The moment is nearly here. In a matter of hours, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be covering his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race for NBC Sports from Chicagoland Speedway as an official analyst.
Earnhardt boarded a plane Thursday morning en route for the race weekend in Chicago with his new teammates — lead commentator Rick Allen, analysts Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton.
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Sporting a throwback Richard and Kyle Petty T-shirt, it’s go time for the 15-time Most Popular Driver.
“I’m excited to finally be at the race track with my teammates and getting ready to go to work,” Earnhardt said in a Thursday afternoon teleconference. “I’m just watching these guys and following them around to see how they prepare and what all goes into the days leading up to the race itself. It’s been extremely educational.”
Earnhardt’s exact role on the NBC Sports broadcast has yet to be detailed in full, but it sounds like fans are in for a treat.
“We have the multi-option offense,” said Sam Flood, NBC Sports Group Executive Producer. “We have different booths with different tracks. We’re putting people in positions to make it fun for the audience and give the most insight. We have five different styles of booths and we’ll roll them out and we’ll let you know each week what we plan to do.”
Earnhardt’s first directive from Flood in his rookie broadcasting year is simple, but also one that’s hard to believe.
“The best part about it is Sam Flood says just be yourself,” Earnhardt said. “I keep asking him if that’s really what he wants because that sounds a little bit too good to be true, and a little bit too easy. But, that’s what they expect out of you.
“That should be very fun to just get up there and watch races and react,” he added. “All the guys in the booth are such huge fans of what we’re seeing, it’s going to be a lot of fun just doing that. Sitting around talking about what’s happening on the race track. I’m excited to learn a lot and get to know my teammates even better.”
Earnhardt participated in countless hours of practice with Allen, Letarte and Burton in a radio booth at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in in Uptown Charlotte, North Carolina, earlier in the year, along with another mock broadcast from a suite during May’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“I was really nervous about going into it cold turkey without a whole lot of experience, so it gave me a lot of peace of mind and it allowed me to build a little bit of rapport with Jeff and Rick because we’re going to need that kind of chemistry,” Earnhardt said. “It was really helpful for me.
“I still got the job, so obviously NBC is pretty happy with what they heard in our practice runs,” he added jokingly. “I got a lot of great feedback and was able to adjust on the fly. It was cool.”
Now, it’s time for Earnhardt to experience the real deal.
“We’ve been talking about it for a long time,” Earnhardt said. “We’ve been practicing and here it is. It’s time to get to work. We’re going to have a great first weekend to kick off the next several trips to the race track. It’s going to be an awesome run all the way to Homestead.”