NBC, Fox wooing Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Dale_Earnhardt_Jr_addresses_media_at_HMS_headquarters
Dale Earnhardt Jr. could be on the other side of the microphones after his full-time driving career is over.

TV networks are looking to add pluses to their NASCAR coverage, both with proven stars and with surprising newcomers.

Published reports said this week that NBC and Fox are wooing Dale Earnhardt Jr. to join their teams once he retires at the end of this season.

In the meantime, NBC announced former Olympic sprinter Ato Boldon will be joining its NASCAR coverage as an analyst.

Earnhardt has said this would be his last season of racing full time and he has intimated he’d be interested in a broadcasting career after that.

There have been rumors that Fox has been looking for a successor to Darrell Waltrip, 70, who has been on the network’s NASCAR races since it began showing them in 2001.

Boldon, who was a four-time Olympic medalist in the 100 and 200 meters for Trinidad and Tobago, has been an NBC track and field analyst for 10 years and will join the network’s NASCAR coverage on July 1 at the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona Beach, Fla.

He first expressed an interest in NASCAR to producer Sam Flood during the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and attended his first race at the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November. Flood told The Associated Press he likes Boldon’s inquisitiveness.

“Ato is a curious guy and I want someone who loves cars, but is also from a different sports world,” Flood said. “I want a fish out of water to show what NASCAR is all about.”

NBC said at the Coke Zero 400, Boldon will report on what makes NASCAR fans so loyal to their drivers. He will also look back at the early days of stock-car racing and what it was like to race on the packed sand of Daytona Beach.

When he was at Homestead-Miami, Boldon took a few laps with NBC analyst and former NASCAR driver Jeff Burton.

“There was so much going on, just to keep that car wheels down and to keep it off the wall,” Boldon told AP. “I couldn’t imagine doing that with another 30 cars, competing for space.

“It really created an appreciation, and the same thing I say about my sport, the pros make it look easy and it is not.”

In other NASCAR news, NBCSN’s NASCAR America plans to show a live show each week from the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C., starting July 5.

WHAT DID WE JUST SEE?

The U.S. Open averaged 5.1 million viewers on Fox for the final round Sunday, the network’s smallest audience in its three years of televising the event. It’s also the second lowest figure on record, according to SportsBusiness Daily. The all-time low was 4.6 million by NBC in its final year of showing the event. The figure is down 5.9% from last year’s 5.4 million and a whopping 24.3% from 2015’s 6.7 million.

Fox’s coverage this year, led by Joe Buck, seemed to finally be reaching its stride after growing pains the first two years, understandable since Fox’s golf schedule is so small, covering only U.S. Golf Association events. Fox’s graphics, particularly the tracker showing the flight of the ball, were outstanding and should be a part of every golf telecast.

ESPN reported that “total viewership” (TV plus streaming) for the first six games of the College World Series averaged 923,000 viewers, the highest since 2011 and No. 3 since records began in 1994. The network says viewership is up 95% over last season.

WHO’S IN? WHO’S OUT?

It’s still not always easy to tell who survived ESPN’s round of talent layoffs and who didn’t.

Karl Ravech
Karl Ravech has signed a contract extension with ESPN. (ESPN photo)

What we do know is that Karl Ravech has signed an extension. He will become the voice of the Home Run Derby, replacing Chris Berman, and will continue to host Baseball Tonight before Sunday Night Baseball games and surrounding big Major League Baseball events. He’ll also lead College World Series and Little League World Series coverage and expand his play-by-play duties to include Monday Night Baseball and men’s college basketball, along with increased studio work.

What we don’t know is the status of NFL analyst Ron Jaworski. His name has been mentioned in some reports on ESPN’s layoffs, but Jaworski himself has apparently heard nothing. He has long been a part of ESPN’s NFL Matchup, which the network says will continue, but there has been no word on who will be on it.

On The Doomsday Podcast with Matt Mosley and Ed Werder (himself an ESPN layoff), Jaworski expressed his uncertainty.

“I wish I could give you a definitive answer but I don’t have one,” Jaworski said on the podcast, quoted by Pro Football Talk. “I’m absolutely very grateful and thrilled to have worked at ESPN for 27 years. I still may continue to work at ESPN. I do not know what the future is going to hold. I still have a contract with them until May 31 of 2022, and if they choose to want to use me in some other areas, that is being talked about with my agent basically as we speak. So I’m a guy in limbo right now. But I do want to continue some broadcasting. I love what I do.”

It may not have to do with layoffs, but Ray Lewis is leaving ESPN for Fox Sports 1, where he will contribute to several studio shows.

WHERE’S JOE THIS WEEK?

While the first-place Dodgers are hosting the second-place Colorado Rockies this weekend, Joe Davis, their play-by-play man, will be announcing — the Angels.

Davis will be working for Fox, doing the Angels’ game at Boston at 4 p.m. PDT Saturday. It’ll be Davis’ first primary game this season for the network, shown to 51% of the nation, including KTTV (Ch. 11). He’ll be teamed with A.J. Pierzynski and Jon Paul Morosi.

Interestingly, Fox’s top team of Matt Vasgersian, John Smoltz and Ken Rosenthal will do the Mets-Giants game, a real stinkeroo, shown to only 16% of the nation. Kenny Albert and Tom Verducci will be on the No. 2 game, Pirates-Cardinals, seen by 32%. …

UP & DOWN THE DIAL

The Los Angeles Area Emmy Awards for outstanding crafts in news and programming have been announced. Diana Alvarado of KMEX (Ch. 34) won for sports reporting, Steve Cyphers of SportsNet LA for programming writer, Adrian A. Huerta of SportsNet LA for single-camera videography programming and a team from Spectrum SportsNet for multi-camera videography programming. They and the rest of the L.A. area Emmy winners will receive their awards July 22. … The NBA draft is at 4 p.m. PDT Thursday on ESPN. The NBA Awards will be on TNT at 6 p.m. Monday. It should be an interesting show with all of the league’s postseason awards presented at one time for the first time. … NBCSN will show the NHL draft at 3:30 p.m. Friday. …

The Manny Pacquiao-Jeff Horn fight from Brisbane, Australia, will be shown live by ESPN and ESPN Deportes at 7 p.m. July 1. It’ll be Pacquiao’s first non-pay-per-view fight since September 2005. It’s the main event of a four-fight card. … The U.S. Track and Field Outdoor Championships from Sacramento will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Friday on NBCSN and at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday by NBC.

Soledad O’Brien has extended her contract with HBO to continue providing reports for Real Sports. … To mark the 45th anniversary of Title IX, ESPN Classic, ESPNU and ESPN2 will have a 24-hour programming marathon, starting at 9 p.m. PDT Thursday, which will include several NCAA championships, documentaries from the Nine for IX series and the live Washington-Minnesota WNBA game at 5 p.m. Friday on ESPN2. … Ice Cube’s BIG3 three-on-three basketball league, starts play at 5 p.m. Monday on FS1. A preview, Ice Cube & The Answer: The Making of the BIG3, will be shown at 4 p.m. today on FS1. …

Races 5-8 of the America’s Cup will be shown by NBC at 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Additional races, if needed, will be shown at 10 a.m. Monday and Tuesday on NBCSN. ESPN2 and ESPNews are splitting Canadian Football League coverage this season. The first two games — Saskatchewan-Montreal at 4:30 p.m. Thursday and Calgary-Ottawa at 4:30 p.m. Friday — will both be on ESPNews. …

Instead of hosting big parties for advertisers at February’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the Wall Street Journal reports NBC is considering sending them to a gathering at Jackson Hole, Wyo., instead because of security concerns.

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