Dale Earnhardt Jr. no longer spends NASCAR Cup races behind the wheel of a fast car.
But he is enjoying his new vantage point just fine.
Earnhardt is in his second season as a NASCAR race analyst for NBC. He will be in the broadcast booth for NBC Sports Network’s telecast of Sunday’s Monster Energy Cup race at Martinsville Speedway.
“I’m loving it,” Earnhardt, 45, said in a phone interview last week. “It’s really surprised me how much fun it’s been and how great NBC has been to work with.
“This doesn’t feel like work. It’s fun. It’s a real dream-come-true opportunity for me to be able to do this after my racing career.”
Earnhardt has made a successful transition to commentary. He has gone from being a fan favorite as a driver to becoming a hit with TV viewers.
“The advice I got from my boss that hired me, [NBC and NBCSN executive producer and production president] Sam Flood, was just to be myself,” Earnhardt said. “He wants me to call the action or talk about what I’m seeing the same way I would if I were at home with my friends, and I did not need to … polish myself.
“I was a little apprehensive about that because I didn’t know that that would translate to the viewing audience very well. I didn’t know if that would be entertaining to listen to or not.
“So that’s what I try to do.”
Earnhardt, who made his Cup debut as a driver in 1999, won 26 races on that circuit before retiring from Cup action at the end of the 2017 season.
He also owns the JR Motorsports racing team, which has four cars in the Xfinity Series. Earnhardt drove in one Xfinity race this year.
NBC, which airs the second half of the Cup season, announced in July 2017 that it would add Earnhardt as an analyst beginning in 2018.
“I want to continue to work and I want to continue to be a valuable partner to my friends at Nationwide and the other relationships that I have with Goodyear and all these other brands,” he said in last week’s interview. “I want to continue to have value and relevance for them. So that was definitely a conscious effort in my mind when I got out of the race car, is ‘How can I continue to have that relevance and maintain some stature and credibility in the sport that I love so much?’ So this was such a great fit for me.”
Earnhardt had already dabbled in broadcasting before joining NBC, having been in the booth for a handful of Cup and Xfinity races.
His friend Marty Smith, the ESPN reporter who graduated from Giles High School and Radford University, encouraged him to move into TV when he was done racing.
“He’s very supportive of me in my life,” Earnhardt said. “When I first had the opportunity to get into a booth, he was one of the first few people to reach out to me after that fact, to tell me I had a future in broadcasting if I wanted it.”
Earnhardt is part of a race announcing team that includes play-by-play man Rick Allen and fellow analysts Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton. They do both Cup and Xfinity telecasts.
The quartet is usually divided into two broadcast booths, although all four are on the air during the race.
Sharing a telecast with three other people means that sometimes Earnhardt has to hold his tongue.
“Yeah, I got more to say,” he said. “There’s a lot of times when those guys have great ideas. And there’s a lot of room for everybody to talk.
“Maybe it’s best that I don’t have more room to talk. … Right now it’s working really well.”
Earnhardt also has his own weekly interview show on NBC Sports Network. The TV channel simulcasts his “Dale Jr. Download” podcast on Tuesdays.
He had already been doing the podcast before NBC Sports Network decided last year to televise it.
“I’m very happy … they found value in it,” Earnhardt said. “That’s exciting for me, that I brought something to the table, because for me so far, it’s felt like I have just been taking and NBC has been giving.
“They gave me a great job that I love to do and I want to be able to return some value to them.”
NBC has not limited him to NASCAR. The network also gave him a role on its telecasts of the Kentucky Derby, the Indianapolis 500 and the 2018 Winter Olympics.
“It’s been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to go to South Korea for the Winter Olympics and to be at the Kentucky Derby, the Indy 500,” he said. “I’m seeing my first Kentucky Derby and my first Indy 500 through such a fun process.”
Earnhardt and his wife have a 1-year-old daughter — the three were passengers in a plane that crashed in August in Tennessee the week of the Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway — but he has no plans to stop traveling to races each week for NBC.
“I just turned 45 years old, and I think I need to be productive and working for a handful more years before I start to really think about pulling back entirely,” he said.
Not when he is enjoying his new career so much.
“It’s been a great experience, something that I hope to continue for many years,” he said.