NEW YORK -- As he roamed in and out of appearances on a media tour Wednesday in New York City, Dale Earnhardt Jr. talked with ESPN.com about his new job: NASCAR analyst for NBC. He is definitely ready to start this second career as NBC takes over the NASCAR Cup Series telecasts this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. Here are some highlights of the conversation as the former driver talks about who has influenced him when it comes to broadcasting, whether he will have a catchphrase -- and what he thinks of the sport's most controversial catchphrase -- and a track where he would love to call a race:
Q: Are you hoping with this platform to educate fans?
Dale Jr.: I want to bring energy. There's broadcasters that make me enjoy what I'm seeing because of their energy and how they explain what's happening and paint that picture. I'm hoping that's my best asset: that I bring energy, and I make my teammates better, and they will want to make me the best that I can be. And I want to do the same thing for them. I want them to feel like I bring something to the table other than just conversation and knowledge. I've got to come in there and have good energy from start to finish. And it's going to be an experience.
So far, in the mock stuff, it's been there. It has not been something I've really had to work at as far as the energy. I'm just so excited to be at the racetrack. I had to temper that verbally at home because I don't want to say that so much around my wife. But I'm really excited to be going to Chicago. I am. To be at the track and up in the morning and smelling the smells. It's just something you miss, man, you know? The environment. We don't go to a lot of races in that first half of the year. It really gets you ready to rock.
Q: I learned a long time ago not to say I'm disappointed I'm not at the race in front of [my fiancée].
Dale Jr.: Exactly. The 21 weeks will go by super fast.
Q: With your vast video collection of old races, do you know how many races you have actually watched?
Dale Jr.: No. I don't. I've got a big, long collection that dates back. The stuff I have is from the '40s, '50s and '60s all the way up until now -- hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of races. I've watched tons of races. I listened to a lot of them on the radio before we had full coverage of the entire season.
Q: Once you made the decision to go to the booth, did you start analyzing announcers more as you watched races?
Dale Jr.: No more than I did as a driver. I think as a driver, I may have been more critical -- and a lot of times, wrongly critical. When you're a driver, you're like, "That's crap. That's not what happened. Man, these guys." As a driver, it was easy to find the negative in things. But when I got out of the car, everything about the sport, my whole perception of just about everything in the sport, did a 180.
A lot of the things that I didn't like about broadcast, I now understand why they do them, why things are like they are, how much harder it is to do a broadcast than I ever imagined, how many people that are involved and how much preparation is involved. It's just not jumping up there. As a driver, you just take it for granted, and you don't see the whole picture. So I'm a lot less critical than I used to be. I learned the same lessons with NASCAR. You're super critical of them, and then they take you in behind the curtain, and you go, "Wow, OK, I see why this is such a hard job."
Q: What are the best races you have watched in your collection?
Dale Jr.: The 1979 Daytona 500 was awesome. It was almost like the first race that Ken Squier ever did. And so he was sort of introducing himself as well as the sport. His take on linking a driver to their hometown, I love that. The whole world is watching this race for the first time, and you've just got to assume, even though it's not true entirely, that no one knows none of these guys. And by the end of the race, you had this sort of image of these drivers because of his explanation of their hometown, and he just had a way of giving them a profile very quickly. So I listened to Squier quite a bit. I like a lot of the things that he would do, even if the Squierisms, some of the sayings that he had, I don't know if that stuff translates over to today because it's dated. But it was amazing at the time. I don't think you jump in the booth and you pull out a Squierism that would work.
I love Benny [Parsons]. I listened to Benny, and I liked him because he was a driver that came out of the driver's seat and got in the booth and was really respected by the other drivers. And he had great relationships with all these drivers and maintained those relationships, and fans enjoyed him. By the end of it, people appreciated him as much for his broadcasting career as they did his driving career, maybe even more. How awesome would it be if one day somebody would come up and say, "Man, I loved you as a broadcaster." To get a compliment like that after -- I'm pretty proud of my driving career -- for someone to say my broadcasting career measured up would be amazing one day. I think Benny did that. He's great in front of the camera, but everything he did behind the camera, his way of interacting and keeping relationships and networking and preparing, was pretty awesome.
Q: Do you feel in any sport that there needs to be a former athlete in the booth?
Dale Jr.: Well, I mean those guys are going to have the most connection to what's happening, the most knowledge, and if they have the ability to be conversational and charming, they'll be the ones that you get the most information from. [John] Madden, in my mind, may be the greatest example of that because he came from the coaching sidelines and goes into the booth and becomes one of the most legendary broadcasters ever. When people saw him on the sidelines in the early '70s as the Raiders coach, did people see him as a broadcaster at the end of his career [and in] video games and all that? I think that it helps bring knowledge and credibility to what's being said in the booth when you have guys that have done it. The fans are going to take that guy's word because they know he's been there.
Q: As a Redskins fan, can you admit that Tony Romo is good?
Dale Jr.: Tony is awesome. Yeah, I can be honest with the truth. It's easy. You're going to have a losing argument with anybody that he wasn't any good. He was awesome. In racing, there aren't plays. I'm not going to sit there and go, "I know it's coming. Here it comes. ... OK, there it was. Boy, I guessed it." But there have been times in our practice broadcasts this year where I have anticipated a driver's reaction to something, which has been pretty cool. That's been fun. That's given me, like, a boost of confidence when that happens, like, "Man, OK, I've just got to trust my gut when I feel like I've got an idea of what a driver is about to do. I can talk about that." And should it happen, it would be awesome.
Q: In general, when you watch racing and other sports, do you feel former athletes are too soft or too hard on the participants?
Dale Jr.: Everybody's a little different. Everybody's personality is different. A lot of guys are going to handle that differently, and you've just got to do it on a case-by-case basis with the drivers. And if they want to talk to you, you get on the phone with them and say, "Hey, this is why I said what I said, and this is where I was and why I was thinking that," and you try to have a conversation about it. Once you're on this side and you see what the broadcasters are trying to accomplish, it makes a lot of sense why they say and do what they do.
They have to tell people what they think they're seeing. And people want frank information. They don't want a fluff piece. They don't want anybody sugarcoating anything. Because they can see it. They see what's happening. They want the broadcaster to acknowledge what's happening and don't let anybody off the hook. But you also have to have relationships with these people where you want to reach out to them and communicate with them, where you're texting them or going to the track and seeing them or going up in their hauler, you've got to be able to have relationships with them where they will communicate with you. Drivers, I know, they will shut people out. If they don't like a guy, they won't work with him, and they will avoid him.
Q: Earlier you mentioned Squierisms. Are you going to have a catchphrase?
Dale Jr.: No.
Q: No catchphrase?
Dale Jr.: Is it necessary to have one?
Q: That's my question.
Dale Jr.: I'm not going to plan to have one, and I'm not going to create my own. I'm sure there will be things that I have a habit of saying a lot that I don't even know I say a lot that the fans are going to tell me that I say a lot. So maybe the fans will come up with my catchphrase.
Q: As far as catchphrases go, where do you stand on [Darrell Waltrip's] "Boogity, boogity, boogity" -- good or bad?
Dale Jr.: You know. [Long pause]. I have a hard time being honest on that one. I really like DW, and he's always been super nice to me. It works for DW. It fits DW to a T, to be honest with you. His alterations on it: "Boogity, boogity, let's get ready to race hot dogs" -- was that at Martinsville? -- and at All-Star, "Let's go, you bunch of All-Stars," that was pretty funny. I thought that was good for him.
Q: If NASCAR were to add a race at a track, which one would you be most excited to announce?
Dale Jr.: I am going to say the Nashville Fairgrounds. Man, I love that place. If I could today, I would add 10 damn short tracks to the schedule. I would. And Nashville would be the first one.
Q: So if they add that, you're in the booth for that one?
Dale Jr.: Yeah. If it's an Xfinity race or a Truck race, I might have to get in the car just to run one more time. It's such an amazing track. I was so heartbroken when [Bruton Smith's SMI] was bidding for it, and they ended up giving it to the [current] promoter. We got so close. You know we would have been there with an Xfinity race or a Truck race. We would have. That would have been incredible.
Q: So many people watch races on their phones or iPads -- have you?
Dale Jr.: I did watch Xfinity races on my iPad, and I watched some football on my phone. From a sports fan's perspective, it wasn't a stretch.
Q: Is the NASCAR broadcasting group, as far as talent, diverse enough? Are there enough women, or should there be more?
Dale Jr.: I don't know. I'm new, and so I don't really know exactly what the demographic looks like or what the ratio is. The women that I have worked with as a driver in motorsports are freaking on it.
Q: Has anybody ever told you that you need to get rid of sounding like you're from Mooresville, North Carolina?
Dale Jr.: No.
Q: Are you concerned at all about that, or has Marty Smith [advised you]?
Dale Jr.: I'm sure I'm going to be called "country," and I'm sure people are going to be very critical, positively and negatively. I'll try to navigate those waters the best I can with [fellow NBC broadcasters] Steve [Letarte] and Jeff [Burton]. I'll be honest with you: When it comes to criticism, the only person I really care about is [NBC Sports Group executive producer] Sam Flood. From a fan perspective, I care about what they think if it's a large group of people with the same complaint. Obviously, you need to take notice and change something. But if it's one single guy on Twitter that thinks you sound like a hick, that's not going to bother me too bad. But I'm taking my cues from my boss, Sam Flood. He hired me. He's going to tell me what I need to do to be the best I can be, and that's who I've been listening to.