Amidst the ho-hum affair that was the race at Talladega Superspeedway was a pleasant surprise for this fan. Like many of you, this fan had heard that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be making an appearance in the broadcast of the race with the crew from NBC Sports. Racers sidelined by injuries or recently retired do this all the time- no big deal there. What was a revelation is what NASCAR’s most popular driver brought to the broadcast.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. did more than just make an appearance. The driver recovering from concussion-related issues was an asset to the telecast. He was also quite candid about his attitude behind the wheel, and the concept of “teammates” out on the track. Chemistry-wise, Earnhardt fit hand in glove with former crew chief Steve Letarte and former opponent Jeff Burton. While he still maintains a certain carefree persona, you can tell Earnhardt has matured. He conducted himself not just as a guest, but as a media professional.
The appearance of Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a revelation. We heard something we often haven’t heard in his post-race or post-wreck comments. When I first heard he’d be lending his voice to the TV broadcast, I greeted the news with a dose of skepticism. “Sure, Junior is one of the top plate track racers in the business, but will he able to articulate his perspective in a way that makes sense?” I wondered. Could he make a point without the gratuitous use of profanities? Could he avoid rambling?
When it comes to color commentary, I don’t expect a slick presentation, and grammatical perfection. What I do expect is the commentator in that role to teach me something. Dale Earnhardt Jr. delivered. Without naming names, we the fans have been provided the perspective of commentators who haven’t raced today’s car, and have not raced against today’s driver. Sunday’s guest provided both.
Earnhardt is eager to return to racing, indicating he’s not quite ready to hang it up yet. No one- not even Dale Earnhardt Jr. knows much more racing is ahead of him. Like many other top drivers, Junior has plenty of irons in the fire beyond the cockpit. Having said that, yours truly would welcome the presence of Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the broadcast. Other recently retired drivers like Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton have mad positive contributions, but they bring something different. There’s a certain unvarnished charm Earnhardt brings to the table. It’s a quality NASCAR coverage needs right now.