New opportunities for Burton, Letarte from NBC broadcast side in 2015

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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.”

Carlos Munoz back at Andretti Autosport for 2018 Indy 500

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After posting two runner-up finishes and three top-five results in four starts with Andretti Autosport at the Indianapolis 500, Colombian Carlos Munoz will come home to the team as its sixth driver in the 2018 race. He’ll instantly vault into win contention, given his pedigree at the Speedway and joining Andretti’s team that has won three of the last four ‘500s there.

Munoz raced full-time with Andretti Autosport from 2014 through 2016. While he scored his first career win at Detroit race one in 2015, and was series rookie of the year in 2014, it’s his runner-up results as a race rookie in 2013 and again in the 2016 race to teammate Alexander Rossi that loom largest.

Now, Munoz, who spent a single season at A.J. Foyt Enterprises before both he and Conor Daly were not retained for a second year, will join Andretti’s full-season quartet of Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach along with previously announced fifth driver Stefan Wilson.

This will add another confirmed Honda entry to next year’s race. Honda has 12 full-season entries expected among Andretti’s four cars, then two apiece from the Ganassi, Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Schmidt Peterson and Coyne teams.

That number grows with Andretti’s two extra cars, and the combination of the SPM/Michael Shank car for Jack Harvey to confirm at least 15 Hondas for the 2018 Indianapolis 500. Honda has traditionally capped its number of entries at 18 cars.

The full release is below.

A familiar face will make its way back to the Andretti Autosport stable for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race as Carlos Muñoz returns to the team, vying for his chance to kiss the bricks.

Muñoz made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut with Andretti Autosport at the 2013 Indianapolis 500, where he finished second, earning himself Indy 500 Rookie of the Year honors. The Colombian-native went on to compete full time with the team the following year. In 2016, Muñoz once again finished runner-up when his rookie teammate, Alexander Rossi, crossed the Yard of Bricks on a fuel-saving strategy to win the 100th Indy 500.

“I am very excited to be a part of Andretti Autosport again,” said Muñoz. “The team has been like family to me since day one, when I joined them five years ago to race Indy Lights. We have been so close to winning the Indy 500 – twice with the team – so I am especially excited to be back for that race and hopefully we will have a good result this year. I need to thank Michael [Andretti] and J-F [Thormann] for believing in me and wanting me to back in their car for the Indy 500. I am also excited to be back with my teammates, and I think we will continue to work really well together. We have six cars, so hopefully we will have a strong team working with the new [aero kit]. I am really looking forward to it – hopefully we can finally get that win we’ve been so close to.”

Muñoz will look to pick up where he left off with Andretti Autosport and add to the team’s historical success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The team mirror’s Muñoz’s enthusiasm and is excited to have secured its complete lineup before the new year.

“We’re thrilled to have Carlos back in an Andretti car for the Indy 500,” said Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti. “There is no denying that Carlos has talent at [Indianapolis Motor Speedway], he’s finished runner-up twice and that has fueled his determination to get to victory lane. He has already built relationships with his teammates and many of those on our crew, so it should be a seamless process for our six cars when they head out for the first time together.”

The veteran driver has built a resume that consists of 70 Verizon IndyCar Series starts, one win (Detroit Race 1, 2015), one pole position (Texas, 2016) and seven podiums. Muñoz competed under the Andretti shield from 2013 to 2016 and finished 17th in the 2017 IndyCar season.

Andretti Autosport has collected five Indianapolis 500 victories (Wheldon/’05, Franchitti/’06, Hunter-Reay/’14, Rossi/’16, Sato/’17) and seeks to become only the second team to earn three consecutive Indy 500 wins. Muñoz will join teammates Rossi, Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Zach Veach and Stefan Wilson on opening day in May for the team’s six-car effort.