NASCAR Sprint Cup: Top 7 Drivers We Can't Wait to Be Analysts
See the photo above? It's a picture of Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett, taken in mid-2005. Besides sharing the common thread of being former champions at NASCAR's highest level (Wallace in 1989, Jarrett in 1999), both are now employees of ESPN's NASCAR division. Wallace provides coverage from the in-race studio, while Jarrett provides color commentary up in the booth.
Seven short years ago, when this photo was taken, not too many fans would have been focused on the broadcasting futures of these two drivers. After all, Wallace was in the midst of the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup contention, while Jarrett would take the final win of his illustrious career at Talladega that October. But it wouldn't be long before both would take advantage of the gift of gab and trade in their fire suits for dress suits.
And just as these top-tier drivers were replaced with other, younger top-tier drivers, they will someday be replaced in the broadcast booth just the same. There are plenty of worthy candidates currently in the sport, most of whom will likely take after the styles of some current broadcasters. With that being said, here's a look at seven drivers who will probably take commentary gigs once their driving careers are up, and will someday be a pleasure in the studio or the booth:
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Stylistic Inspiration: Rusty Wallace
Best Fit: Studio analysis or pit reporter
Outlook: It's too easy to go with Hermie Sadler as a comparison for his younger brother, so think of Elliott as another off-beat, energetic studio foil for a relatively straight-up female host. Much like Nicole Manske's chemistry with Wallace, Sadler could make an excellent fit breaking down the races from the studio in the infield, or even trading bologna burgers and light-hearted stories with drivers during the buildup to the race.
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Stylistic Inspiration: Ricky Craven
Best Fit: Studio analysis or online columns
Outlook: "The Mayor" is well-known around the NASCAR garage as one of its most respectable and articulate drivers. Those are traits that would translate well to a media gig once his driving career is up, and are the hallmarks upon which Craven has built his analysis for ESPN and Yahoo! Sports. Listening to Burton in just about any role would be a pleasure for most fans.
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Stylistic Inspiration: Dale Jarrett
Best Fit: Commentary booth or studio analysis
Outlook: The 2000 Winston Cup champion will likely broadcast much like the man who won the title before him: with clarity, brevity and integrity. While Jarrett may have picked up some of his talent genetically from father Ned, Labonte may exhibit some of the same cool demeanor and careful articulation that mark some of the sport's best commentators.
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Stylistic Inspiration: Kyle Petty
Best Fit: Pre-race show or studio analysis
Outlook: Think about this comparison: both Petty and Harvick had massive shoes to fill in their early driving careers (Petty following father Richard as a NASCAR driver, Harvick replacing the late Dale Earnhardt in his car), both have spent time as team owners and both are willing to speak their mind without regret or apology. Harvick would make a fantastic fixture as part of a pre-race show a la SPEED's NASCAR RaceDay if he doesn't move back into heavy team ownership in retirement.
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Stylistic Inspiration: Jimmy Spencer
Best Fit: Pre-race show or own show
Outlook: Keselowski might have the biggest mouth on the Sprint Cup circuit right now. Not that it's a bad thing by any means—his times as an in-race reporter for ESPN and his Twitter account make him a perfect fit for this list—but it would probably preclude him from more serious roles as a color commentator.
Keselowski would make another great fit for RaceDay, or, as Spencer received from SPEED, his own show. The only thing is, it'll be about 20 years down the road. Don't get too anxious waiting for it.
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Stylistic Inspiration: Darrell Waltrip
Best Fit: Studio analysis or own show
Outlook: Remember how Darrell Waltrip used to be hated as a driver for the longest time, before eventually becoming a fan favorite as a more mature owner-driver? Well, "Jaws" probably laid out a career path for "Rowdy" by doing it himself 20 years beforehand.
Busch drives with Waltrip's mouth and Dale Earnhardt's moxie, so it's only a matter of time before fans smarten up and begin to like him—probably once he figures out how to be more mature both on and off the track. A mature Busch would make an excellent television personality, perhaps by interviewing the controversial drivers of the future.
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Stylistic Inspiration: The late Neil Bonnett
Best Fit: Color commentary or own show
Outlook: Those who remember Bonnett will cite his work with CBS, TBS and TNN (remember the show Winners?) as some of the finest in NASCAR's early national broadcast history. The 18-time race winner was an eloquent host and a skilled race commentator, once calling the end of an event after crashing out of it and being cleared in the infield care center.
There's no doubt that Johnson, a similarly well-spoken driver with a knack for winning himself, could do much of the same. Calling races would be a breeze for the driver who's won everything in just about every manner possible. Meanwhile, watching a show about racing history from the point of view of "Five-Time," who grew up an off-road racer in California with many different heroes than NASCAR's typical Southern drivers, would be DVR material every week.