When Dale Earnhardt Jr. joins NBC Sports to become a NASCAR analyst next season, his new bosses have one thing they want him to remember: be yourself.
Earnhardt is retiring from racing full-time at the end of the current Monster Energy Cup Series season. On Monday, he announced that he’ll become a NBC Sports analyst next year in a yet to-be-defined role but one where he’ll be featured on all 20 Cup races the network broadcasts.
What NBC Sports executive producer and president of production Sam Flood wants to see from Earnhardt is to be person who was named NASCAR’s most popular driver 14 times and has become a charismatic figure on social media where he’s not shy to voice his opinion or joke around with his 2.2 million Twitter followers.
“Sam has told me that he hired me to be me,” Earnhardt said Saturday at Pocono Raceway, site of Sunday’s Cup Series race (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN). So, I’m hoping that the ‘me’ he’s talking about is the guy that you guys (media) know and the person I am on Twitter and social media because that’s what I enjoy and that’s what I want when I get into the booth is to be that candid and be that honest.”
But while Earnhardt will be “candid and honest” with his analysis, it is important to him that he doesn’t offer unfair criticism. When the situation calls for it he will be straightforward about what transpired and stand by his comments.
“I hope that I’m being brought into the booth because of who I am and how I am and how I act and my honesty and candid conversation,” Earnhardt said. “I want to be that same person I am in the booth. I don’t want to change or be molded into something different or polished up.
“But, I’m not going to attack anybody. I didn’t like getting attacked when I was a race car driver and I certainly wouldn’t want to do that to any of my peers. I’ve got a lot of respect for those guys.”
Earnhardt acknowledges there will be times when he may be overcritical, and with some hindsight recognizes he was wrong in his initial analysis.
From his own experiences, Earnhardt thinks drivers are willing to accept criticism as long as analysts are also willing to admit when they’re wrong. If he can follow that approach, Earnhardt believes he’ll be successful.
“I definitely want to get better and I want to be great at it,” Earnhardt said. “I want to work at it and do what I need to do. I also want that freedom to be honest and be candid. But, if you’re going to do that, you’re obviously going to step on a toe or two, and you’re also going to be wrong sometimes.
“When you’re wrong, and I’ve always felt like I’ve done a good job of that in owning it, and moving on.”