Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte have been two of the most observant individuals in the NASCAR garage area over their respective careers, and seek to translate that expertise into the broadcast booth when the NBC Sports Group returns to broadcasting NASCAR races in 2015.
Executive producer for all of NBC Sports and NBCSN, Sam Flood, and vice president of NASCAR production Jeff Behnke joined Burton and Letarte at Friday morning’s NBC Sports Breakfast at Daytona International Speedway. Lead broadcaster Rick Allen was also in attendance but didn’t speak due to other responsibilities.
“I said if we ever got back in the sport, there were certain people we’d want on the team to be part of telling the story of this great sport to the nation on TV,” Flood explained to open the remarks. Burton and Letarte were on that short list.
“To me it’s a natural – feels really natural to me,” Burton said. “Steve has so much energy, and I’m looking forward to disagreeing with him on the air and having lively debates and proving once again that drivers truly are smarter than crew chiefs.
“It’s going to be fun, and honestly that’s what it needs to be. It needs to be fun and lighthearted and serious when it needs to be serious.”
Letarte, in his first public remarks since the announcement he’d be the third member of the broadcast team, said this has been on his radar for some time.
“I don’t think it’s any secret in the room that I’ve always enjoyed the broadcast side,” Letarte said. “I’ve always dabbled in it. I do have a pretty loud and colorful personality and I think it’s enjoyable to be on that side of the camera.
“I have never been able to do it in a capacity where I feel it was my responsibility to bring much to the broadcast other than my color and expertise because as the color guys when you get invited in as a crew chief you really don’t have to prepare much.”
Letarte, who has been a Hendrick Motorsports “lifer,” admitted there is some fear with change. Still, that can be a net positive, and he does beieve this will be a positive for his family.
“There’s all kinds of fears. I think change drives fear in anybody. I’d be lying if not,” he said. “All I’ve known is Hendrick Motorsports since I was 16. I’ve never worked anywhere else. But really when it comes down to it, probably the No. 1 thing is I have an eight- and a ten-year-old child and I know the commitment it takes to be a top-level crew chief. I don’t know firsthand the commitment that it takes to be great on television, and Sam and these guys are going to teach me that, but in my conversations with Sam, I don’t think it’s quite the same time commitment and travel commitment.”
Burton and Flood both confirmed the mutual interest from the day NBC Sports announced its return to NASCAR back in July.
“This was ahead of everything,” Burton said. “This was pretty far down the road, and it was rattling around in my head before anything else for sure.”
Added Flood, “The day we announced the deal, I was on the phone with Jeff. That’s how much we knew Jeff was going to be part of this team and wanted to be part of this team.”
Burton also said the booth needs to blend true enthusiasm with excitement and facts. None of this should come as a surprise, but reiterating those points make sense.
“Ultimately it’s about enthusiasm, excitement and facts, honestly facts,” Burton said. “When we’re talking, we need to be talking accurately. When we’re talking, people are assuming what we’re saying is factual, and we’ve got to make sure it is because I think that’s a disservice to our race fans if we don’t know what we’re talking about.”