For the first time since 1999, a Sprint Cup restrictor-plate race did not feature Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the field.
Instead, still recovering from the effects of a season-ending concussion, the 10-time restrictor-plate winner was a guest in the NBCSN booth for a portion of Sunday’s Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
It was Earnhardt’s first time in the NBCSN booth after previously having been a guest for a Fox Sports 1 broadcast of a Xfinity Series race earlier this year.
“That was so much fun,” Earnhardt said on his Dale Jr. Download podcast. “I felt super comfortable up there, being great friends with (former crew chief) Steve (Letarte) and knowing Jeff Burton very well. Rick Allen, those guys are pros. I got a new respect for those guys, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon and all them. There’s a lot going on up there in that booth, and those guys are on top of it. It was really impressive. It’s fun to be a witness to that.”
Earnhardt doesn’t plan to retire from racing in the near future, but the Hendrick Motorsports driver is unsure if his post-racing career path will be similar to Gordon’s and lead into TV.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever have a future in broadcasting, but it’s a personal experience for me to be able to get up in there and look at it,” Earnhardt said.
Earnhardt joined the broadcast about halfway through the race and discussed how difficult it is to advance through the field and how he chooses who’ll he’ll team up with during plate races.
“To get an opportunity to go to all these different avenues and see all kinds of angles and perspectives of what goes into a Sunday at the race track is pretty neat,” Earnhardt said. “I felt very lucky.”
Earnhardt’s day overlooking Talladega didn’t end with the NBCSN booth. He also “took the opportunity” to visit the MRN booth for a time.
“Same thing there, never really had that chance to do that and put it on myself to go check that out and experience it,” said Earnhardt, who was part of the ceremony that renamed Talladega’s MRN booth after the late Barney Hall in September. “Doing the radio vs. TV, two completely different things. The radio guys, they really describe the action as they’re seeing it on the racetrack and they’re tossing this invisible baton to each other around the racetrack as they describe the action.
“The guys on TV don’t really cover the action as much as they talk about why you’re seeing what’s happening, describing drafting and explaining how that stuff works. You’re actually seeing the racing action, so they don’t really talk about what’s happening as much as they’re describing how the sport works.
Earnhardt said he doesn’t “know which one I enjoyed better. They’re both pretty unique and fun.
“I hope the fans at home enjoyed the insight I was able to give. I’m not a professional broadcaster, but I hope that I was easy to understand and did a good job explaining myself. The draft is a real technical thing. I like to try to explain what’s going on to folks.”
Fans will be able to get Earnhardt’s perspective again Sunday. Earnhardt will rejoin the NBCSN booth for a portion of the broadcast of the Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway, which will begin at 1:30 p.m. ET.