It won’t be accurate to say this is ESPN’s final race, because who knows what will happen down the line? But it is the last race of its current contract with NASCAR. Next year, NBC and Fox will air the circuit.
For the record, ESPN covered 262 races in the first era between 1981-2000 and the rest have been during the current eight-year contract that started in 2007. Here is a photo of ESPN’s early announce crew that featured Bob Jenkins (left) and Larry Nuber.
Needless to say, ESPN and NASCAR have worked well for both sides. Allen Bestwick summed up the relationship:
Bestwick: If you look back on the history of both ESPN and NASCAR separately, you come back to ESPN and NASCAR together inevitably. NASCAR was this budding sport that had all this product, this great racing and these great characters, and it needed exposure, and this thing called cable TV came along, and this group that had an idea for a 24‑hour all‑sports television network, and they needed sports, and they got together.
For a kid like me that grew up in the Northeast as a fan of local modified racing, all of a sudden I was able to see Rockingham and Martinsville and North Wilkesboro and Bristol and all these great places, and they made me want to go to those racetracks, those early telecasts, and at the same time, it drew me to this thing called ESPN, to watch, and it became a part of my daily lifestyle habit.
I don’t think that NASCAR would be the sport and the entity it is today, and ESPN would not be the worldwide leader in sports today if they didn’t have each other. You can’t separate the history of ESPN from NASCAR and the history of NASCAR from ESPN. They’re just interlocked together in what’s made them what they are today.