Feb 18, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
But this year will also see Burton – universally respected and known among fans and media as “The Mayor” of the Sprint Cup garage – contribute to NBCSN’s new “NASCAR AMERICA” daily show that debuts on Monday at 5 p.m. ET.
Come 2015, he’ll move into a full-time analyst role with NBC Sports Group as it officially begins coverage of Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series racing.
Recently, MotorSportsTalk had the privilege of talking with him about a variety of topics. Today, you’ll see his thoughts on transitioning into the broadcast booth, and tomorrow, you’ll read about his role with MWR and his insights on the upcoming season – which starts Sunday with the Daytona 500.
What sort of impact did the NBC position have on you pulling back to part-time driving? Or had the pulling back part been on your mind before it opened up?
“The NBC thing certainly moved the ball. I knew 2014 was going to be my last full year. I had made up my mind on that. And the timing of NBC – that was going to be real convenient. We had a lot of conversations about it and it felt like that was going to work out. But then the opportunity to do [NASCAR AMERICA], being involved with that and being able to actually spend the time I need to spend – all that felt right to me.
“It just felt like the timing was right and I’ll be honest – and I’m not saying this because I’m talking to [an NBCSports.com writer] – the opportunity to work with NBC was very appealing to me. The reason I say that is I watch NBC Sports and I watch the way they cover sports, and I like it. It feels right to me. It feels very professional. It fits who I am…It’s not about self-promoting, it’s about what’s going on and that fits me. And that pushed me to make a decision that I wasn’t sure I was ready to make [laughs]! It became a lot easier to make it.”
How important is it to have the support of a company like NBC Sports as you transition from driving to the broadcast booth?
“We’re doing it first class and we’re doing it right. That’s been my belief forever – if you put an effort in to do it right, then there’s the opportunity for it to come out right. You go into it, put a half-hearted effort into it, and you can pretty sure you’re gonna get a half-hearted result. Sitting down with [NBC Sports/NBCSN executive producer] Sam Flood and [NBC Sports Group vice president of NASCAR production] Jeff Behnke and really understand how they wanted to cover the sport, I became very excited about it and was very energized and enthusiastic.
“And then the people they’ve gone out and gotten – I mean, going in with [Sprint Cup crew chief] Steve Letarte, that’s a big deal. He’s going to be unbelievably good. And [play-by-play announcer] Rick Allen – I mean, we’re 18 months away from doing our first [race] broadcast, but they knew who they wanted and they got ‘em. That shows you the kind of company they are: “This is what we want. We’re gonna go make it happen.”
“They’ve could’ve easily said, ‘Well, let’s just see what happens.’ But they went and said, ‘Hey, let’s jump on it now,’ and by doing that, they put something in Steve Letarte’s head…It just goes to show, if you’re dedicated and committed and you go after it, you can make good stuff happen. That’s the way I view it. They went head-first into this to get the best team they could and hopefully, we live up to it. We’ve got a lot of work to do. But they got all their No. 1 draft picks.”
A common refrain we’ve heard involving NASCAR in recent years is that the younger fans are leaving it behind. How do you, Rick and Steve intend to convey the excitement of the sport to those fans and have them maybe take another look?
“First of all, there are so many stories in the sport: We’re not gonna have to create stories. What we need to do is telling more stories, more about what’s going on and not just about the Top 5 guys running [in a race]. We need to talk about technology. We need to talk about the things going on in the car with the drivers in specific ways. We need to get creative in how we not only talk about it, but how we allow viewers to visually understand it from a technology standpoint, strategy standpoint, and driver’s standpoint. All those things create opportunities.
“I believe that young people still like cars. I’m around them all the time, as my son races and my daughter just turned 18 years old. She has a lot of friends that are buying their first cars and just started driving, and my son’s around kids that race. Kids love cars. Kids love to drive. They still do. Is it different? Yeah. It used to be we’d take the car, change the engine in it, and that’s not going on [as much] today, but they still love to drive and still love cars. We’ve gotta get them back to being excited about racing!
“We can do that. There’s a lot of ways to do that. There’s nothing about racing that kids don’t like. It’s exciting, it’s fun, it’s loud, it’s in your face, it’s action. We just need to find a better way to present it to them. I’m confident we can do this. But it’s going to take some work. If we try to do it the way everybody else has done it, we’re gonna get the same result and we need to go into this looking for better results.”
(NOTE: The following is part of the answer to the previous question, but it wound up focusing on the competitive drive of the on-air team. We think it’s a good look into Jeff’s personality, so we’ve kept it in. – MST)
“In regards to the competition, nothing personal, but we intend to be the best. NBC intends to cover racing better than everybody else. It’s a competition. And I’ve been in competition my whole life. Rick Allen’s been a competitor [three-time All-American decathlete, University of Nebraska]. Steve Letarte’s been a competitor. We’re competitive people! And Sam Flood, too [college hockey captain]. We want to be the best. We want to take it to ‘em – nothing personal, but we want to take it to ‘em. And that’s what we intend to do.”
What would be a sign of success to you in this role?
“When fans say to me, ‘I understand more today that I ever have. Racing is more fun to watch. This is fun. I know more about the sport than I used to know. I understand the rules more, I understand the process more.’ That’s a success. When I run into fans – it’s not about promoting me. It’s about telling the story of the sport. I don’t want people walking up to me, telling me how great I am.
“I want to them to walk up to me and say, ‘This sport is awesome.’ Because if they do that, then we’re doing our job…We have a great sport. We’ve got to get some energy back into it. We’ve gotta get people understanding how great it is. And everybody’s trying. It’s not like we’re the ones going to be trying. But we’re going to try and bring a fresh approach to it, a new approach to it.”
Aug 30, 2014, 11:33 PM EDT
The Indy 500 champ is threatening to win another 500-miler in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. joined the chorus of voices welcoming Tony Stewart back to racing this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Aug 30, 2014, 10:15 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – Kevin Harvick made it look more than easy en route to victory in Saturday’s Great Clips 300 to Benefit Feed The Children at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Harvick dominated the event, leading 159 of the event’s 195 laps in his third career NNS win at the high-speed 1.5-mile track.
Aug 30, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
It all comes down to this. Get your NBC Sports Live Extra stream links for tonight’s MAVTV 500 – the 2014 season finale for the Verizon IndyCar Series!
Aug 30, 2014, 7:48 PM EDT
Mikhail Aleshin still in hospital but in stable condition after accident Friday night at Auto Club Speedway.
Aug 30, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
The open-wheel veteran turns in a final-round lap of 109.889 mph around Canadian Tire Motorsports Park to claim pole for Sunday’s Chevrolet Silverado 250.
Aug 30, 2014, 7:08 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano put the Happy in Happy Hour Saturday evening at Atlanta Motor Speedway, setting the top speeds in the final tuneup for Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500.
Aug 30, 2014, 5:56 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. – Chase Elliott has won three races thus far in his rookie season on the NASCAR Nationwide Series circuit. But the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott has never won a pole position in the NNS – until Saturday.
Aug 30, 2014, 5:24 PM EDT
This may be the strangest place we’ve seen Earnhardt’s iconic No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet in a long time.
Aug 30, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. — Johnny Morris, president of Bass Pro Shops and one of the primary sponsors of Tony Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet, released a statement of support for his close friend on Saturday.
Aug 30, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Out of all the Chase-bound drivers, “Rowdy” may be the one in most need of a good performance at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend.
Aug 30, 2014, 4:14 PM EDT
HAMPTON, Ga. — When you’re hot, you’re hot: Bristol winner Joey Logano and pole sitter Kevin Harvick were the fastest drivers in Saturday’s final Sprint Cup practice in preparation for Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Lessons learned from Dale Earnhardt death readily seen in way NASCAR has dealt with Tony Stewart tragedy
Aug 30, 2014, 3:54 PM EDT
While the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy occurred outside of its jurisdiction, it wasn’t the first time NASCAR has had to deal with tragedy and subsequent changes to the sport. One need look back no further than the death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001 for the resulting lessons that NASCAR learned from.
Aug 30, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
However, Dillon isn’t neglecting his push for the championship in the Nationwide Series, which competes tonight at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Aug 30, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Spanish rider bounces back from a fall in practice to secure pole ahead of Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso.
Aug 30, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
German Quiroga and Andrew Ranger lead the way in a pair of practice sessions for the Camping World Truck Series at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.
Aug 30, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
Expect the track to play a key role in Saturday’s MAVTV 500, more than most oval tracks.
Aug 30, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
Two-time F1 world champion weighs in on the Mercedes team orders debate.
Aug 30, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Rumors about Ferrari’s line-up unfounded; Mattiacci plans to keep both Kimi and Fernando on for 2015.
Aug 30, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
The high-speed circuit plays host to the Italian Grand Prix next weekend.
Video from NASCAR America
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Tony Stewart’s return to racing: ‘I’m sure that’s where he wants to be’ 0
- Kevin Harvick in a class of his own, dominates Atlanta NNS race 0
- WATCH LIVE: IndyCar crowns its champion tonight at Fontana 1
- Lessons learned from Dale Earnhardt death readily seen in way NASCAR has dealt with Tony Stewart tragedy 2
- Aleshin conscious following heavy accident in MAVTV 500 final practice (UPDATED, VIDEO) 4
- Kevin Harvick wins Atlanta Sprint Cup pole; Stewart qualifies 12th 1
- Castroneves secures crucial MAVTV 500 pole; Power starts P21 for IndyCar finale (VIDEO) 5