Dale Earnhardt Jr. will have a new way to voice his racing opinions next season — on television.
NASCAR's most popular driver will join NBC Sports Group's coverage of stock car racing next year and there may be more options once he climbs out of the car for good.
The agreement with NBCUniversal announced Monday will allow Earnhardt to pursue "a wide range of opportunities in the company's media businesses, including movies, television, podcasts, and other areas" including football and perhaps even the Olympics.
"I've always just drove race cars. So this is probably the first real job I've had in 20 years," Earnhardt said on a conference call. "This is an incredible opportunity for me to start an entirely new career."
He seems like a natural, too.
Earnhardt has been voted the series' most popular driver 14 consecutive times and provides some of the most thoughtful analysis in the series. Add those traits to his down-to-earth approach and his desire to succeed and it could be a perfect match. NBC Sports Executive Producer and President of Production Sam Flood said Earnhardt has already contemplated following Chris Collinsworth around for a "Sunday Night Football" game or watching an Xfinity Series race in the television truck just to see how things work.
"His love of the sport and his passion for the history of the sport makes him look at it in a different way," Flood said. "It's fun to hear how curious he is about TV."
Earnhardt got a brief taste of broadcasting last year, working with Flood while he dealt with concussion-related symptoms.
But discussions with NBC didn't begin until after Earnhardt announced in April he would retire after this season, in part because of his injury history. Two big crashes last summer forced him out of the final 18 races, and he missed two races during the 2012 playoffs also because of concussion-related symptoms. The 42-year-old Earnhardt intends to compete in two Xfinity races next season and plans to be involved in the sport in other ways.
Earnhardt said negotiations began after he decided to leave racing and continued for several months before the two sides agreed to the deal in the past few days.
"I'm excited to be able to finally announce this news," Earnhardt said. "I'm going to follow Sam's lead and as prepared be as I can and let him give me the tools to make progress."
Next year's NASCAR races will air on either NBC Sports or Fox channels. This year, NBC Sports Group will air the final 20 Cup Series races and the final 19 Xfinity events.
"It is a tremendous honor not only to join NBC Sports next year but to begin a new career alongside people who love NASCAR as much as I do," Earnhardt said. "To be reunited with Steve Letarte, to be able to call legends like Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty teammates rather than just friends, to be able to continue going to the track and connecting with race fans, it's a privilege I don't take lightly. I will devote my heart and soul to this broadcast team and pledge my very best to the millions who watch it."
Earnhardt has 26 career victories, including the 2004 and 2014 Daytona 500, putting him 29th on NASCAR's all-time race winners list. His father, Dale Earnhardt, won seven Cup titles and 76 Cup races in his storied career.
NBC said it was also partnering with Earnhardt on some of his other businesses, including Dirty Mo Media and Hammerhead Entertainment.