Dale Earnhardt Jr. on joining NBC Sports: ‘First real job I’ve had in 20 years is going to be an adventure’

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be part of 20 Cup Series race broadcasts on NBC Sports Group next season, but NASCAR might not be the only place you see him.

An avid cyclist who routinely rides dozens of miles weekly, Earnhardt could be a part of Tour de France coverage in the future.

“We’ve talked football, we’ve talked about the Olympics, we’ve talked about other parts of the company,” Sam Flood, Executive Producer and President of Production, NBC Sports, said in a Monday afternoon call introducing the 14-time most popular driver as a member of the network’s team starting Jan. 1. “I could see him being involved if it’s the right fit for him and for us. We’re not going to say, ‘Go off and do a feature on football.’ We’ll say, ‘Hey, does this make sense to get you involved?’ Be it the Super Bowl, the Olympics.

“There’s a lot of speed events in the Olympics. It could be an interesting match for Dale. There’s nothing locked in stone. It’s all about opportunity and the breadth of what we can do as a company, and I think that’s the most important part of what we’ve established in this partnership.”

Earnhardt pointed to his longtime allegiance to the Washington Redskins as a potential avenue for venturing outside NASCAR, but also said he primarily is focused on getting acclimated to his new role.

“This is the very beginning of this partnership,” said Earnhardt, who is retiring from NASCAR after 18 seasons on its full-time circuit. “I’m going to follow Sam’s lead on what I need to do to become as prepared as I can to do the job he wants me to do. I’ll make myself available as much as possible to give me the tools to learn quickly in this process as I gain confidence in myself and continue to improve, grow, learn and understand how this business works.

“As much as I’ve been around this sport, a lot of this is foreign. I’ve always just drove race cars. This is probably the first real job I’ve had in 20 years. This is going to be an exciting adventure. I’ll lean on Sam. I’m going to depend on him to point me in the right direction. Any experience outside NASCAR will allow me to learn and build my resume and gain continued confidence. I’m up to any challenge. I’m surrounded with great folks to give me the tools to do the job right.”

The versatility offered by signing with NBCUniversal, which allows access to a vast media portfolio that includes movies, TV and podcasts, was a major plus for Earnhardt, who has a production company (Hammerhead Entertainment) and a podcast network (Dirty Mo Radio).

“He’s a race car driver, a team owner, iconic racing figure but also as popular off the track and has tremendous crossover appeal across all forms of media,” said Mark Lazarus, Chairman, NBC Broadcasting and Sports. “NBCUniversal, we have great assets and includes sports, film, television. All of which are part of our ability to attract someone of Dale’s expertise in sports and interests in other forms of media to get him to join our team.”

Earnhardt said he began exploring TV opportunities nearly three months ago, shortly after announcing his impending retirement. He wrapped up the deal in the past few days after several weeks of negotiations.

The third-generation star grew up admiring broadcasters such as Barney Hall, Ken Squier and Benny Parsons, noting that “I’ve always been drawn to their jobs and how they carried themselves.

“It is a dream come true,” Earnhardt said. “This is an incredible opportunity for me to start a new chapter, basically an entirely new career. That was one of the exciting things about the conversations I had with NBC. They understand incorporating Dirty Mo Media and Hammerhead production company into a lot of things we do together.

“That gives an opportunity to grow. That was obviously an exciting part of the puzzle through this whole thing.”

Flood said Earnhardt’s passion for NASCAR and its history makes him a unique talent.

“He looks at it in a different way,” Flood said. “The conversations we’ve had is about how to grow NASCAR, expose new fans and make his passion for the sport come through to the fans. It’s fun to hear how curious he is about television, about the job and how can he step in and do a great job from Day One.

“We’ve talked about taking him out to one of the Sunday Night Football games and following Cris Collinsworth and seeing how the No. 1 show on TV gets made. Talked about going to the truck for a NASCAR Xfinity race to see the craziness of a TV truck so he understands how it works. And make sure he’s ready to roll with a team he already knows.”

Earnhardt will be joining a broadcast team that includes Steve Letarte, his crew chief from 2011-14, and longtime mentor Dale Jarrett.

“Being around people like that will allow me to be a lot more comfortable and lot less shy than in the past,” he said. “That was a key element that made me excited about this partnership.

“Everywhere I’ve had success before, I always had a great friendship with the people I worked with, a very comfortable environment with people around. That influenced me quite a bit knowing I had the opportunity to work with people I know quite well. Sam was incredibly honest. What I’ve learned about how candid, honest, up front he is, I like that directness. He’ll be a great person to be led by and to lean on. Those personal connections were important for me and NBC certainly lays a lot of opportunity on the table. They just showed a lot of encouragement and excitement about that opportunity to work together. It seemed a very, very good fit for me.”

While he missed the second half of the 2016 season recovering from a concussion, Earnhardt worked with the NBC booth of Rick Allen, Jeff Burton and Letarte during races at Talladega Superspeedway and Martinsville Speedway. The experience eased the way to go into broadcasting.

“The feeling in the booth, you think you have an idea what that’s like, but I had no idea how enjoyable that was until I did it,” he said. “I knew immediately in those moments going through my injury and going through the booth with Steve and Jeff that I definitely wanted to pursue this as an opportunity.”

 

Bump & Run: Should NASCAR further penalize Johnny Sauter?

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If you were NASCAR, would you give Johnny Sauter and Austin Hill any additional penalties for their incidents at Iowa Speedway? 

Nate Ryan: A points penalty for Sauter that would be on par with what Jeff Gordon received for wrecking Clint Bowyer at Phoenix in November 2012 (because that seems the most analogous situation to this, other than the crash happening under yellow rather than green).

Dustin Long: My initial reaction was to suspend Sauter, but then I went the opposite way and thought no further penalties should be issued because Sauter already had been penalized by being parked and finishing 27th in the 32-truck field. I finally decided upon points and a fine, which is outlined in the rulebook. While NASCAR lists intentionally wrecking someone as an infraction that could result in the loss of 25-50 points and a fine of $12,5000 to $25,000, I’d dock Sauter 40 points and fine him $20,000 because his retaliation happened under caution. Some might suggest NASCAR suspend Sauter but still allow him to compete in the playoffs (even though a prerequisite is attempting to start each regular-season event). That sounds like a waiver and that is not the intent of the waiver. While NASCAR can do whatever it wants, suspending a driver and then altering its rules so the suspension doesn’t prohibit a driver from competing in the playoffs would not be a good look. The requirement on playoff eligibility should be updated. 

Daniel McFadin: Sauter should be suspended for a race; he used his truck as a weapon on a defenseless truck under caution. But the suspension shouldn’t count against his playoff eligibility. He’s already made the playoffs. I support a provision that prevents taking that spot away. That should only be done if a winning vehicle fails inspection in the same race you clinched the playoff spot. If Hill receives any penalties it should just be a fine at the most. NASCAR will use their run-in for marketing for years to come, so no need to overdo it.

Jerry Bonkowski: There is precedent here: Sauter’s ramming Hill is a virtual carbon copy of Kyle Busch slamming into Ron Hornaday Jr. at Texas back in 2011. The penalty Busch received should be what Sauter receives: a $50,000 fine, probation until the end of the year, and if Sauter is involved in any other incidents this season, he should be suspended and become ineligible for the playoffs.

It’s Tuesday and there is still some question as to who won Sunday’s Truck race with Ross Chastain’s team appealing the NASCAR decision to take the win away after Chastain’s truck failed inspection. The issue is expected to be resolved by this week. Is this still the best way for NASCAR to address such issues with inspection after a race? 

Nate Ryan: Yes. There is no confusion: Brett Moffitt’s team was awarded the win, and Ross Chastain’s team has an opportunity to challenge it. Similar to the courts system, a ruling already has been made. Prior to NASCAR’s change in philosophy this year, the ruling on a win’s validity (even if it wasn’t stripped) was withheld for a few days. This is a better system.

Dustin Long: This is still way better than the old system where you might not know there was a different winner because of an infraction until Tuesday. At least this way everyone knew on Sunday. Got to let the appeal process take its course but at least everything will be resolved this week instead weeks later as could happen previously.

Daniel McFadin: Yes, it is the best way. No one wants a winner disqualification to first be announced mid-week. This accelerates the appeals process to where a final judgement can be settled upon before the race weekend begins. The fact that this is the first winner disqualification or disqualification in general through five months means the new system is having some sort of impact. This might not be something that happens often.

Jerry Bonkowski: NASCAR may have painted itself into a corner with taking the win away from Chastain. The reason is simple: how did his Truck pass pre-race inspection, yet failed post-race inspection? Did something break on his truck, which caused its ride height in the front end to fall below standards? Did it happen because of contact in the race? Is that Chastain’s fault? And what happens if Chastain wins his appeal? Then what? Unless NASCAR has iron-clad evidence that Chastain’s team cheated, if officials jumped the gun, Chastain’s win should be reinstated and policies and procedures should be reviewed and changed.

They ran both the Truck and Xfinity race on the same day at Iowa Speedway after the Truck race was postponed to Sunday because of rain Saturday night. Atlanta already hosts a Truck/Xfinity doubleheader. Should there be more of these doubleheaders with these two series or keep them limited so they remain unique?

Nate Ryan: It’s an idea worthy of merit; the quantity won’t affect their appeal. It mostly should depend on whether it makes sense for NASCAR, the tracks and the TV networks.

Dustin Long: Originally Iowa was to be a one-day show for the Trucks and they got held over because of rain and spent two days at Iowa. I think there are some cases for one-day shows for Trucks to save costs. Doubleheaders are fine but should be done when it makes sense not only for fans but for teams.

Daniel McFadin: Bring on more doubleheaders. It shortens the weekend and gives more bang for a fan’s buck with one full day of racing. Also, the Truck Series primarily competes on Friday nights, when most people are not staying in to watch TV. Putting them on a Saturday before or after an Xfinity race or on a Sunday before a Cup race (like at Martinsville in 2018 after a rain and snow delay) provides a better opportunity for fans at the track and at home to see the Truck Series. We’ll get to see a version of this next year with the Cup Series doubleheader weekend at Pocono. 

Jerry Bonkowski: Yes, yes, yes. This is the perfect example of why NASCAR should add more doubleheaders to its schedule. Not only do fans get more bang for their buck, the Truck and Xfinity Series will get more appreciation from race fans of one series who typically may not pay attention to the other series. The excitement we saw in both races is definitely a precursor of even more to come if NASCAR elects to add more twinbills.

Preliminary entry lists for Cup at Sonoma, Trucks at Gateway

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After a week off, the NASCAR Cup Series is back in action this weekend at Sonoma Raceway, just north of San Francisco.

Meanwhile, the Gander Outdoors Truck Series will compete at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis.

The Xfinity Series enjoys this weekend off before it returns at Chicagoland Speedway on June 29.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for this weekend’s Cup and Truck races:

Cup – Toyota/Save Mart 350 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on FS1)

There are 38 cars entered for the race around the twisting road course in Napa Valley’s wine country.

JJ Yeley will make his second Cup start of the season, driving the No. 51 Petty Ware Racing Ford.

Cody Ware will be back in the No. 52 Ford for Rick Ware Racing.

Justin Haley will make his second career Cup start, piloting the No. 77 Chevrolet for Spire Motorsports.

NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman will make his seventh start of the Cup season in the No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota.

Click here for the preliminary entry list.

 

Trucks – Gateway 200 (10 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1)

A total of 31 trucks are entered in this race.

There is no driver listed yet for the No. 0 Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing Chevrolet.

Camden Murphy makes his second start of the season, driving the No. 8 Nemco Motorsports Chevrolet.

Daniel Sasnett makes his second start of the season, piloting the No. 32 Reaume Brothers Racing Chevrolet.

Bryant Barnhill makes his first start of the season and second of his Truck career in the No. 34 Reaume Brothers Racing Chevrolet.

Kyle Benjamin makes his third start of the season, driving the No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet.

Following his Truck Series debut at Iowa, Chandler Smith will drive the No. 46 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota.

Christian Eckes makes his second Truck start of the season, piloting the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota.

Click here for the preliminary entry list.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Five Cup or Xfinity drivers to compete in Saturday’s K&N West race at Sonoma

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Drivers in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West will have some extra company in Saturday’s Procore 200 race (4:30 p.m. ET) at Sonoma Raceway.

Five drivers from either the Cup or Xfinity series will take part in the event:

* Driving for road course powerhouse Jefferson Pitts Racing, Austin Dillon will make his 20th career K&N Pro Series start, his third at Sonoma (first since 2015). In prior races at the road course, he’s finished 22nd and sixth.

* Also driving for JPR will be current Cup rookie Ryan Preece, who will be making his first career K&N West start and first race start at Sonoma.

* Daniel Hemric will make his first K&N West start and fourth overall series start (first since 2015 at Watkins Glen). He has also never raced at Sonoma.

* Xfinity Series driver Cole Custer will be making third series start at Sonoma (previous finishes were ninth and 12th).

* Lastly, Noah Gragson will be teammates with Dillon and Preece at JPR and will be making his third appearance at Sonoma, finishing second in 2016 and seventh in 2015.

The K&N Series has long had a history of having Cup or Xfinity drivers take part at Sonoma. Over the last five seasons, that has included Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, William Byron, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones and Alex Bowman.

Appeal hearing for Niece Motorsports set for Wednesday morning

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NASCAR announced that the appeal for Niece Motorsports will be heard at 9 a.m. ET Wednesday.

The Gander Outdoors Truck Series team took the checkered flag first with driver Ross Chastain on Sunday at Iowa Speedway only to have the victory taken away when the truck failed inspection after the race.

Brad Moran, managing director of the Gander Outdoors Truck Series said after the race: “We have a procedures and rules in place, trucks are restricted on their ride heights at the front and rear of the vehicles. Unfortunately, the 44 (Chastain’s truck) was low on the front, extremely low.

“We have a process of what happens at that point. They do get an opportunity to roll around. They put fuel in the vehicle, they air the tires. Give them at least five to 10 minutes. Check them a second time. Unfortunately, the 44 did not rise on the front at all.”

The team stated it would appeal and blamed “minor damage during the event” for the truck being too low.

When NASCAR announced before this season that winning vehicles that didn’t pass inspection would have the win taken away, series officials also announced an expedited appeals process.

That will allow the appeal to be completed this week before the Truck Series races this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. Unlike other appeals, where a team or individual can appeal a penalty and then appeal again if they lose the first appeal, there is just one appeal hearing in an expedited matter.