Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Thursday: What Happens With Dale Earnhardt Jr.?

2024 is the last year of the current NASCAR TV deal.

Normally, that would mean that things would more or less stay the same. Or, if one of the TV partners were leaving, there would be a possibility of using their lame-duck status to slack off. That will not be the case this time around since both FOX Sports and NBC Sports will be back in 2025 and beyond.

That doesn’t mean that there couldn’t be changes in the final year of the deal. Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced on his podcast, The Dale Jr. Download, on Tuesday (Feb. 6) that his contract with NBC expired at the end of last year. As a result, he is a free agent.

“My contract with NBC is up, it ended at the end of last year,” Earnhardt said on the podcast. “I’m currently working through what that means for me. I definitely love being in the broadcast booth and want to continue.”

Note that I said NBC and not NBC Sports. Unlike boothmates Rick Allen, Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte, whose contracts are with NBC Sports, Earnhardt’s contract was with NBC as a whole. NBC generally saw Earnhardt as more than just a NASCAR personality. They thought he could do more. In addition to race commentary, Earnhardt appeared on Winter Olympics coverage in Pyeongchang, South Korea back in 2018, hosted Lost Speedways and appeared on additional programming.

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There are cascading issues that come from the lack of a deal. For example, new episodes of The Dale Jr. Download will not be uploaded to Peacock until this impasse ends, if ever again. However, for fans of the podcast, full episodes of the podcast in video form will be uploaded to Dirty Mo Media’s YouTube channel for the rest of the year, as you saw above. If Earnhardt successfully negotiates a new deal with NBC, then they’ll conceivably start up with the Peacock uploads again. The existing episodes of the podcast are still up on Peacock as of this writing, along with both seasons of Lost Speedways.

The contractual issues could result in unexpected changes for NBC Sports in the final year of their current deal. There are three possible scenarios that could emerge from this situation.

One is likely the best-case scenario for NBC Sports. That would be Earnhardt signing a multi-year contract extension prior to the start of NBC Sports’ portion of the NASCAR season in June. That would maintain the status quo and give NBC Sports a sense of continuity going into the new deal in 2025.

For what it’s worth, Earnhardt stated on the podcast that he loves being with NBC and considers it to be his TV home. Based on his comments and the tone that he took on the podcast, this scenario seems to be the one that he would desire the most.

The second scenario is that Earnhardt signs a one-year deal through the end of 2024 to finish out the current TV deal. That would maintain continuity for this year, but would result in a free-agent mess for 2025.

In that scenario, seemingly everyone would likely try to acquire Earnhardt’s services. FOX Sports could get in there (remember, he did appear on the broadcast of the GEICO 500 Talladega in 2022 as a guest analyst for FOX). NBC would definitely try to retain his services under that scenario, but might end up paying more to do so than if they locked him up now. Warner Bros. Discovery and/or Amazon would likely put out feelers for their new summer packages. Heck, even throw in The CW as well.

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That would just make what is already likely to be a pretty wild period of time for media moves even crazier. As it stands, we’re likely going to see the most movement of TV personalities in NASCAR after this season since the series-wide TV deals started in 2001. There’s a good sporting chance that almost none of the current on-air teams in NASCAR look anything like they do right now in 2025.

The parallel here would be RFK Racing co-owner LeBron James (remember, James has a small stake in the team via his small stake in RFK Racing’s parent company, Fenway Sports Group). Instead of signing long-term deals, James would sign two-year deals that allowed him to opt out after one season. You would then have a whole free agency scenario that would result in James signing for more money. While I don’t believe that money is the sole issue here for Earnhardt, if he were a free agent going into 2025, then there could be a bidding war for his services.

The third scenario is that Earnhardt and NBC can’t agree to terms and he’s out for this year. In that scenario, NBC’s booth for NASCAR Cup Series races would likely contract back to a three-man booth with Allen, Burton and Letarte, like it was from 2015-17 before Earnhardt retired from driving. The aforementioned trio have called races together without Earnhardt in recent years on multiple occasions. It likely wouldn’t make for that big of a difference, other than the fact that neither of the three commentators are as excitable as Earnhardt is about the sport in general.

There could also be more booth experimentation in the second half of the year if this were to happen. Brad Daugherty could get some more booth time in Cup races in addition to his infrequent booth work on Xfinity broadcasts. Kyle Petty could get some booth work as well.

Earnhardt would be left to focus on JR Motorsports, Dirty Mo Media and his other businesses. However, he would be free to do other things on TV as well. I would be hard pressed to believe that he would be completely off of television in 2024 if this were to happen. I’d expect him to show up seemingly out of nowhere on NASCAR RaceHub as a guest analyst there, maybe do a couple of NASCAR Xfinity Series or NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series broadcasts on FOX Sports 1. Anything could be in play.

Once the season ends, then the free agency free-for-all mentioned in the second scenario would be in play once again.

The fans would likely be unhappy in this scenario, since Earnhardt clearly has a loyal group of supporters. They might be his fans from when he was still driving, or people that just like him on television. There is a possibility that NBC’s ratings would slip if they couldn’t reach a deal.

As of now, NBC and Earnhardt have time on their side. We’re still more than four months away from the NASCAR on NBC season debut at Iowa Speedway in June. That’s plenty of time to go through multiple contract offers and deliberations between NBC, Earnhardt and his representation.

My guess is that NBC and Earnhardt will work out a long-term deal that will keep him with the network, preferably through the rest of the decade. You just won’t hear about it for a while.

Based on Earnhardt’s own words, I don’t have any reason to believe that they don’t want to work things out. Earnhardt has stated that he’s happy at NBC. That goes a long way in these situations. I’ve also never seen anything from NBC that would indicate that they don’t like Earnhardt. They’ll probably work out a deal in time for all of NBC’s preliminary filming sessions that would need to be done ahead of the Iowa debut.

That said, Earnhardt putting it out there on his platform that “I really don’t have a job, in terms of broadcasting” can put a little pressure on NBC to get a deal done sooner than later. Usually, you only hear about NASCAR TV personalities being out of their contracts because they were out permanently.

Seeing that, as of this writing, NBC Sports has not taken down Earnhardt’s bio from their press website, the network does have some kind of belief that a deal can be reached.

The second scenario would be exactly what it reads like: A stop-gap measure. I doubt either party would want to go that direction, but it might happen if one or both sides get desperate as the deadline looms.

The third is a worse-case scenario, and I’m sure that both sides will take steps to prevent it from happening. It would result in a different feel for NBC’s NASCAR broadcasts in 2024. I’d argue that the majority of viewers would be disappointed if they couldn’t reach a deal.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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22 Comments
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Shayne

How much money is enough? I could care less if he calls races or not. He’s not that good in the booth, corner, radio, or any style. I say it’s a conflict of interest to allow former drivers and current team owners to market themselves and their interests while taking money from the networks and certain s$pon$orS.

Christopher

Who said it’s a matter of money?

Shayne

It’s not because they want to pay him too much.

Christopher

You have no idea what you’re talking about; instead, your just shotgunning theories based on zero objective evidence into the ether.

Echo

Your right, shayne is clueless.

CCColorado

Dude, it’s Always about the money… get real. Just because they don’t say it doesn’t mean it’s not the 800 lb gorilla in the room. You think his agent/ sister will take less money ?

Drew

I think it’s probably best that dale jr should be staying at his other job as a car owner for jr motorsports and I’m just disappointed that his contract in the broadcast booth with nbc sports has expired.

Jeremy

Jr is not the best in the booth, but he’s not the worst either. Personally, I’ve always thought he has (publicly, at least) dealt with the pressure, expectations, and everything else that comes from being Sr’s son very well. I particularly appreciate his passion for the sport and how he honors NASCAR’s legacy via the Dale Jr Download podcasts (bringing in guests/legends from years past, which usually produce stories and explanations of events I have never heard before). In that regard, I think he is invaluable to the sport as nobody else – not even NASCAR – is doing this work to keep the past alive and linked to the present day NASCAR. It’s even better that he takes on the uncomfortable situations (his personal feuds/disagreements with others) and hashes it out face to face at the table. He could easily just not bring these guys onto his show, but he goes ahead and does it – often with amicable results and a better understanding of the situation between all parties. Sure, they still might not be best friends afterwards, but the grievances have been aired. I feel that’s a huge part of what makes him genuine and appealing to fans.

JT

You mentioned that Junior was hired by NBC’s corporate, not NBC Sports. I bet he was making more than his other 3 NBC Cup broadcast booth mates combined. Maybe not Romo, or Brady money, but somewhere in the ballpark.

But I think NBC’s corporate guys are a pretty fickle bunch. Cup TV ratings have not been good. Junior hasn’t been able to help move the ratings needle up recently, either. As far as NBC is concerned, “business is business”. Unless Junior agrees to take a big pay cut, he’s probably out at NBC.

Bill B

No one is going to tune into a race because of the announcer, except for maybe a one-off appearance of someone that hasn’t been heard from much (Carl Edwards is an example).

However, a bad announcer can get people to tune out so NBC should keep that in mind.

I have to say, if they were going to lose one of their 4 booth announcers, Earnhardt would be the last I’d like to see removed. Any of the other three would be an improvement.

Echo

Burton is useless

Echo

Don’t fret everyone. Jr’s sister is one super smart agent. She always has and will continue to get him top notch deals. Je isn’t going anywhere, he will be on NBC. His Nascar knowledge and love for it are second to nobody.

CCColorado

Agree on Burton being useless, and his voice , and Juniors too, are horrible to listen too. Both sound too much alike, you’d think NBC execs would have heard that by now. Heck, ditch super hype man Rick Allen, he’s too hyperbole for a national broadcast.

Sandra Dunham

The voice is so irrating

Karen Douglas

That is not true. Junior is exactly the reason why I do not mute the television when the race is on. When he isn’t broadcasting I use MRN.

wildcats2016

I agree Bill B – Michael Waltrip is an example of that for me. I seldom watch the truck races because he ruins it for me. I got tired of Ol DW for years before he retired. I liked DW as a person but the shtick got old. Michael would turn me off from the broadcast.

Kim Robinson

Jr. Is decent enough. And his enthusiasm seems real, unlike most commentators. And while I can’t know the financial details of his contract, I doubt he’s lost NBC any revenue.

I agree with the previous poster in that he’s among the last of NASCAR broadcast commentators that needs to be sacrificed. I’d vote Steve Letarte; can’t stand him, ymmv.

Karen Douglas

I have been wondering about this situation since I heard his contract expired. I was actually getting ready to initiate a boycott until I read your great article. Thanks for letting us know AND for giving us diehard fans some hope.

Echo

Don’t worry a bit. If Jr wants to stay at NBC then Kelley will make it happen. Hasn’t anyone paid attention, Kelley is brilliant with marketing jr. He ain’t to bad himself but he loves Nascar. Kelley doesn’t lose, never a misstep. Maybe Jr wants to fly free, only he knows. Maybe something better. But if he wants NBC then he will get it PERIOD

Jerome ross

We could be stuck with Michael Waltrip

wildcats2016

ugh say it ain’t so!

jdquick

Lord help us all. DW at the end was the worst ever and MW is right behind him. I could do without his pit walk and him making a fool of himself…..and don’t need him in the booth either.

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