Allen, Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte starting at Chicagoland Speedway. On paper, that sounds like a complete mess.
Getting Earnhardt Jr. was paramount for NBC in order to improve their fortunes, but the four-man booth setup indicates they couldn’t simply dump Burton for Earnhardt Jr. They had invested too much in Burton to simply dump him like yesterday’s garbage.
There simply aren’t all that many instances of four men in the same room calling a race. There was one instance on ESPN a number of years ago in which they invited Ned Jarrett to join his son Dale in the booth for a short time. The result there was that Ned barely got any words in edgewise. I’m worried a similar situation could occur during the NBC portion of the season.
That said, NBC Sports has been able to do a couple of dry runs with this setup. For instance, the booth did a mock broadcast during the Coca-Cola 600 back on Memorial Day weekend. As of right now, they do have a general idea of how this setup will work.
Honestly, I’m surprised Earnhardt Jr. hasn’t been given reps in some of NBCSN’s K&N Pro Series broadcasts. Usually, that analysis duty goes to drivers like Parker Kligerman.
Nothing against Kligerman; he’s a solid analyst. He does a good job in the booth for K&N races and in the pits for Cup and XFINITY events. But, he’s not a rook on TV anymore. Earnhardt Jr. is. Going in, he’s only done guest analyst work during XFINITY races on FOX Sports 1 last year. Earnhardt Jr. is really important to NBC’s fortunes and it wouldn’t hurt to get him as much experience as possible before Chicagoland.
Had NBCSN used that strategy, they could have promoted Earnhardt’s participation on those broadcasts and gotten more eyeballs on the developmental series. Think back to Kevin Harvick racing in the Bakersfield 175 presented by NAPA Auto Parts back in March at Kern County Raceway Park and how his participation placed a spotlight on the race. Add in a big name on the broadcast along with appropriate promotion and you might have a situation where the series could get a little more notoriety. In the case of the Kern County race, it was pretty good. Harvick led a good chunk of the event, but he didn’t win. In fact, he was the recipient of a bump-and-run at one point.
For the Allen-Burton-Letarte trio, K&N Pro Series races got them used to working together. The first K&N East race of 2015 at New Smyrna Speedway saw Allen and Burton in the booth together. This was nearly five months before NBC’s first Cup race of the year.
Letarte was in the booth for the Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 150 at Greenville-Pickens a couple of months later. Eventually, Dave Burns became the regular play-by-play man for the events. But before that, they were crucial for giving the on-air personalities reps prior to their summertime, middle-of-the-night Cup debut.
In the next few weeks, you’ll be seeing a lot more of Earnhardt Jr. on television, promoting his new deal. Think of it as a blitz.
How will the new four-man booth for NBC’s portion of the season look? I’m not sure. I’m a little worried they’ll be unable to properly balance the voices out. All we know based on Earnhardt Jr.’s tweet above is that Allen is the leader. Beyond that is anyone’s guess. Perhaps you’ll see a little less of Earnhardt Jr. early on, then he’ll increase visibility as he gets more comfortable in broadcasting.
Regardless, every advertisement has been centered around Earnhardt Jr.’s addition to the telecast. His success or failure will be key for NBC this year, putting a lot of pressure on a just-retired NASCAR Most Popular Driver.
That’s all for this week. This weekend is a split one for NASCAR. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series teams will race at Michigan International Speedway. Meanwhile, the Verizon IndyCar Series will be back at Texas Motor Speedway with the Camping World Truck Series as primary support. Also, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards makes their superspeedway debut on MAVTV.
We’ll have critiques of the three major NASCAR races in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. In the Newsletter this week, we’ll have a couple Annex editions. One will take a look at the Pocono 400. The other will be a combination of the Pocono Green 250 Recycled by J.P. Mascaro & Sons and the Duals in Detroit.
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