Dale Earnhardt Jr. won't be a trendsetter when he arrives in the NBC broadcast booth this week at Chicagoland. He will follow in the footsteps of some of the best drivers (and the not-so-best drivers) who went from Cup racer to talking about Cup races.
The list includes drivers who are Hall of Famers to those who never won a race.
But who's the best?
Among the NASCAR Hall of Famers who have worked in the booth: Ned Jarrett, Darrell Waltrip, Benny Parsons, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace and soon-to-be inductee Jeff Gordon. Lee Petty and Richard Petty also had short stints as part of broadcast crews, while Fred Lorenzen did commentary for races on ABC's Wide World of Sports.
ESPN's staff takes a look at who they think gives the best mix of analysis, delivery and entertainment value:
Mike Clay, ESPN: NASCAR fans are fortunate to have so many ex-drivers turned talented broadcasters and it certainly appears more are on the way (Kevin Harvick?). I was always a sucker for Wally Dallenbach, who may not have been the most successful driver of the bunch, but he translated what he learned on the track and in the garage into elite analysis. He knew how to take the aspects of racing that were often complicated and made them easy for unacquainted fans to understand while not insulting the advanced, long-time crowd. It's unfortunate Dallenbach is no longer broadcasting, but hopefully he'll eventually make it back onto the scene.
Ricky Craven, ESPN NASCAR analyst: My all-time favorite is Benny Parsons. What differentiated BP from all others was his natural ability to lighten the mood, entertain the audience and deliver on the experience. I'm not sure Benny's form would register as highly today, but I'm certain he was the right person, at the right time, when the sport needed him most. Parsons' distribution was happy and fun, and he was real, which connected him with fans. He had a universal bond with everyone in the garage area, and he could get anything he wanted from drivers and crew chiefs because he had their trust. No announcer since has received that level of a allegiance from competitors, but there is hope that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has similar potential.
Ryan McGee, ESPN senior writer: This is tough because over the years I've had the opportunity to work with all of them! If not for Benny Parsons I probably wouldn't have ended up working in this sport. But I also know that BP would agree with me when I say that the gold standard for racer-turned-talker will always be the originator of the position. When Ned Jarrett shocked the garage by stepping out of his car at the height of his driving powers, his stated mission was the same that we hear from Dale Jr. now. He wanted to help grow the sport via his work in the broadcast booth. From MRN to CBS to ESPN and a ton of studio shows in between, Gentleman Ned taught multiple generations of sports fans to love racing. He still does.
Alisha Miller, ESPN.com: Two former NASCAR drivers who I get a kick out of watching are Kenny Wallace and Michael Waltrip because they add character and a side of laughter (with them and at them) to the sport. Plus, you can count on Waltrip to lean on his four victories at superspeedways to provide expertise on those tracks. But the honor of best former driver turned broadcaster would have to go to Jeff Gordon. He's the perfect connection between old school NASCAR and the new millennial NASCAR, as he can brag about winning the Brickyard 400 before Chase Elliott was even born and also lay claim to a Martinsville win as recently as 2015. Gordon's life experience adds to that same level of trust that others before him, such as Benny Parsons, brought to the booth.
Bob Pockrass, ESPN.com: Yeah, Jeff Gordon's new and hasn't had the impact of a Ned Jarrett or Benny Parsons. But he brought a current driver perspective to Fox's telecasts, balancing some of the views espoused by Darrell Waltrip. Fox has the Daytona 500, the race where the most casual fans listen, and those casual fans know Gordon. He is able to explain things to them in clear language while also bringing enthusiasm to the booth. While he has remained involved at Hendrick, he doesn't seem too biased in his analysis.
Marty Smith, ESPN: Benny Parsons, Ned Jarrett and Bob Jenkins provided the soundtrack of NASCAR's greatest chapter -- though admittedly I read that chapter through the prism of impressionable youthful wonder. When I was a kid and the sport wasn't easy to locate anywhere other than Sunday at noon, they were the window into the cockpits of my heroes. So for me, the answer is Benny Parsons. He was so relatable because he wasn't concerned with polish. He was concerned with authenticity. And Ned's scholarly southern gentleman vibe offset Benny's good 'ol boy approach so well. It was just magic to hear them narrate the on-screen pictures before us. All that said, I believe Dale Jr. can be John Madden. I think he'll be so influential in presence and delivery -- we've already seen it, after one damn race, SLIDE JOB!!! -- that new generations of fans won't view him as a former driver. They'll view him as appointment broadcaster and household voice.
Scott Symmes, ESPN.com: Benny Parsons went from the Bulls-Eye Barbecue Sauce car (one of my favorites back in the day) to the booth -- where he became an immediate hit. His every-man's approach made him relatable and his passion for the sport really jumped out. He had plenty of insight, appearing to be genuinely interested in educating fans, told memorable stories and wasn't afraid to have fun. Parsons deserves credit for being part of an ESPN booth team that elevated the sport in the late 1980s/early '90s.
Matt Willis, ESPN Stats & Information: I really think Dale Jr. has a chance to be the best we've seen in the broadcast booth. His willingness to speak his mind, his ability to connect with a variety of audiences and his enthusiasm for the sport have already been paramount in his one race in the booth. I think Junior would be successful in any line of post-driving career business he chose to go into, and I'm glad he decided to stay involved in NASCAR as both an owner and a broadcaster. But I think the mark to beat is Benny Parsons. I'll admit I'm biased. He was the voice I came into my NASCAR fandom hearing. As I was learning the sport, he was teaching and making the sport fun as a whole to listen to. It didn't hurt to have his voice in some NASCAR video games either.