Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his TV debut last weekend as a NASCAR analyst for NBC — and he impressed, as you would expect from Junior — but his return to NASCAR brought up an interesting question.
Which current drivers would be best to follow Earnhardt's lead and transition to the broadcast booth?
Now, obviously there's some projection here, as many of the sport's top drivers still have several seasons of quality racing left in them. But considering all the positives Earnhardt brought to Sunday's broadcast, much like Jeff Gordon before him, it's impossible not to think about who could follow in their footsteps.
So here we go — the five NASCAR drivers, in no particular order, who would be best suited — or at least compelling choices — for the broadcast booth after retirement:
Kyle Busch: Is Busch the most popular driver on NASCAR's top circuit? Absolutely not — far from it, really. Busch frequently draws as many boos as he does cheers when he wins (case in point: at Chicagoland this week) for his ... brash personality. But while not every fan may appreciate Busch's temperament, they have to at least appreciate his performance. Busch is now 10 wins away from Richard Petty's record 200 mark (although not all at the Cup level) and is one of the best drivers of all time. His sometimes-prickly personality has smoothed out since the birth of his son, and given his excellence the past decade, he'd bring a wealth of knowledge for any broadcast team.
Matt Kenseth: Forget for a second the Hall of Fame-worthy career Kenseth has had, even given his drop in performance in recent years. Forget that he's now part time at Roush Fenway Racing, splitting races with Trevor Bayne and attempting to pull the program back to some semblance of relevancy. Kenseth has long been one of the sport's more intelligent drivers, and like Dale Jr., his career has stretched long enough that he could speak to NASCAR's changes over time. Add in his sense of humor — dry, sarcastic and sometimes biting — and it's easy to imagine him bantering in the booth.
Clint Bowyer: Hoo boy. Bowyer is easily the least-accomplished driver on this list — he's the only one who hasn't won a Cup Series championship, after all — but titles aren't a requisite for successful broadcasters. Bowyer has been around the circuit with various teams, and he's truly seen the lowest lows the sport has to offer, which would make for interesting perspective. But Bowyer's potential as a broadcaster doesn't really hinge on his on-track success: it's all about his personality. Bowyer is one of the most engaging, funny and sarcastic drivers out there, but he can also be more soft-spoken when necessary. He'd be a hilarious addition to any booth, especially one needing an injection of humor.
Brad Keselowski: Kez has both the pedigree and personality to be a solid broadcaster, but he also has something not every driver does: very strong opinions. Where some drivers will take changes in stride and learn to adapt, Keselowski is almost always vocal about what he'd like to see from NASCAR. That might be a turnoff to some fans, but on the whole, it's something TV broadcasters are celebrated for — addressing more difficult issues and being as far from vanilla as can be.
Kevin Harvick: Harvick in the booth would be reminiscent of Jeff Gordon: polished, thoughtful and highly recognizable. Especially as some of NASCAR's elder statesmen have left the sport, Harvick has assumed (or at least tried to assume) the mantle as NASCAR's older voice of reason. He's a calculated, insightful driver, and his comfort with the media would seemingly make him a natural on the air. Harvick might not always be flashy, but he's a rare blend of success and stability — he's someone you know would be solid week in and week out. And like Gordon before him, he's a terrific NASCAR historian, something that adds tremendous value to any race broadcast.
This week's NASCAR race: Daytona: What you need to know
Race: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400.
Distance: 160 laps, or 400 miles.
Where: Daytona International Speedway, a 2.5-mile asphalt tri-oval in Daytona Beach, Florida.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday.
Last year's winner: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Also this week: Coca-Cola Firecracker 250, Xfinity Series, Daytona International Speedway, Friday, 7:30 p.m., NBCSN.
Worth mentioning: Given that it's run around Independence Day, several sitting presidents or presidential candidates have attended the race, including Ronald Reagan in 1984 for Richard Petty's 200th career win.
Who's Hot/Who's Not
Kyle Busch: He was already atop the points standings before his fifth win of the season, but this most recent victory proves he's not slowing down anytime soon.
Kyle Larson: Larson narrowly missed his first win of the year, but with his four second-place finishes, he's threatening the Big 3 on a consistent basis.
Chase Elliott: Elliott is squarely on the playoff bubble, and while he's improved over the course of the season, 19th-place finishes such as this week won't help his cause.
Austin Dillon: Failing to finish Sunday only reaffirms how unlikely Dillon's Daytona 500 victory was. Can he make magic this week in his return to Daytona Beach?