Dale Jr. makes broadcast debut for NBC

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We say goodbye to June this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, but we also say hello to another June in Sunday’s broadcast of the Overton’s 400. That is June-bug, the nickname of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who makes his debut as a full-time broadcaster in the Cup Series when NBC makes its season debut taking over the reins for Fox.

NASCAR and NBC are hoping Junior is just the ticket needed to boost TV ratings that saw decreases in 2017 in 13 of 16 races while on Fox with Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip as the color commentators. Junior was voted NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver in his final season driving last year, ending a run of 15 straight years winning the award. It’s in that popularity with all his fans, and his father’s – Dale Sr. – that should attract more to the tube.

Junior ended his career with only 26 Cup wins while driving full-time in the series since 2000. He never won a season championship, finishing a best of third-place in 2003, but there was an aura that always hovered around him. He’s a likable good old boy and he’s got all kinds of hilarious stories and a recent insight to the series and drivers that will make him bring some serious knowledge to our ears.

As far as how it relates to gambling and picking the winner this week, it doesn’t. Although I will say one of my favorite wins of all-time in NASCAR was Junior winning the July race at Daytona in 2001, the first race at the track since it took his father’s life.

What I also remember is writing about how and why Junior would win in GamingToday and scripting what would happen; and it all played out perfectly and paid out at 15-to-1. I’ve have had bigger payouts, but none more exhilarating than that Daytona win. We get Daytona next week and I’m sure he’ll offer plenty of memories of that particular 2001 race.

Okay, back to business here. Chicagoland Speedway is the sixth of 11 races on 1.5-mile tracks this season with Kansas Speedway being the most similar. Kevin Harvick won on three of the first five 1.5s, including Kansas. Kyle Busch won at Texas in April and Charlotte in May. Harvick won the first two races ever at Chicagoland (2001-02) and Martin Truex Jr. has won the past two races there, his first top-fives there after being ninth or worse in his previous 10 starts.

Truex also comes off a Sonoma win and has won two of the past three races on the schedule and three overall this season. Harvick leads the series with five wins this season and Busch is next with four wins. And there you have it, the big three. And one of them is likely to win, but at least let’s see if we can squeeze out a win possibility without having to handicap rain and some freaky pit sequences.

Clint Bowyer has two wins on the season and got his last victory on a downforce track at Michigan three weeks ago. He was 13th at Chicago last season in his first season as Harvick’s teammate and his only top-five in 12 starts was fourth in 2010. Denny Hamlin has finished sixth or better in his last four Chicago starts, which includes a 2015 win. He has top-five finishes in his past two races this season on 1.5s. Brad Keselowski won at Chicago in 2012 and 2014 and was fourth at Charlotte, the last race on a 1.5.

Chevrolet hasn’t won a race since the randomness of plate racing in the Daytona 500 way back in February. Kyle Larson led a race-high 101 laps before finishing fourth at Kansas. Jimmie Johnson has never won at Chicagoland and his teammate Chase Elliott finished third there his rookie year in 2016 and runner-up last season. But Hendrick Motorsports still isn’t getting that winning possibility speed.

By the way, Earnhardt Jr. won at Chicagoland in 2005. Enjoy the broadcast!

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