Earnhardt usually is in the booth for NBC’s NASCAR coverage. But the network doesn’t start broadcasting NASCAR races until next month after Father’s Day.
So NBC sent Dale Earnhardt Jr to the Kentucky Derby, giving their coverage some multi-dimensional expertise. Earnhardt knows speed, whether it’s coming from four wheels or four legs. And he’s also curious about other sports.
“I’ve really enjoyed NBC pushing me and getting me out of my comfort zone,” Earnhardt said earlier this week in an interview with the AP. “And it’s terribly uncomfortable to put on a sports coat and dive head first into being a part of the broadcast team at these events. I feel at times really undeserving and out of place.”
“I’m thankful that they pair me with Rutledge Wood, who I’m really familiar with and great to work with. And that really knocks the edge off the experience to where I feel pretty comfortable.”
If you tuned into NBC’s pre-race coverage, you’ve noticed that Earnhardt is with partner Rutledge Wood, who also is a well-known NASCAR analyst. The two are doing a scavenger hunt around Churchill Downs as part of the Kentucky Derby pre-show. Their coverage isn’t so much nuts and bolts of horse racing. Rather, it’s more features as they explain race traditions and some of its history.
Earlier Saturday, Wood tweeted a photo of the two of them wearing their finest Kentucky Derby attire. They look very bluegrass chic. Earnhardt is sporting a lavender jacket and khakis, while Wood is wearing a bright green suit dotted with horses and jockeys.
The two climbed the Twin Spires. They interviewed jockeys playing ping pong. They’re planning a report from a speakeasy inside Churchill Downs. Perhaps there will be some mint julep consumption as they show behind-the-scenes glimpses of race prep on the infield. Earnhardt also did coverage from the 2019 race.
He said NBC likes to elevate viewpoints from the non-horse set.
“To see you experience it, to be a fish out of water and keying in on those things that jump out at you and get you interested, people can relate to that,” Earnhardt told the AP.
Following the Kentucky Derby, Dale Earnhardt Jr next will head to Indianapolis. He’ll be part of the NBC team calling the Indianapolis 500. Again, it’s not NASCAR. But Earnhardt knows IndyCar racing. After all, he’s part of the ownership group of the Music City Grand Prix, which started in Nashville in 2021.
At the Indianapolis 500, he’ll join Danica Patrick and Mike Tirico for the NBC coverage. Then on June 26, NBC picks up NASCAR coverage from Fox. The network’s first race is the Ally 400 from Nashville Speedway.
NBC loaned Earnhardt to Fox last month for the network’s coverage of Talladega. Ross Chastain won that race.