How will NASCAR On NBC’s newest broadcaster do?
On Sunday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will follow in the footsteps of other great NASCAR drivers such as Jeff Gordon, Benny Parsons and Ned Jarrett and turn to calling the racing action on television.
Earnhardt will be the first of his name to transition to a career in broadcasting after his driving career is over. His grandfather Ralph Earnhardt and father Dale Earnhardt both passed away while being active competitors. His brother Kerry Earnhardt has moved on to building houses. The only remaining active Earnhardts are Bobby Dale Earnhardt, who raced in a pair of XFINITY Series races last year, and Jeffrey Earnhardt, who competes part-time at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series level for Premium Motorsports.
Earnhardt is also the latest former Hendrick Motorsports driver to make his way to the announcing booth, following Gordon, who has done an OK job covering the action but has seemed a bit handicapped by having another former driver in the booth with him at FOX in Darrell Waltrip.
NBC’s coverage may just devolve into complete mayhem. Unlike FOX, who took away former crew chief Larry McReynolds from the main booth and brought him in on for rules analysis and strategy talk, NBC has kept Steve Letarte in the booth, making the broadcast four strong. What’s more interesting is that Letarte has a habit of yelling into the microphone when trying to make a point, drowning out both Rick Allen, who’s supposed to be the play-by-play announcer, and Jeff Burton, who is just kind of there. It will be interesting watching Letarte and Earnhardt’s chemistry in the booth, as this is the first time a driver will be announcing alongside his own former crew chief.
NBC will be focusing a lot of time toward promoting Earnhardt’s arrival to the booth. Why? Because…
When will the ratings stabilize?
.@FoxSports averaged 2.54 million viewers for its half of the '18 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
— Cup Series events accounted for seven of the top ten most-watched sports event telecasts on @FS1 so far in '18.
— The 2.54 million is off 23% from 3.31 million in '17. pic.twitter.com/yHE3fx43Qv
— Adam Stern (@A_S12) June 27, 2018
There’s a lot to take away from these statistics. Sports ratings are down across the board, but not as much as other forms of television. And a huge benefit NASCAR has over other sports is just the sheer amount of content produced on a weekly basis on a per-event level. What other sport broadcasts practice sessions for the whole world to see, or nationally broadcasts its developmental series on a weekly basis? And almost all of that content is live and DVR-proof.
But on the flip side, the ratings are still dropping at an alarming level. Why? Many factors, but the biggest and most glaring has been the lack of Earnhardt this year. The sport did it to itself; it allowed one athlete to become bigger than the sport itself and squandered any attempt at replacing him after he decided to retire. Just look at PGA Tour ratings when Tiger Woods is playing and when he isn’t.
There are plenty of Earnhardt fans who have continued to watch and spend money on the sport, but a lot of Earnhardt fans also decided to leave, either because they didn’t like how the sport has been run in recent years or because they couldn’t find anybody else to root for. And why should they? Earnhardt had bucketloads of charisma and personality, something nobody else has. Ryan Blaney has some, sure, but it doesn’t translate it to TV interviews. Chase Elliott can’t win a race. Darrell Wallace Jr. was too new at the time, and his future was uncertain. All of the other drivers in the sport either have no personality (Paul Menard), are polarizing (Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski) or have baggage (Clint Bowyer).
NASCAR is still in OK shape. Ratings aren’t that terrible compared to everything else on TV, and sport TV deals continue to grow larger and larger each time a new one is announced. But there’s a star problem that’s going to need to be addressed the next time the sanctioning body returns to the negotiating table.
What could be some further changes to the IndyCar schedule?
IndyCar has made some schedule moves for next season, the biggest being the elimination of ISM Raceway in Phoenix.
Racer reported that Homestead-Miami Speedway could replace ISM on the calendar for next season. If that’s the case, it’s just the second 1.5-mile track on the IndyCar schedule, alongside Texas Motor Speedway.
Here’s an insane idea that might just work, though: IndyCar should run a test at Martinsville Speedway later this year, and if it’s a success, it should run a race there under the lights next year during the annual June off-weekend for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
It’s all about location. Martinsville is not a bad drive for people to come up from Charlotte, and on an off-weekend like that, a lot of NASCAR industry veterans and fans will make that drive up there. It’s also not too far away from Pennsylvania, which has long been a stronghold for open wheel racing and should entice fans to take a road trip through Virginia. Martinsville would be a unique track on the calendar and would add a lot of variety to the series.
Now, it would be important to at least hold a test there. IndyCar could conceivably provide some exciting racing that would force drivers to be a lot more aggressive than they typically would be, but there’s also a possibility that the lack of contact could eliminate side-by-side racing and produce boring single-file racing.
Will Chevrolet’s Now Historic Futility Streak Continue?
Chevrolet began this year with a bang when Austin Dillon drove his new Camaro to Victory Lane at Daytona International Speedway. But ever since, it’s struggled.
Chevrolet has not won in the last 15 Cup races. That’s the longest drought for the bowtie since 1981-1982, when many switched to Buick when the new lower wheelbase rules came into effect, and a Chevrolet didn’t win for 40 straight races.
The new Camaro is an easy target, but Chevrolet hasn’t been dominant for a while now. In 2017, outside of Kyle Larson, Chevrolet didn’t really do a whole lot after the midpoint of the regular season, when Toyota began to dominate everything with the exception of a few Ford victories here and there.
In 2018, a Chevrolet has finished second four times: Larson three times and Chase Elliott at Richmond Raceway. Once upon a time, Chevrolet had just about every major name in NASCAR racing under it. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson all raced with the GM brand. Now, Chevrolet in Cup seems to be primarily made up of comparatively unproven young drivers, Johnson, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman. Its situation would be a bit better if it still had Stewart-Haas Racing under the manufacturer’s banner and had invested in younger drivers sooner, but it fell asleep at the wheel and are now paying the repercussions for it.
About the author
Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.
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