As the first national commercial campaign to solely feature the No. 9 Chevrolet driver for Mountain Dew rolls out during tonight’s Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Elliott is hoping he can channel the comfort that Earnhardt developed in front of the camera during more than two decades as a high-profile endorser and spokesman who was voted Most Popular Driver from 2003-17.
“I think that’s one thing that Dale has gotten really good at it is his acting in commercials,” Elliott said Friday during the taping of a NASCAR on NBC Podcast that will air next week. “He has done a really good job of just going into those situations and just not caring as much.
“That’s how you have to be. If you go in there, and you’re really timid, it’s going to show on camera, and I’m certainly not to the level that he’s at. I’m not an actor. Acting is not my favorite thing to do by any means. I think it’s something I certainly would love to get better at, shooting these 30-second, 60-second commercials can help.”
Though Elliott is the only driver in the new spot, he has no speaking lines, which is probably how he prefers it because he hasn’t translated his low-key personality into carrying a scene.
“The best thing they can do is not have me act a whole lot,” Elliott, 22, said with a laugh. “So maybe one day I’ll get better at it. For now, that’s what it’s going to have to be.
“I really didn’t have to do a whole lot of acting in this spot, which is great. Those are the kind that typically turn out the best when you don’t have to put on a fake face or whatever to do it. From my end, it’s very laid back, and I think people will see that.”
Though his personality also can be reserved and introspective, Earnhardt has grown at ease with comedic delivery and seeming natural in off-kilter situations.
“He’s done such a good job with that, it’s been fun to watch,” said Elliott, who worked with Earnhardt in a few commercials while driving for JR Motorsports from 2014-15. “Luckily, I’ve had a chance to do a couple of productions with him and kind of see how he goes about it, and I think there’s something to be learned there.”
The main takeaway is that being true to one’s self is the easiest way to come across well because “if you go into those situations being uncomfortable, it’s not going to look good on camera,” Elliott said.
In the second half of his Cup career before joining NBC Sports Group as an analyst, Earnhardt took ownership of his likeness and became more assertive and selective as a brand endorser.
With an election as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver seeming a virtual lock starting this season, Elliott also would like to “have a little more say-so” in how his popularity is leveraged by sponsors in the future.
“Hopefully and that’s something you can earn over time, but you can’t come in demanding, ‘Hey, I’m doing this, I’m not doing this,’” Elliott said. “You have to be respectful of that and understand what they want vs. what I want and try to balance the two out.
“Yeah, I think our partners have been receptive and listened, and they see the person that I am, and I’m not a real loud individual in general. So I think they see that. That does make it difficult to do commercials and things, just because it’s hard to express that on camera. We’ve kind of found ways to do that.”
During the rest of the podcast, Elliott also discussed:
–The wisdom of Georgia football coach Kirby Smart and the varying styles of sports leadership;
–The email with tips for racing Road America that he sent his father, Bill, as he prepares for his first NASCAR race in six years next weekend;
–The importance of finding another gear with the No. 9 when the playoffs begin next month.
The episode will be available Wednesday wherever you download podcasts.