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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 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.”

Made it: Haas F1 at ‘home’ at US Grand Prix

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Romain Grosjean of France driving the (8) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) Gene Haas heard the snickers, shook off the doubters and ignored the suggestion that he didn’t know what he was doing.

Looking up at his name in bold letters above the Haas F1 team tent in the paddock this week at the U.S. Grand Prix, it’s easy to allow him a few moments of self-congratulation heading into his team’s “home” race this weekend.

“Everybody made it sound like we were clueless getting into Formula One, that we’d be bumbling idiots. The Europeans were going to teach us a lesson,” Haas said. “I think when we showed up and were prepared with a competitive car that scored points, it set a very high bar … People didn’t think we could do it.”

The Formula One season has been dominated by Mercedes and the duel between teammates Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. But the American rookie outfit has been one of the surprise stories from the rest of the grid.

An industrialist with roots in NASCAR and North Carolina, Haas jumped into Formula One with a flourish. His team has 28 points in its maiden season, all of them scored by veteran French driver Romain Grosjean. While far from the top, it’s also well above the bottom with a chance to climb over the final four races of the season.

Sunday’s race will be a chance for Haas F1 to wave the flag in front of American fans, too, during F1’s only U.S. stop.

“There is some pride for having and American flag on this car,” Grosjean said.

Haas F1 is the first American-led team on the grid in 30 years and the road getting here wasn’t easy. It actually crosses two continents, as the team is split between a design base in North Carolina and racing operations in England.

Haas was first granted his F1 team license in April 2014. The initial goal was to be racing in 2015. That proved to be too ambitious, so Haas and team principal Guenther Steiner took aim at 2016. Powered by a Ferrari engine, Haas debuted with an impressive first testing session, then took a step back with engine problems that kept them off the track.

“A lot of people lost sleep over that. That was not easy having to sit off the track and watching the other teams go round and round,” said Haas driver Esteban Gutierrez.

“We broke a lot of stuff,” Haas said.

The problems were fixed by the first race when Grosjean finished sixth in Australia and took two more top-10 finishes over the next three races. The success proved hard to maintain and Haas has only one other top 10 finish all season, none since the British Grand Prix in July.

Haas F1 got a boost two weeks ago when both cars qualified in the top 10 for the first time in Japan. But that came with a rookie mistake: teams that make stage three of qualifying have to start the race on their qualifying tires, forcing a change in pit strategy from one stop to two, and they finished out of the points.

Still, the qualifying performance raised hopes for more points over the final four races.

“We finished seven times in 11th,” Steiner said. “It’s about time we finish four times 10th.”

Grosjean left the former Lotus team to join the Americans, and Haas credits him with being a steady hand in the car all season.

“He didn’t know what we had and we could have been a complete and utter disaster,” Haas said. “He took a big risk.”

Haas won’t commit to a driver lineup for 2017. Gutierrez was a test driver for Ferrari when he signed with Haas, but he hasn’t scored a point this season, finishing 11th five times. Haas understands American fans want an American driver but suggested that’s not an option anytime soon.

Some fans had hoped Haas would sign Alexander Rossi, who finished 2015 driving for Manor. Rossi instead landed in IndyCar and stunned nearly everyone by winning the Indianapolis 500 in May as a rookie. Haas does have an American development driver, 18-year-old Santino Ferrucci.

“That sounds like simple equation: American team, American driver, American race track. It’s all American. The reality is there’s not that many American (Formula One) drivers,” Haas said. “Not exactly a good idea at this time. We really wanted experienced drivers.

“We don’t need to have everything perfect this year or the year after,” Haas said. “American drivers or American sponsors, those events will happen. It will be up to us to put it together.”

Related Haas F1 Team posts:


Q&A: Haas’ Santino Ferrucci chats with Will Buxton

Santino Ferrucci at HQ-903
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He may have a European sounding name, but Santino Ferrucci is all-American.

And the Woodbury, Connecticut native hopes to one day bring his American heritage and talent to Formula 1.

He’s certainly in the right place: The 18-year-old development driver for the Haas F1 team based in Kannapolis, North Carolina, has had a whirlwind year thus far.

Not only has he had one podium in GP3 competition, he still has one last race (Abu Dhabi) to finish the season in the top 10 (he’s currently 12th).

Ferrucci visited with NBCSN’s Will Buxton during Friday afternoon’s second F1 practice at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Here are some excerpts of that interview:


“It was fantastic. That car, under breaking, is insane, just pulling 5 gs down there and going from 210 to 60 mph in less than 60 feet is pretty radical.”


“Right now, I’m just taking it slow. I’m still 18, enjoying GP3, looking to go back there for another year, learning, still have a lot to do working with Haas on a day-to-day basis with Haas as a development driver. I’m learning a lot about the car and learning a lot with Romain (Grosjean) and Esteban (Gutierrez). I’m very honored to have an opportunity to drive for an American team.”


“Yeah, I’m there in a lot of the sessions. I’m actually standing most of the time next to Esteban’s race engineer, and I’m there in the intercoms listening to the chief engineer make decisions on tire strategy and what they’re going to do throughout the session. As soon as we finish the session, I get to hear the driver’s feedback and what they’re thinking about the car and see the changes they want to do for the next session. Since I drove the car at Silverstone back in July, I can relate to that a little bit of what they’re feeling most of the time. Certain tracks are a different feeling.”


“After you’re on top of the hill on (turn) one – it’s actually a cool view from the cockpit – and go down the hill and go to enter (turn) three and make that left, it’s completely blind and flat. So, when you turn in, you don’t really have a great reference. You also have to hit the apex curve as well. When you get that just right, it’s the greatest feeling in the world because you know you can keep it flat that much more into turn five and that little lift. When you look at it from TV point of view, there’s a hill there, but you just can’t see it.”


“I think with water, it’s going under the asphalt a little bit so it’s creating some bumps. I like that. It adds a of character and with those bumps you have to tune the suspension a bit more. In talking to the drivers at Haas, with those grooves, since they’re lined up in the direction of the track, there’s a little bit more locking up going on than normal. So it’s making a difficult to pass and you’ll see a lot more locking up going into turn 11 and 12 area. Obviously, with the grooved pavement, it’s not super flat, either, so it’s going to make for some fun racing.”


“Yeah, this track is brilliant. Sector one with the esses and then my favorite sector, sector three (turns 16-18). Take it flat, when you’re in there flat, it’s just how long do you want to keep it flat until you laugh. That’s always a little bit of a ballsy turn. So the second you pump the gas a little bit, you wish you would have kept it in just a little bit more.”


“Obviously, we’ve had some ups and downs. We’re a brand new team and learning everything about GP3. We’ve been on the back foot but we have great teammates and collected a ton of data. I’m looking forward to Abu Dhabi. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the calendar, some very long straights, some passing zones. To be honest, I like it.”

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United States GP Paddock Notebook – Friday

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 21: Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing in the Pitlane during practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – The first two practice sessions are in the books for this weekend’s United States Grand Prix from Austin. As could be expected, it was a Mercedes-dominated afternoon, with Lewis Hamilton (FP1) and Nico Rosberg (FP2) splitting the two sessions atop the timesheets.

Red Bull made a late charge in the afternoon, while in its first day at its home track, Haas F1 Team had a forgettable afternoon.

Here’s a roundup of today’s posts, features and analysis from Friday at Circuit of The Americas:



There are a couple additional posts which will go live later tonight that will be included in Saturday’s Paddock Notebook.


Split decision at the top

Practice being practice, there’s not a huge ton of info to take away from today. But it was interesting to note that with both Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates leading a session, there wasn’t the immediate vibe either Rosberg or Hamilton has the clear edge heading into qualifying.

On background, Rosberg has the last two COTA poles, but as he somewhat astutely noted on Thursday, the past means nothing, and thinking about his prior form here won’t help him now. Call it cold, call it robotic, but also call it “working” for Rosberg.

And Hamilton’s got the last two COTA wins – and three from four years at the track – without having ever scored a pole here. So would he get down even if he doesn’t get the pole? Judging on history, the answer is no. But again, to quote Mark McGwire, we’re not here to talk about the past…

Vettel gets a reprimand

There’s a first time for everything, including Scuderia Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel getting a reprimand in 2016.

The German went into the pit lane in second practice on the wrong side of the bollard (did not stay to the left), which triggered his first reprimand this year from the FIA.

Not ideal certainly for him, but not the end of the world.

Ricciardo’s new lid

Daniel Ricciardo has a special helmet this weekend, and the Australian has done a tribute to Evel Knievel. See it below.

A less than ideal #Haastin track debut

Between both cars being brought in a few minutes before the checkered flag in FP1 and then Esteban Gutierrez causing debris in FP2 (see Jamey Price photos below), plus neither car being that high up on the timesheets, it was not an ideal first day on track for the Haas F1 Team.

It wasn’t an easy day for us,” Gutierrez admitted in the team’s post-practice release. “Unfortunately, I had an issue with some aerodynamic parts. It disrupted our program as you get a shift on the car balance, which is obviously not ideal to get a reference and work on the setup. We’re investigating this, but we believe it’s down to vibrations.”

But there were still highlights. Romain Grosjean’s wife was spotted within the cockpit of his Haas VF-16 chassis, with a good spot by the @F1 official account:

Additionally, there was a great team banner in the crowd, and Stewart Haas Racing’s competition director Greg Zipadelli was on site.

The usual IndyCar folk-at-COTA vibe 

While we gained an American team racing at Circuit of The Americas this year in Haas F1 Team, sadly we’ve lost an American driver in Alexander Rossi.

But things are still good in Rossi’s world and it’s a relief for him that he’s already confirmed and all set with Andretti-Herta Autosport for next season in IndyCar. Both he and his father Pieter Rossi are here this weekend.

This dovetails nicely to the fact Conor Daly and Luca Filippi, who were teammates part of this year at Dale Coyne Racing, are also here – Filippi with his F1 TV commitments for Sky Sports and Daly making the rounds with Rossi as well. Daly was here through today before leaving.

Daly and Filippi are among the marquee free agents left in the IndyCar pool and while it’s always good to see them, it’s better when they’re in firesuits rather than street clothes. Daly spoke to NBCSN’s Will Buxton about his IndyCar prospects while I had a catch-up with Filippi this morning. The Italian is keen to have a more concrete 2017 season in terms of his actual driving commitments, since his early-season IndyCar opportunity with Coyne was a race-to-race only program.

The sign-off sign

Piiiiiiistop? Yes.

Congratulations, you guys. You’ve won the unofficial MST Paddock Notebook “Sign of the Day Screen Capture Award” for Friday, October 21.

More tomorrow after qualifying.

Barcelona to host 2017 F1 pre-season tests, Bahrain gets in-season running

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 23:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during day two of F1 winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 23, 2016 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Spain will host two tests ahead of the 2017 Formula 1 season as originally planned despite a push to move part of the running to Bahrain.

Barcelona has traditionally hosted F1’s pre-season running, with two tests provisionally scheduled for the end of February and beginning of March before the start of the season in Australia.

However, with Pirelli set to introduce a radically different tire specification for next season, a number of F1 team bosses believed it would be better to hold the running in Bahrain where conditions would be stable and warmer.

Mercedes’ Paddy Lowe said in Japan that F1 risked a repeat of the infamous 2005 United States Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway if caution was not taken with the new tires.

However, the counter-argument was that holding testing outside of Europe would significantly bump up costs for all teams, having a particular impact on the grid’s smaller operations.

F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone met with officials from all 11 teams on Friday in Austin ahead of this weekend’s race to make a decision on pre-season testing.

Despite over half the grid wishing to have at least one test in Bahrain, the lack of unanimity means that both pre-season tests will remain in Barcelona.

Bahrain will however now host one of the in-season tests, as confirmed by Red Bull’s Christian Horner on Friday.

“We have had numerous debates about this and we had a meeting earlier today with Bernie about this,” Horner said.

“There was even a vote with the FIA earlier this week and with the way the regulations are currently written, to test outside of Europe, we would require the unanimous consent of all the teams and that doesn’t exist.

“It has been agreed that we will test in Barcelona pre-season and in order to find a compromise for assisting Pirelli after the Bahrain race, the first of the in-season tests will be in Bahrain.”

Possible 2017 Formula 1 Test Calendar


1. Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya – February 27 – March 2 2017
2. Circuit de Barcelona-Cataluny – March 7-10 2017


1. Bahrain International Circuit – April 18-19 2017
2. Silverstone – July 11-12 2017