Earnhardt Jr. To Trade Nomex For A Blazer In ’18

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, July 25 2017

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will join former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon on the television side next season. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-NASCAR retirement as full-time driver officially will include more than trips to the grocery store for mayo.

Voted by fans as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver for an unprecedented 14 consecutive years (2003-16), Junior will join NBC Sports Group’s NASCAR coverage beginning in 2018. The TV gig was announced by network executives on Monday.

Earnhardt shocked NASCAR Nation on April 25 when he announced he would exit the cockpit of his No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS at the end of the current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. Junior’s contract with Hendrick Motorsports, which he joined fulltime in 2008, will expire at season’s end.

Junior reportedly will be utilized in a number of capacities on NBC’s NASCAR coverage, with specifics to be outlined in the coming months. In addition, the agreement with NBCUniversal allows Earnhardt a wide range of opportunities in the company’s media businesses, including movies, television, podcasts and other areas.

“We are excited to welcome Dale Jr. to our team _ both on and off the track,” Mark Lazarus, Chairman, NBC Broadcasting and Sports, said in a statement. “As a company, NBCUniversal allows for talent to stretch themselves across not just their field of expertise but across other areas of their interests in the media world.”

Earnhardt appeared as a guest analyst during NASCAR Cup and Xfinity series race broadcasts on FOX and NBC broadcasts last season.

NBC also will be partnering with Earnhardt on some of his businesses, including Dirty Mo Media and Hammerhead Entertainment. The latter is a media production company that created and produced the TV show Back in the Day, which aired on the former SPEED (now Velocity) Network.

“Dale Jr. brings credibility, personality and popularity to our already winning NASCAR team,” said Sam Flood, Executive Producer and President of Production, NBC Sports. “Giving him a chance to spread further within other NBC Sports Group properties and throughout the company is an added bonus.”

Junior, son of the late seven-time Cup champion, is winless thus far during his 18th Cup season.

“It is a tremendous honor not only to join NBC Sports next year but to begin a new career alongside people who love NASCAR as much as I do,” the third-generation star said in a statement. “To be reunited with (former HMS crew chief) Steve Letarte, to be able to call legends like Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty teammates rather than just friends, to be able to continue going to the track and connecting with race fans, it’s a privilege I don’t take lightly.

“I will devote my heart and soul to this broadcast team and pledge my very best to the millions who watch it.”

A native of Kannapolis, N.C., Earnhardt has posted 26 career Cup Series victories, including the 2004 and 2014 Daytona 500s. His 26 victories tie him for 29th on NASCAR’s all-time list. Dale Earnhardt Sr. won 76 Cup races en route to his record-tying seven championships.

Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will turn 43 on Oct. 10, made his Cup Series debut on May 30, 1999 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. Junior scored the first of his Cup wins at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth in April 2000 in only his 12th series start. Junior’s most recent victory was scored at Phoenix Raceway in November 2015.

Earnhardt made his 600th career series start on March 26 at California Speedway in Fontana and will compete in his final Cup race on Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He has qualified for the NASCAR playoffs eight times.

Junior graduated into the Cup ranks with his father’s organization, Dale Earnhardt, Inc., after winning NASCAR Xfinity (then Busch Grand National) Series titles in 1998, at age 24, and repeating in 1999.

Junior’s decision to retire was made in the aftermath of a concussion diagnosed in July 2016 that forced him to sit out the second half of the season. It was at least the third known concussion he has suffered. Junior subsequently was medically cleared to return to competition in 2017 on Dec. 8, 2016.

Hendrick Motorsports announced last week that journeyman Alex Bowman would replace Earnhardt as fulltime driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet next season. Bowman drove 10 races as a substitute for Earnhardt in 2016. The No. 88 will continue with financial support from Nationwide and Axalta, which will return as the team’s primary sponsors.

Junior currently is featured in a tongue-in-cheek Nationwide TV commercial in which his post-NASCAR driving life includes fly fishing, mountain climbing and trips to the grocery store at the behest of his wife, the former Amy Reimann.

In addition to Nationwide’s one-year extension for 19 races next season, Axalta Coating Systems, a leading global supplier of liquid and powder coatings, will increase its number of races featured as primary sponsor of the No. 88 team by two for next season, bringing its total to 15 Cup events with Bowman in 2018. Axalta has been a Hendrick Motorsports corporate partner since 1992 and a sponsor of the No. 88 Chevrolet since 2016.

NBC Sports group is in the midst of presenting the final 20 Cup Series races of 2017, the final 19 NASCAR Xfinity Series events and select NASCAR Regional and Touring Series events.

NBC Sports Group’s NASCAR programming also includes NBC Sports Network’s daily motorsports show NASCAR America; coverage of NASCAR’s Awards Ceremonies; the annual NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony and original programming specials. NBC Sports Group concluded the 2016 NASCAR season after presenting a record 630 hours of trackside coverage and programming.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, July 25 2017
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