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Justin Allgaier (Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

2-Headed Monster: Will Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s XFINITY Conflict of Interest Be a Problem?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. recently traded his steering wheel for a microphone.  The retired two-time Daytona 500 champion joined NBC’s broadcast team for coverage of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR XFINITY Series races. Any time a former driver steps into the booth, they will have prior relationships with some of the current competitors — whether it be former coworkers or a family member. That is just the nature of NASCAR.

However, Earnhardt’s conflict of interest is that his company, JR Motorsports, owns four NXS teams, one-tenth of the field. So this week, the question we debate is:  Will Earnhardtʻs conflict of interest be a problem for NBC’s coverage?

Junior’s Bias Burns Away Quicker Than the Tire

If there is anyone who can own a race team and not let that get in the way of an unbiased broadcast, it is Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt will not be the first owner to provide analysis for races while his teams are racing. Michael Waltrip owned a Cup team while doing work for FOX, and Jeff Gordon still has vested interests in Hendrick Motorsports. Kyle Petty called races for TNT while he still an owner/driver for Petty Enterprises. None of those listed ever seemed to be blatantly rooting for their respective teams.

While he worked for ESPN and ABC, Rusty Wallace owned two NXS cars, one of which was driven by his son, Steven. If there was ever an opportunity for someone to be biased, that was it. Yet, Wallace never reacted in any way that took away from the broadcast, despite his son’s demolition derby-driving style.

The only situation of an owner/analyst showing bias was when A.J. Allmendinger won at Watkins Glen International in 2014. A part owner of Allmendinger’s team, JTG Daugherty Racing, retired NBA player Brad Daugherty was a part of ESPN’s NASCAR broadcast team and was shown celebrating with Wallace after Allmendinger took the checkered flag.  Honestly, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Daugherty had shown professionalism throughout the race, and then the viewer was rewarded with seeing the raw emotions of a first-time winner.

JR Motorsports has won races and championships, so we don’t have to worry about Earnhardt reacting as Daugherty did if and when his teams win. Earnhardt already proved as much — in the NXS race at Daytona International Speedway, as he watched Tyler Reddick tear up a race car and Elliott Sadler lose by five-thousandths of a second, yet he reacted to both instances as a professional and genuinely seemed excited to be calling the race.

And that’s why Earnhardt will not be biased in the booth, because he’s not a biased person. He is an overall fan of the sport and roots for everyone to succeed.

Sure, Earnhardt has money invested in JRM, but his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, has more to do with its day-to-day operations. If you want to see an owner getting fired up about their team, then she is the one to talk to, as evident from some of her tweets during the races. At the NXS race at Daytona back in February, Kelley was fired up that the JRM cars of Sadler and Chase Elliott were black-flagged for locking bumpers, while her brother responded more neutrally with, “Rules are rules.”

Earnhardt is doing a fine job in the booth so far, and he will only get better as he gains more experience. Despite the conflict of interest, Earnhardt is going to make the NBC broadcasts better, not worse. -Michael Massie

No Cheering in the Press Box, Mr. Earnhardt

The addition of Dale Earnhardt Jr by NBC to their team of NASCAR commentators has gone over quite well with fans and industry insiders alike. And why shouldn’t it? His popularity hasn’t been even remotely questionable in over 17 years. He’s the everyman: a blue jean favoring, beer toting, dog-loving type of person that most fans see themselves as.

He belongs holding a microphone on Sundays. But when it comes to the NASCAR XFINITY Series races, there’s this one significant problem:

He owns four of the cars. For that reason, he shouldn’t be handling media duties during those events.

To be clear, this is no fault of Earnhardt’s. I don’t believe NBC should be putting him in that position. Network executives can tell him all they want that he has to appear impartial. He can agree and assure them that he won’t cheer them on or excessively focus on the JR Motorsports entries.

But it’s natural to want the team that he’s invested his time and money in to do well. If he didn’t root for his drivers, he’d be a poor owner. If he did, he’d make a poor broadcaster. There isn’t enough room on his head to wear both hats.

Media, including television, has one asset above all others: credibility. Once that is gone, there is no trust. When college football fans tune in to Saturday Night Football, they are greeted by, among others, Kirk Herbstreit. Only eight hours earlier, Herbstreit sat on the set of ESPN College Gameday making predictions about who would win the day’s biggest games.

But when it comes time to make picks for the game he will be presenting that evening, Herbstreit only gives “keys to the game”. He doesn’t make a pick because that would lead the viewing audience to believe that he wants one team to win over the other. He wants the audience to trust him to give fair analysis.

There’s plenty of examples out there that go against this completely. Ned Jarrett’s call of son Dale’s first Daytona 500 win is one of the most memorable moments in the sport’s history. Darrell Waltrip was in the booth for his brother Michael’s first career win. But from a business aspect, there is no conflict of interest there. Family members should support each other in such a manner. Ned and Darrell weren’t pulling for any particular driver because it would help their business to thrive.

JR Motorsports’ bank account gets larger and smaller with each position gained or lost. He knows that.

To his credit, I didn’t see any clear evidence of him cheering for his team of drivers. But what happens if he’s calling the final lap of a race and watches a rogue driver punt one of his cars out of the lead and into the fence? I hope he will maintain his professional demeanor rather than express displeasure at the result.

Racing is intense and emotional. The more skin they have in the game, the hotter the competitive fire in each participant burns. As long as he is in front of the camera for NASCAR XFINITY Series races, there’s a chance that Earnhardt may need every ounce of his composure to keep it togethers.

All I’m saying is that he shouldn’t have to. -Frank Velat

About Michael Massie

Michael Massie
Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

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19 comments

  1. Please folks, Dale is NOT the human shill Michael Waltrip. I can’t stand Mikey as a broadcaster (loved him as a driver) but nothing was more excruciating to watch than when he owned the race team and shamelessly shilled for Toyota and anything on the side of his cars. I don’t think Dale would ever do that, but even if he were so inclined he is a smart enough man to have learned from Mikey’s example of how NOT to act in the booth.

    And yes, Ned Jarret calling the final lap of Dale Jarret’s final lap in the Daytona 500 victory is one of the most memorable moments in racing. Emotion in the booth is not a bad thing, it is human nature and not unexpected in an emotional moment, you just can’t be a shameless commercial shill or constantly talk up your drivers at the expense of the rest of the field. If Elliot Sadler wins the championship race, I’ll fully expect a hearty “HELL YEAH!” from Dale, and expect to see him in victory lane, and he should not be faulted for that.

    • Elliott Sadler is not going to win the championship. He is a choke artist.

    • Earnhardt only cares about money, so I don’t expect to hear much emotion from him if or when his drivers win. He only cares about the purse and the sponsorship money and that’s all that’s ever motivated him. And that’s why he was the greatest tee shirt salesman in NASCAR history even as a mediocre driver at best. He never cared about winning, only the royalty checks coming in. He and Hendrick are two peas in a pod. If they see a driver as a good financial investment, they could not care less about his performance on the track. That’s why the Fat Felon chose Junior over Kyle Busch and why he employs Elliott and Bryon and Bowman. So far, only Elliott is paying dividends with sponsors clamoring to get onboard his winless car and also why he is signed with HMS through 2022 even though he has done nothing on the race track to deserve a contract extension. Bowman and especially Byron have a ways to go to live up to expectations – not expectations of winning, expectations of attracting sponsors.

      Meanwhile, Busch collects wins and records and championships, but Junior is always the Big News of the Day. You would think him calling the “slide job” at Chicago was historic, when it was only obvious. Earnhardt and Hendrick best represent the greedy side of the sport at the expense of competition or even competence. Calling it anything else is simply naïve.

      • You know Lorraine, you really are one sick puppy! Your vicious and vile hatred for anyone and everyone who dares disagree with you shows just how sick you are. You have even gone so far as to post such a dangerous comment like you did about Stenhouse in the column about the starting lineup for the Xfinity race this weekend that it should be taken as a serious death threat by you against Stenhouse. You need some serious counselling. You should see a psychiatrist and soon.

        Are you like this in court? I bet you are, and I bet you have a very negative reputation. No wonder lawyers have such a bad reputation.

        Get help! You need it and bad!

        • Couldn’t have said it better Ken! FS really needs to start moderating these vicious and negative posts. Personally attacking people for no reason is really getting old.

        • Ken, my name is not Lorraine. And I never made a threat against Stenhouse of any kind. Both your “hacking” and reading skills are lacking. But that’s what FS is for, isn’t it? A place for hack writers to write BS and get paid for it. And a place for moron fans like yourself to assert your moral superiority while not even bothering to hide your own vile hatred.

          If not for personal attacks, there would be no Frontstretch. And there would be no NSACAR. Both of those would be positive developments for the world at large.

          From now on, I will refer to you as “Louise,” as in “Louise, if I favored the death penalty for stupidity, I would be in favor of applying it to you.”

  2. Hasn’t anyone else noticed the Mute Button on their remote? It is there because of biased sports broadcasting, and that goes from the NFL and Joe Buck’s love affair with Aaron Rodgers to every incompetent NASCAR announcer and analyst we have ever had. Anyone who actually listens to this tripe gets what they deserve. Tune it to see the action or lack thereof, fire up NASCAR timing and scoring live feed and you will know MUCH MORE than anyone in the booth about what is actually going on. We have driverless cars – we need announcer-less sports. Although the Wimbldeon coverage of the Nadal-del Potros match was actually excellent. But that happened outside the reach of the U.S. brain-dead fan experience, so it doesn’t really count.

  3. Why is the question even asked? No one ever questioned Michael Waltrip’s ownership conflict of interest.

  4. I don’t know why everyone is so obsessed with anything named Earnhart. Why can’t he just go away and stay gone. Glad TV has a mute button. Everyone feels sorry for him because his “late, great” daddy was killed while blocking at Daytona so his team could win. So be it. S*** happens. No one ever mentions Davey Allison who was much better than Jr. Now they are trying to build up Chase Elliott, another spoiled rich kid to be the next “most popular”. Wasn’t there a driver one time named Carl Edwards?

    • Yeah and NASCAR this week is full of the love story between Davey Allison and Liz which you would have seen if you bothered to visit that site. Of course, we all know Liz quickly fell into the arms of the great Travis Tritt before Davey’s body was cold. This is the kind of asshole reporting that makes me cringe. Call me hateful if you want. But sometimes reality does bite! Whether the subject is one of the Earnhardts, the Allisons, the Elliotts or Carl Edwards (who once actually DID try to kill a fellow driver), all the stories are crap and tell only a fraction of the real story.

  5. Just another excuse to sell a headline with the Earnhardt name. Get back to us if you find any bias.

  6. Right in salb. No doubt there. You can also hear it in the tone of all three voices on Fox when they talk about Hendrick Motorsports. Since Letart and Burton never seem to shut up I can’t say thing about Junior. I do think he will be ok. He’s always been a straight shooter in my mind. Please understand that I was never a big fan and thought he was an average driver in good equipment but I totally understand his popularity. Had he driven a Ford I would have probably been a fan.

  7. If and when you hear Junior obviously cheering for one of his teams the way DW pimped for Toyota when his brother owned a team, that’s the time to worry about bias. So far, I haven’t detected any bias or cheering for his teams, so it’s much ado about nothing.

  8. another earnhardt jr broadcaster article.

    kelly, i believe, is more involved with the racing teams and business.

    there have been other owners who have gone to broadcast booth.

    jr getting more press time now that he’s not a driver.

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