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Explained: Dire Repercussions of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Shocking Booth Departure for NBC & NASCAR

Published 03/01/2024, 11:28 AM EST

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The NASCAR silly season may be over, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. reportedly made the biggest move of the season. This could have massive implications for the sport in the near future. The former Cup Series driver has been an integral part of NBC’s race coverage for several years, but that won’t be the case hereafter, even though he “hoped to remain with NBC.”

It is reported that Dale Jr. is set to take a break this year and resume his broadcasting career in 2025 when Warner Bros Discovery Sports and Amazon begin their coverage. This move could result in a huge loss for NBC. They had become wildly popular with NASCAR fans in the last several years, with a bit of credit going to Junior’s presence in the booth. With him gone, fans’ interest in their product may go down.

NASCAR viewership can be affected if fans don’t tune into NBC, which is likely

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Dale Jr. joined NBC in 2018 immediately after retiring from racing. Even after 7 years of retirement, Junior is arguably the most popular and influential figure in stock car racing today.  His ability to draw millions of eyeballs wherever he goes, perhaps will be the biggest loss to NBC. Many people believe that Junior was the glue that held the NBC booth together. Make no mistake, the other three members of the booth are no slouches. Not many were ever entirely happy with the 3 of them. 

Some believed that Rick Allen was at times way too loud during races, Jeff Burton’s commentary often fell flat, and Steve Letarte was just too inconsistent. All 3 have had their moments in the booth on multiple occasions, but no one was near as consistent as the 2-time Xfinity Series champion. 

During his time in the NBC booth, the ‘Junebug’ made several of his catchphrases popular with the fans. Perhaps the most popular one was “slide job” from the Chicagoland Speedway when Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch raced each other hard in 2018. The 49-year-old also had the unique ability to call races in such a way that would make a viewer feel like they were watching it with their friends. He truly was a magician when it came to commentary and with him leaving NBC after 6 years, things may not remain the same.

 

 

It was no secret that Junior’s contract with NBC was up and that he had not signed a new deal. Earlier in February this year, he revealed on his podcast that he hoped to remain with NBC and acknowledged he is without a contract for 2024.

A spokesperson from NBC confirmed the news in a statement released to Forbes, first reported by the Athletic: “Dale Earnhardt Jr. is beloved in the NASCAR world and has made numerous contributions to NBC Sports, from his work as an analyst on our NASCAR coverage to his experiences as a correspondent at major events like the Indianapolis 500, the Kentucky Derby, the Super Bowl and the Olympics. We thank Dale and we wish him the best going forward.”

How could this decision affect NBC and NASCAR, at least in the short term? The old enemy. Declining viewerships. With ‘Little E’ out of the scene starting this season, it would not be surprising if TV ratings see a massive dip when it’s NBC’s turn to broadcast the races.

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But why did Junior leave NBC in the first place? Everyone knew his contract was over by the end of the 2023 season. It’s uncertain if NBC was reluctant to offer him a new deal (which seems unlikely) or if the former Cup Series driver declined an extension. Seems like the decision was made a while ago and was only announced recently, because the signs were all there for everyone to see. But this decision will mark Dale Jr.’s entry into the world of streaming platforms.

Dale Earnhardt Jr has seemingly landed an outstanding deal for himself

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As per a report in Forbes, Junior has publicly said that he was essentially out of a job in the broadcasting world after the 2023 Cup Series season. This was evident when all of Dirty Mo Media’s content was taken off NBC’s subsidiaries like Peacock and put on YouTube. That was the biggest sign that something wasn’t right between the two parties, and Junior’s comments, although diplomatic, were suggestive of the same.

Earlier this year, Earnhardt Jr. revealed he wasn’t sure he would be renewing with the network. He said, “I definitely love being in the broadcast booth and want to continue to doing that. We’ve had some great conversations with all of NASCAR’s TV partners. My home and my love is at NBC, and I’d love to be back with them. So, we’ll see where it goes. But right now, I really don’t have a job in terms of broadcasting.” 

Some fans believe that Junior went out and revealed this to the world to put pressure on NBC to either offer him a better contract or bring the attention of its competitors to the fact that he was a free agent. That’s where Amazon Prime and Warner Bros. Discovery reportedly swooped in and pulled off the biggest heist in NASCAR in quite a while now. This move will gain the streaming giants an instant credibility due to Dale Jr.’s presence.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr is one of the smartest businessmen in the history of NASCAR and from his standpoint, moving to the streaming platforms makes a lot of sense. He will probably be getting paid a lot more than what he was on NBC. He would be working for 5 races with Prime, and 5 races with Discovery (using TNT, cable, and MAX). That’s fewer races than what he was working on with NBC. However, he will still call big events like the Coca-Cola 600 and the Fourth of July weekend event, which is currently the Chicago Street Race.

As part of NASCAR’s new seven-year media rights deal signed last year, for the 2025 season, Fox Sports will carry the first 14 races of the season. Amazon will then stream five races on its Prime Video platform and stream the next five as a simulcast on both TNT and the B/R Sports tier on the Max streaming service. NBC will then broadcast the final 14 races. Of the 14 races carried by NBC Sports, four will be on NBC while the rest will be on that network’s cable channel the USA Network.

Also, these are new players in the media side of things in NASCAR and they will need all the help they can get to compete with the likes of FOX and NBC. Dale Earnhardt Jr. almost guarantees eyeballs on their product, at least in the long run. With the reduced workload, he will have more time to focus on his family and other ventures, like Dirty Mo Media and JR Motorsports.

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However, the people that could be most affected by this change are the sport’s core fans, who are of an older age group. Shifting from TV (which they have known their whole lives) to a completely new form of viewing is not a change they might be comfortable with, at least in the very next season. And that is going to eventually hurt the sport because almost all of them are admirers of Dale Jr. without whom, they might not even tune into NBC’s coverage of the race weekends.

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Written by:

Nilavro Ghosh

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Nilavro Ghosh is a NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports, where he is known for his creative yet easy-to-read writing style. Before taking up his role as a sports journalist at ES, Nilavro has written for some of the top publishing houses, like The Telegraph. While most journalists stop at covering live events and taking the news to the readers, Nilavro goes the extra mile to give fans a platform for them to express their thoughts through his 'race reaction' pieces.
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Edited by:

Ranvijay Singh