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Q&A with NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton, Part 1

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With testing and occasional race duties coming up this NASCAR Sprint Cup season for Michael Waltrip Racing, Jeff Burton is still very much involved in the competition side of the sport.

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.”

PWC: Andrew Palmer, Jorge de la Torre remain hospitalized in Hartford

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Pirelli World Challenge released an updated statement late Tuesday night on the status of injured drivers Andrew Palmer and Jorge de la Torre, who were both injured in a severe accident in practice on Saturday morning ahead of that series’ race at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn.

No conditions were revealed in the statement.

The statement reads:

“As a follow up to the releases regarding the GT warm-up accident in Saturday’s Pirelli World Challenge race at Lime Rock Park, the Series wants to thank our teams, drivers and fans for the tremendous outpouring of support for Andrew Palmer and Jorge De La Torre.

“Both drivers continue to receive treatment for their injuries at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn.  Hartford Hospital has not released further information at this time. The Series will forward any detailed update on the drivers when received from a Hartford Hospital spokesperson. We thank everyone for respecting the families right to privacy as they concentrate on Andrew and Jorge’s hospitalization.”

Bryan Clauson pulls off ‘Hoosier Double’ — Indy 500 and sprint car win in same day

Bryan Clauson prior to the start of Sunday's Indianapolis 500. He'd then go on to race again that evening in a sprint car race at Kokomo (Ind.) Speedway -- and won!
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When Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 was over, most drivers went out to dinner, attended Conor Daly’s post-race party – or just plain chilled out and relaxed.

But not Bryan Clauson.

Clauson put together his own version of “the double” Sunday, starting his day at Indy and finishing it not 600 miles away for NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600 – but rather with an evening sprint car race about 60 miles away in Kokomo, Indiana.

 

It was indeed a heck of a day and evening for Clauson.

First, he led the 500 for the first time in three career starts there, having the 32 other drivers in the field chasing him for three laps.

Next, Clauson finally finished his first 500 in the No. 88 Cancer Treatment Centers of America Honda for Dale Coyne/Jonathan Byrd’s Racing, amassing 198 laps in the 200-lap event. That was a significant improvement than his first two starts in 2012 (completed just 46 laps) and 2015 (completed 61 laps).

Running 500 miles at Indy didn’t leave Clauson too worse for the wear: he went out and won just a few hours later that evening at Kokomo!

As he was leaving IMS, Clauson, a native of Noblesville, Indiana – about halfway between Indy and Kokomo – stopped quick enough to tweet out his reaction to his finish at Indy.

And then with that, the 26-year-old Clauson was back on the road up to Kokomo Speedway.

Racing at Indy and Kokomo was just a warm-up act for Clauson, who is kicking off a stint of 40 races in 34 days, as part of Clauson and Byrd Racing’s “Chasing 200” tour.

Of course he and fiancee Lauren also had a banquet to attend on Monday night.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Indy 500 champ Alexander Rossi visits NASCAR AMERICA (VIDEO)

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As part of his New York City media tour on Tuesday, Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi visited NBCSN’s NASCAR AMERICA show.

Rossi spoke with Carolyn Manno, and discusses winning the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500, his choice of milk after winning and his Formula 1 past before shifting to IndyCar and driving the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda for Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian.

Rossi’s NAPA Auto Parts primary sponsorship will continue into next weekend’s Chevrolet Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans, Rounds 7 and 8 of the Verizon IndyCar Series season.

The IndyCar circuit returns to NBCSN on June 11, at 8 p.m. ET, from Texas Motor Speedway.

Despite rough finish, Conor Daly finds humor in 2016 Indianapolis 500 experience

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(Photo: Chris Owens)
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Conor Daly may have been disappointed in his 29th place finish in Sunday’s 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

But you couldn’t tell by the 24-year-old Noblesville, Indiana native’s comments at Monday’s Indy 500 Victory Banquet.

Daly started his acceptance speech to receive the $336,243 he earned for being in the 500 by discussing his wardrobe – or lack thereof.

“This is my first purchased suit,” he said with a smirk. “I bought this with my own money. It’s a big achievement in my life.”

That comment drew applause and laughs.

Daly touched on the crash with Mikhail Aleshin shortly after the mid-point of the race that ended the day for both drivers, not blaming the Russian driver, then went into a routine that featured several funny one-liners, including:

* “I’d like to thank Christopher Columbus for coming over and discovering this great place.”

* “And I’d like to thank George Washington for establishing this wonderful country. And all of our veterans and just the great American country, because it’s awesome.”

Daly then talked about how he decided to mosey out to Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s legendary “Snake Pit” in the Turn 3 and Turn 4 portion of the infield.

Just before the race, too!

“I had never been to the snake pit before so I went out there before the race, oddly enough,” Daly said. “I carved out a 30-minute window to do some promotional activities and I wore my helmet and my race suit, safety first. That was awesome. I probably won’t be able to see it ever hopefully for a long time because I’ll be driving (in the race).”

And as for his close friend Rossi, Daly said, “Mr. Rossi, good job, my friend. You get a car and money and all kinds of cool stuff. Yeah, it’s awesome, so good job, buddy.”

When asked about his close friendship with Rossi when they raced against each other in the GP2 series, Daly noted: “We shared many a meal in the GP2 hospitality of dried meats and cucumbers and whatever the heck they had there that I thought were ridiculous.

“We talked many a times about where we were going to go in our careers. Sure enough, here we are, he’s an Indy 500 champion and I’m attempting to do something with my life. So, we’re getting there.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski