Jun. 29, 2016
TIM BUCKMAN: Thanks everyone for joining us today as we prepare to launch NBC Sports Group second consecutive year as the home of NASCAR’s Championship run over this coming Independence Day weekend from Daytona. An NBC Sports press release was issued yesterday that details more than 45 hours of NASCAR coverage that will unfold over the course of this week, highlighted by a live presentation of the NASCAR XFINITY Subway Firecracker 250 on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. Eastern on NBCSN.
On Saturday night NBC presents the main event of the weekend with the 58th running of the Coke Zero 400 under the lights of Daytona International Speedway. Pre-race coverage on Saturday begins at 7:00 p.m. Eastern on NBC.
If you did not receive an announcement, all NASCAR on NBC materials such as press releases, photos and bios of talent, logos and more can be immediately accessed and downloaded from www.NBCSportsGrouppressbox.com. Our press box site will also have a transcript of this call available later this afternoon.
With us today is the Executive Producer of NBC Sports and NBCSN, Mr. Sam Flood. We also have 21-time Sprint Cup winning driver on NBC Sports NASCAR analyst, Jeff Burton, Daytona 500 winning crew chief Steve Letarte. We’re also joined by NBC’s lead NASCAR Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series race announcer Rick Allen, eight-time Sprint Cup winning driver Kyle Petty, and his partner on the NBC Countdown to Green pre-race set, NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Dale Jarrett.
Before we open up the call for questions, our Executive Producer Sam Flood will deliver some opening remarks. Sam, please get us started and we’ll turn it back to open up the call for questions.
SAM FLOOD: Thanks for joining us today. Tim, it was nice to be called Mr. Sam Flood. I haven’t been called Mr. in my lifetime. But we are thrilled to get back at it again. Last season was exciting for NBC and exciting for the sport of NASCAR. What happened at the end of the year in Homestead was just an indication of how passionate we are about the sport and how important it is for all of us to watch this sport grow and become a key part of everyone’s viewing Saturday night or Sunday.
And we are rolling out the red carpet with show after show, showing all these practices, qualifying, you name it. It’s going to be on NBC and NBCSN, and we’re thrilled that we can get our crack at it again.
I know our talent has been champing at the bit other than the SS Minnow which took a group of the booth guys, Rick, Steve, and Jeff on a little three-hour tour out on the boat somewhere in the Caribbean over the off-season. We know the team is working together, working hard together, and this time we’ve been assured from the racing Gods that we will not have as much rain as we have last year. Although I look at the long range forecast for Daytona, and I keep seeing this thing called PM thunderstorms, and I’m not sure what that means, but I’m sure it means sun in Florida for that time of year. So I’ll turn it back over to our host.
TIM BUCKMAN: As we’re waiting to assemble our cue, let’s bring it around the horn for a minute and hear from each of our panelists on their thoughts heading into this first broadcast weekend for NBC and specifically surrounding Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400.
I’ll start a quick batting order with Jeff Burton in the leadoff spot, followed by Steve and Rick, then we’ll go to Kyle and Dale for their comments as well. So, Jeff, please take it away.
JEFF BURTON: First of all, it’s great to be back. It’s definitely exciting. What we’re seeing on the racetrack this year makes you that much more enthusiastic to come back and call this race on Saturday night. There is a lot on the line these next races for people trying to get in the Chase, trying to get better and have a chance to win a championship, and this race offers some opportunities for some guys to win to try to get in.
So with the quality of racing that we’ve seen, with so much on the line and the pressure starting to build for the teams, I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to carry and be part of it.
STEVE LETARTE: I agree with his sentiments about the excitement to be back, especially year two. There was a lot to learn in year one and still a lot to learn. But it’s a little more comfortable in year two to just understand what’s ahead of us as far as creating television and covering the races. But I think we’ve seen some really competitive racing in the first half of the season. So I’m looking forward to our turn at covering it.
I think the competitors on the track and NASCAR have done a great job putting a product out there. We’ve seen great door to door battles, some last-lap passes and great story lines with the winners. So hopefully we can continue that at Daytona, and I know the race for the Chase should be exciting to try to lock in 16 defenders.
RICK ALLEN: Following up on what Steve mentioned and Sam earlier, we’re excited to pick up where we left off from last year at Miami, and the great championship run that we saw Kyle Busch do. The fact that we’ve been able to be around each other in the off-season and work together on different things like NASCAR America, I think has helped the chemistry that we built a year ago just get even better. So that’s really what I’m most excited about.
The story lines that we’ve got in front of us with eight different winners over the last eight races, Tony Stewart getting a win, it really sets it up nicely for us to take over and really take it from here all the way to Homestead Miami and see who the champion will be this year. So we’re excited to be getting back at it this Friday and Saturday.
KYLE PETTY: To piggyback off some of the stuff that they’ve said, the race has been good, but I think Dale and Krista and myself, our job is pre-race and post race to tell the story. NBC’s great at telling the story of the competitors of what the racing should be about, what it’s all about.
This year with I think Tony’s story is huge. I don’t think we can oversell or undersell or whatever that story enough. That is a huge personal story that goes into who Tony Stewart is as an individual and as a competitor and just a person that he is. But we’ll continue to follow Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson and all the guys that are coming into their own this year to look to see if they breakthrough and get that first one, and then there’s guys like Junior who haven’t gotten a win yet, and there are some other stories out there.
But I think that’s what we bring for the pre-race, and we’ll continue to try to elevate that every week.
DALE JARRETT: Yeah, these guys have it covered pretty much, but one exciting season we’ve had so far, it started off that way here at Daytona, and it’s hard to believe that we’re already at this point of the season to be back here for the July 4th weekend.
We’re very excited. I feel quite certain that our race will end well before 2:41, we all hope so. And as they said, there are so many story lines. Our story lines just increase a thousand percent by Tony Stewart winning the race. Who is going to be that next one to step up? We’ve got a lot of young talent, and it’s going to be very interesting to watch their progression, and as we get closer to the cutoff for the Chase, who is going to still trying to get that win, and who is close enough in points that they’re going to be driving in maybe a way that we haven’t seen in that situation and scenario.
So we’re very excited. As Kyle mentioned in the pre-race show, we love setting up the theme for these three guys to take over the race. And then our post race shows are so exciting to be in Victory Lane and see just how excited these winners get. It’s a lot of fun for us. So we look forward to all of that.
Q. Sam, I know you guys are always trying to improve, and that’s a big mantra of yours after a pretty well-received debut you had last year. From your perspective what was it, whether it’s talent, production or both, that you were trying to work on in in the off-season to continue to better the product?
SAM FLOOD: We always say if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse. So we’ve spent a lot of time this summer this off-season looking at the races, examining what we liked in terms of the show flow and what we didn’t like. We think we’ve picked up some areas where we can get better. We think we can tell more stories of more drivers. But the most important job is to tell the stories of these drivers in such a way that the fans understand and have a rooting interest across all the stars we have in there.
Obviously the sport’s in a transition as a new generation of drivers come in. I think that’s one of the big agendas this year is to get the audience to create new rooting interest in some of these new drivers and these new loyalties will be very important.
I think the booth and pit road and the pre-race show all have that as an important element in everything we do this year, is tell stories to make us care.
Q. How much is the cross-promotion with the Olympics going to be a big part of what you guys do over this next coming couple months?
SAM FLOOD: It’s huge. You think about the platform and the 180 or 190 million viewer that’s touch the Olympics along the way, they’re going to see NASCAR content. The last Saturday night of the Olympics is the Bristol race on NBCSN, and I think that’s an incredible opportunity.
Then we launch out of the Olympics with more races and important races leading right into the Chase, between the Darlington weekend, the Richmond cut down race, and then the Chase beginning Chicago. It all rolls directly out of the Olympics. To have a fresh audience exposed to these athletes, to this sport, and to our production and our talent group is a huge opportunity that we are not going to waste.
And Jenny Storms who oversees the marketing side for NASCAR, has an incredible plan as we roll out into the second half of the season.
Q. Sam, a big year obviously for you guys last year from a technology perspective, kind of high level in your first year. How are you guys looking to build this year, whether it’s more high speed, slow-mo, which was key for you guys last year? Anything in the graphics along those lines?
SAM FLOOD: Well, we’re going to keep taking advantage of the ex-mos. We realize high speed, slow-mo stuff is much more engaging than we realized even a year ago. And the more you watch the more you realize what you can showcase with that. Graphically we have some adjustments in how we’re going to identify elements of the race.
And perhaps the biggest thing we’re adding technology-wise is not for on air. It’s for the talent, it’s real-time information getting to our pit road. We’re working with Microsoft, and Microsoft has got the Surface Tablets with our guys that’s going to give more access to more data and in addition, we’re going to be feeding to our pit reporters all the radio traffic from the key drivers.
So they’ll be able to see — they can only scan one channel at a time, so if two people are speaking concurrently, they’re not necessarily getting that information. Under this new plan, they will. And it’s all worked together with our friends at Microsoft, and I think it’s going to be a huge advantage and a system that’s going to make us better and get better information for the audience.
Q. And building on that question, what have you guys learned from a production, specifically technology and operations perspective that’s going to make year two better than year one?
SAM FLOOD: That rain sucks, and more importantly that you’re doing a Super Bowl every week. And the crew that works their tails off couldn’t be better, and they’re so passionate about the sport. From top to bottom they understand that they are week after week putting on a Super Bowl in these various venues, and the respect we have for their efforts is through the roof.
And we understand that with no rain this year it’s going to be not quite as taxing on the engineering side, so we think that’s a huge advantage as we head into the season.
Q. Steve, Dale Jr. Finally had to retire Amelia after Talladega. It didn’t seem like it was doing that well anyway. I’m curious whether there’s any impact for a driver when he loses his favorite car, whether it’s working well in recent days or not?
STEVE LETARTE: Well, I think if anything it’s a mental impact more than anything. These race teams and technology moves along so fast that I would expect — I was really pretty shocked they brought it back after the accident in Daytona just because the sport moves along so quickly that normally you can always build something better, something newer.
So while perhaps Dale’s disappointed he doesn’t have his favorite car, I would expect the guys and the group at 88 and everyone ant Hendrick Motorsports to feel very confident in the car they bring. No different than Joe Gibbs Racing or Stewart-Haas Racing, you see new cars week in and week out. I would expect that to be the goal of 88 to build something better than they had in that car.
Q. Jeff, obviously there was the big accident at Daytona a year ago with Dylan, and we saw cars getting up in the air at Talladega. I know this has been a challenge for decades at Daytona and Talladega. Is there anything that you feel like NASCAR is doing right, and anything that you feel like they should be doing or looking at as far as trying to keep cars on the ground?
JEFF BURTON: Well, I think you are right. This has been going on for decades. It’s a difficult situation. If you make the car go too fast, people think take the restrictor plates off of them and then you’re going really fast and something happens and it’s worse. You put smaller plates on them and they go slower, then they’re all in a big pack and they wreck and take a lot of cars with them.
So it’s a difficult solution. I know everybody has an opinion. You sit 20 drivers down, you get 20 different opinions. NASCAR in my opinion is doing a really good job in regards to the safer barriers, the fencing, making the car as safe as they can make it.
The debate about how to make it so a car doesn’t get any air, to me it centers around all the safety stuff as far as the roof flaps, those kind of things. It also speaks to the faster you go, the more opportunity those things are going to happen. The cars are going really fast right now. But like I said earlier, you slow them down and you’ve made the pack that much bigger.
So it’s a complex problem. There’s a lot of ideas floating by over the years, and I can tell you from the time I started racing with restrictor plates and it still is, and the same conversation was happening then that’s happening today. It’s an on-going process that has to continue. But when you’re going as fast as you’re going and you have that many cars, it’s hard for mayhem not to happen.
Q. I believe I read in one of your press releases that you guys are going to be airing a social media driven throwback race tonight. I guess the question would be for Jeff, Dale or Kyle, can you guys talk about the race in Daytona back in 2001 and what you remember from it?
KYLE PETTY: I have amnesia, I don’t remember a lot about it. So I’m looking forward to watching it. When you don’t run, when you run like I ran in that race, you block them out. I think Dale finished 11th. What’d you finish, Jeff?
JEFF BURTON: I didn’t win, so I don’t know.
KYLE PETTY: Yeah, nobody knows. But it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be something new to be able to sit and watch the race and think about it and go back and look at it from this perspective, to look at the cars, to look at how the racing was and look at so many different things that have changed in such a short period of time.
And remember that the sport was coming off probably one of the most tragic moments in the history of our sport, the February before that when you look at it. So I think when you look at things, it’s a special race, so it’s going to be cool to sit with all of us together and tweet about it and talk about it.
DALE JARRETT: Yeah, I had obviously been in it, knew what happened. It was a stranger feeling coming to the racetrack that weekend. Coming through the tunnel, you felt differently. You knew that standing in the tunnel over in turn four, the accident that took our Superman away happened right above there. So we didn’t really know how to act and react when we got here.
It wasn’t until I think we all became a little more comfortable and with some things that Dale Jr. said about it that we need to just go race. We realized that’s what we were here to do, and we need to just continue on. Then when the race time got here you just went about your business. That’s what you have to do when you get in.
I can’t say I’ve gone back and watched it, so tonight will be the first time. I know it had as outstanding a finish as what we could have had in that situation. And the only thing that I can tell I really remember is the party in the motorhome afterwards, there was a lot of beer drinking.
JEFF BURTON: I’m impressed you remember that.
What’s fun about watching older races is you have in your mind the way things happened. You were in the race and you remember it a certain way. You go back and watch it, and think I don’t remember what I thought I remembered. It’s always fun to kind of relive history because I think overtime we rewrite history, and it’s something that probably wasn’t exactly what happened.
So anytime I watch an old race, to me it’s very interesting, because 10, 15 years ago you think you remember it a certain way, and you go back and watch and realize it happened different from what you thought. So it’s always fun to go back and watch an old race.
SAM FLOOD: Just quickly for Jeff, this is perfectly for him to celebrate his birthday. Happy birthday to Jeff today, the 29th of June. So he wants to spend it watching a race that he didn’t win. So good times for Jeff (laughing).
JEFF BURTON: Not only that, it’s a weekend with all my buddies. I mean, what else could you want, right?
TIM BUCKMAN: Jeff, you actually finished 8th in that race, so great finish there.
And just so everyone knows, tonight at 8:00 p.m. on NBCSN is the NASCAR throwback. It’s a classic race that’s going to be featuring live tweets not only from all of our talent and those that participated in the race, but other drivers from then and now who were in that race. So it should be a really interesting broadcast.
Q. Sam, I know broadcasting the Olympics is going to be a big highlight in August for the NBC platform. But how do you keep NASCAR fresh and relevant when so much is going on TV-wise? The Olympics, college football, and NFL training camp?
SAM FLOOD: Because you’ve got great stories to tell. Ultimately sports fans hook into stories and people, and there’s no better group of athletes than these NASCAR drivers. You think about the beauty of it, every week the best go against the best.
You wait for that special matchup in another sport where your two elite teams play each other. Well, every single Cup race has the elite guys face-to-face. So you don’t have to wait for that special matchup. It’s one of those unique sports that every weekend, every race they’re head-to-head. And we need to do a good job of selling those stories and making people care, and we’ve got this opportunity starting at Daytona in a few nights to start letting people know how exciting this is going to be, how exciting it has been, and get people hooked on these story lines. Then that carries into the season.
The idea that we’ve got Tony Stewart competing for a championship in his final season in the sport adds an incredible element for the year and for the team. It was the ultimate gift last Sunday when he won out in Sonoma, and we are going to take advantage of that and we are going to have a lot of fun with it, and we’re going to ride that right to the finish line in Homestead.
Q. This is for Dale or Kyle. With the Michigan race being the final weekend of August this year, how much more pivotal does that race become in preparation for the Chase?
DALE JARRETT: Oh, yeah, definitely. Even though it’s not a restrictor plate race like what we’re going to see Saturday night, it’s a race that’s kind of wide open, especially as you get opportunities with late-race cautions and the build up, a lot of things can happen there. And I think we saw some young drivers running extremely well at Michigan in the first race.
So that opportunity, if they haven’t gotten that win by that time, it becomes a huge opportunity race for them to secure their spot in the Chase. So they’re coming off of a week after Bristol where a lot happens usually and the winner’s happy but everybody else is pretty much mad at somebody and then you go to a racetrack where you have a little room. But it will be very interesting to see if we can get a different winner there at that time getting close to this cut off.
SAM FLOOD: Kyle agreed with him.
KYLE PETTY: I agreed with him.
Q. I apologize, I was a little late getting on here, but I was especially interested in Kyle, Jeff, and Dale. Tony Stewart winning this last week, what do you remember about your competitions with him, and how pivotal do you think it can be that he made it? It looks like he’s going to be able to make it into the Chase this final year?
JEFF BURTON: To me Tony is a fierce competitor, but he almost contradicts himself on the racetrack. One minute he’ll be racing you just as hard as he can race you, giving you nothing, him taking nothing. Then the next time you race him you catch him and he pulls over and lets you go.
He really wants people to respect him. He wants his peers to respect him on the racetrack. He wants them to respect him as well. That’s this driver code that he just believes strongly in.
He’s an unbelievable racer. Honestly, I think he’s one of our sport’s greatest drivers just from a pure talent standpoint. Unbelievable amount of talent, but we haven’t really seen that the last three years. When he got put in that position last week, it gave all of us a chance to remember how good Tony Stewart can be.
He had to go win that race. He had to keep those guys behind him. He did not have the best car. He made some mistakes and found a way to overcome it, but to me, that’s kind of Tony. Like he’s always found a way to step up. But in that situation where he’s had a terrible three years, emotionally, physically, just a horrible three years. He got put into a situation to win a race and he found a way to win.
Two days before he said he didn’t like Cup racing anymore. You know, if you don’t like Cup racing anymore, I was thinking there’s no way he can win this race because he doesn’t even enjoy what he’s doing. But I have a feeling that joy got back Sunday afternoon because he found in his mind that he could do it. And confidence is a wonderful thing, and there is no question in my mind he didn’t have the best car, but he still found a way to win that race.
KYLE PETTY: I think as we look back on this race, and we’ve all raced against Tony and watched him progress as Jeff said into arguably one of the greatest to race in these things. And we always go around comparing him to A.J. Foyt because whether it was Open Wheel or Sprint Cars or Midgets or Stock Cars, it didn’t make any difference. If Tony Stewart could drive it, and Tony Stewart could win it. And we’ve not seen that the last few years.
So I think for a lot of people last week was pretty special to watch. Dale knows this very well. But I had an opportunity to talk to him not long ago, just a few minutes ago or few hours ago, really, and I got the impression from Tony that this win really meant a lot to him personally. This is a Tony Stewart win. This is for him.
You know, we talked so many times that this is for the fans, it’s for the drivers or for the fans, for the team, it’s for the crew. I think it had a real healing effect for him where he was at personally and what he had been through, to prove to himself that he would be the 26-year-old Tony Stewart that he once was. And I think he felt that on Sunday, at least for the last 14 laps, that he was one of the hardest guys to ever sit in a race car and beat.
DALE JARRETT: Not all of you were watching NASCAR America on Monday, so this is going to be a repeat of what I said there. But I’m always interested to watch superstars. The ones that we talk about that are a level above everyone else. What puts him there that makes him so much better in certain situations?
And I brought up about Michael Jordan, we all knew that. LeBron James just put the Cavaliers on his back and won a championship. You talk about Peyton Manning doing the same thing, Tom Brady has done that. So there are a lot of people out there. We watched Dale Earnhardt do it in the sport. We watched Kyle’s dad Richard to do that and certainly Jeff Gordon do that. We’ve seen it a lot.
But to watch Tony Stewart do that the other day, and as Jeff pointed out, not with the best car, but with the most will to win at that particular time. To reach back and grab that talent again, that was incredible.
This was me watching at home and being a little selfish for two reasons: One, I wanted to see my good friend have that opportunity to win again and prove to us, not only everyone else, but prove to himself because of everything that he went through that he was still outstanding, and he did that. Then the other side of me was we’re getting ready to take over this series, and we couldn’t have had a better story line to go in with. It was just incredible.
Now, still, we talk like he’s in the Chase now. He still has a lot of work ahead of him, and it begins here Saturday night. Because you can’t — if we just talk about nine points out, there is a lot of work and hard work, good decisions that have to be made from this point forward to ensure that he gets inside the top 30.
But even if that doesn’t happen, we certainly hope and think that it will, and it will be great for the sport and great for us. But the biggest thing that happened was for Tony Stewart to get a victory in his final season.
Q. Where does Tony rank? Obviously we just went through kind of the retirement season with Jeff Gordon. Where does Tony rank in this generation of drivers in your mind?
JEFF BURTON: I think that’s a really hard question to answer. I don’t know the answer to that question. I think every driver has strengths and weaknesses. There is no question that he is one of the best. There is just no question in this generation or any generation. He hasn’t won as many championships as the King did, as Jimmie Johnson did, but he is one of our sport’s most talented drivers, there is little doubt about that.
KYLE PETTY: I think it’s incredibly hard to rank drivers against drivers wherever or whatever. But I’m going to say this, I think he’s (Indiscernible) because there are only 12 guys in the history of the sport who have won 50 or more, so just from a numbers perspective that moves him into a pretty elite category in the 60 or 70 years that the sport has been around. He’s definitely a Hall of Famer.
RICK ALLEN: One of the things that we can now almost quantify these drivers with is you can say Tony Stewart’s going to be a first ballot Hall of Famer. The second that he’s on the ballot, he will be elected into the Hall of Fame or voted into the Hall of Fame. And that, with the Hall of Fame, that’s what we have now to almost put people on that ranking of is this guy going to be a Hall of Famer? Yeah, he’s going to be a Hall of Famer. Is this guy going to be a first ballot Hall of Famer? Yes, Tony Stewart, most definitely. First ballot Hall of Famer, just like Jeff Gordon, I think. As soon as he’s eligible to be on the ballot, he’ll be on there. And I think Tony falls into that same category.
DALE JARRETT: I’ll weigh in with this. It’s hard to rank a Hall of Famer. But if you’re going to have a race somewhere, and it involves a vehicle with four tires on it, I’m going to pick Tony Stewart as my man to go there against any competition, and he’s going to have a good chance to win if he didn’t win the race.
Q. I’m sure you pay attention to what FOX does. I’m just interested, are there subtle differences in how you approach NASCAR coverage and things you maybe might not notice?
SAM FLOOD: I think the biggest thing is this is the one sport where you’re really not gauging yourself against the other person. Because in football, all five products are on the air simultaneously, so you’re really competing against the other guy. Here all we care about is for FOX to do great shows and to grow the audience.
So we love watching their show. It was obviously good to see Jeff Gordon join their team and do a really nice job in his rookie season. I thought that was a really big plus for FOX. So I couldn’t be more complimentary about what they do and how they’re working to keep pushing to get the sport a new audience and a younger audience. That, to me, is what it’s all about.
We root for them, just like they root for us. Ultimately we’re in the business of growing the sport of NASCAR together, and because the way the contract works and they’ve got the first half and they do a wonderful job with that, and we have the second half, and our job is to crown a champion every year, we think it’s the perfect set up. So nothing but compliments for how they do it.
They got better this year, which means we’ve got to get better this year, and that’s what the goal is every year. Because if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.
Q. Sam, you answered the question on Tony Stewart and future features in your part of the season. My second question is a technical one. I’ll direct it to Steve Letarte. It’s kind of an odd-ball question, but maybe it can be answered. The IndyCars have kind of resolved their flying by putting a shim plate underneath, and I know they’re totally different construction and totally different type of cars. Is NASCAR looking for anything under the body of a Stock Car, is that even feasible, to keep them from flying? I know the roof flaps have helped some.
STEVE LETARTE: Well, I can’t answer on NASCAR on what they have or haven’t looked into. I’m not aware of anything publicly they’ve looked into to try to reduce. But if you look back at the history in the last 20 years, while there have without a doubt been cars there more, especially this year Talladega, I think the roof flaps were a huge improvement. I think the hood flaps are another big improvement. I think it’s much more complicated than that.
NASCAR has adjusted quarter panel lengths time and time again, skirt height time and time again. Some of the issues that complicate the matter is it’s one thing to have a car fly by itself singularly when a car gets backwards into the air. I think we’ve reduced that tremendously in this sport with the safety innovations.
But when you go back to the accident in the closing laps of the Coke Zero 400 last year, what you saw with Austin Dillon’s car, really it didn’t fly, but it was pushed into the air by another car. I’m not sure aerodynamically there are any solutions for that, because I’m not sure how you could recreate that in the hundreds if not thousands of different ways that accidents could happen.
So I think as someone mentioned earlier on the call, I think NASCAR is looking in the right areas which is the COT years ago, and now the Gen-6 car has a much higher roof, much higher frame. There have been bars added to keep the roof from coming down on the driver. The catch fence, as violent as that accident was, did it its job and kept the car on the racing surface.
Racing is dangerous. We’ll see Saturday night. They’re very daring men and women who get behind the wheel, and I think we all sometimes take for granted the job they do week-in and week-out.
It is a spectacular sport and they make it look easy, but it is not easy and it’s not simple. And unfortunately, I don’t think there is anyway you could guarantee it to be safe. But to quote my friend Jeff Burton, it’s kind of a full-time job. You can never obtain safety. It’s something you always have to reach for. NASCAR’s currently trying to reach for it, but I’m not sure of anything specifically they’re looking for, to answer your question, as far as under the car.
Q. Dale, both you and your father Ned were past champions and are now or were broadcasters. How did that in any way help you transition into one part of the sport to the next?
DALE JARRETT: Well, it obviously helped me in preparation. And that’s the first thing that he told me. There’s going to be a lot more work involved than what you think than just going up and talking about it. I’m sure that Jeff Burton could speak to that too here. It was probably way more than what he could anticipate. And if you’re going to do it right, then there’s preparation before the race and getting your facts straight and getting all the information that you can get.
If we could go up in the booth and call the race with what we see going on, yeah, you could do that, but more information makes you better. And talking to my dad about those situations, it helped me a lot and things to find out and be ready for.
I didn’t envision the input would be what I would get into, but I certainly enjoyed the opportunity to be around the sport and the things just like him helping me through my racing career. He helped with my broadcast career and getting started and understanding more about it.
But I tell you what, just like driving a race car and a lot is determined by the people that you’re around and the people behind the scenes, and that goes to the same way here. You can talk about it all you want. As you see all these spectacular people that we have working here every single weekend and sometimes in some of the worst weather conditions you can imagine getting the job done, that’s what makes it all worthwhile. And it’s kind of learning on the job that makes it special.
JEFF BURTON: As NBC fans we’re blessed to have two people on our team that have been in this sport or our family has been in the sport for a long time, Kyle and D.J. come from two unbelievably well-recognized families. They know the sport from inside out. They know everybody in the sport. They’ve worked really hard to stay involved in the sport, and that gives us a perspective that I think sometimes we may take for granted.
But we are blessed to have people that know as much about the current and the past. There are very few people I know in the sport that could bridge the gap the way Kyle and D.J. can. And to have them involved in our program is unbelievable. It’s a big help to me in the booth, but they’re such a big part of what we do here, and it has such a positive impact on our broadcast.
Q. Sam, earlier in the call you mentioned the gift of Tony Stewart’s win this past weekend at Sonoma and how in all likelihood he’ll be included in the Chase. It’s not dissimilar from last season with Jeff Gordon at Martinsville, and it’s sort of built in this great plot line that you guys were able to follow and develop throughout the rest of the season, being the good guys with the white Knights and all the positive coverage. How is your coverage going to change this year with Tony Stewart being perceived more the villain, and it seems he likes it that way. What are your thoughts on slanting the content around these two dissimilar characters?
SAM FLOOD: Well, I think the whole story line changed Sunday because odds are he will be in the Chase, and once in the Chase, you don’t know when it’s going to end, when his relevance ends. Can he make it to the last race in Homestead competing for a championship?
So I think that adds a layer to this thing that’s pretty special, and I think we can dig hard into that. I also think there is something about lightning rod personalities. This guy attracts attention and people pay attention to him. There are those that love and those that might not love as much, but they’re always interested. And he’s a fascinating character, because he’s so passionate about what he does, he’s so good at what he does, and we can tell that story on all the levels.
The unique relationships that each member of our on-air crew has with Tony will give windows to the audience at different levels and different layers each race. I think that’s going to be a lot of fun as we peel down to those final races and see how the relevance is.
Remember, we get that added benefit of telling the story of can he get into the top 30 and how long is it going to take? If something wrong happens in Daytona, he’s further back to come and get into that mix. So we’ve got two stories that will carry us the first ten or eight races into Richmond, about getting under that point line. Then hopefully the last ten, can he win a championship in his final go around? Because what happened in Sonoma makes you believe that anything is possible.
Q. Hypothetical situation, you’re at Homestead. Let’s fast forward. We’re on the last lap, we’ve got Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch going toe to toe for that finish line. It’s dead even. They finish in a dead heat. You can’t tell who wins. For some reason the way the Sprint Cup champion is a hand-to-hand battle between Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart, who wins the fight with everything on the line?
KYLE PETTY: So what you’re asking is that Tony Stewart, that Tony and Kyle are going to get out and wrestle like at the truck race we saw last week? (Laughing) is that the question?
Q. That’s the question.
KYLE PETTY: Yeah, okay. That’s my answer (laughing).
RICK ALLEN: I have a hard time answering hypothetical situations like that.
JEFF BURTON: I don’t have a hard time answering that question. I think Tony Stewart wins in a first round knockout.
DALE JARRETT: I don’t think it gets to that point, because Tony Stewart’s going to handle that situation like he did. He’s not going to be in a drag race, so he’ll handle that in three and four.
Q. This is for everybody, what is one thing from year one that you think will be different for your broadcast and broadcasting style?
KYLE PETTY: The difference between year one and year two is I’ll be a year older. Other than that, I don’t know. We take it and we go back, this brings us all the way back to the very, very beginning when we made opening comments. I think it’s just about us being together as a group. We’re a tighter group here than we were last year.
We understand there is a lot to learn for NBC Sports and NBCSN, because this is a storytelling network. We are very, very blessed, all of us here at this table are very blessed to have the relationships in that garage area where we can pick up the phone and call Tony Stewart, or pick up the phone and call Jimmie Johnson or Dale Stewart and talk to them. They’re not going to spill their guts, but at the same time, you get insight into where they’re at and what they’re thinking.
With this year’s changes with the aero packages and so many different things that confront these drivers week to week to week, I think this group has grown in a way and we’re better at it this year than we were last.
I think Steve and Jeff, it’s their first year really being in the booth, and I thought they did a phenomenal job last year of bringing the racetrack to the booth to explain it in simplistic terms, what’s going on out there, what the crew chief’s doing, what the driver’s doing. Now having a year under their belt there, they’re going to be better.
Dale and I have been around the sport (Inaudible)and you can sit and talk to guys and figure out their opinions on things and try to explain it to them.
But I think when you look at it, the guys in the booth do a tremendous job during the day of telling the story. And, again, we’ll just be better at telling the story before the race and wrapping it up and putting a bow on it when the day is over.
DALE JARRETT: I’ll finish up pre and post race and let the booth finish up. I’m a year older, as Kyle pointed out, (indiscernible) I’m probably more impatient. So none of that’s going to really work. But just as I did my driving career, after each year I work harder the next year. So that’s what I’m going to do is work harder to be better and see if I can help this entire crew to be better than what we were last year.
STEVE LETARTE: Yeah, I’ll speak for the booth. I think Sam said it earlier in his opening comments, the simple fact is in year one we prepared, we practiced, me specifically learned as much about television. But other than practice, there was nothing that we could do to prepare other than practice. And now in year two, we’ve had a year to review, and there’s nothing like the real thing, and we’ve had 20 real things from last year that there are some great fans involved with this.
There are some great producers at NBC that are not short of their constructive criticism, which I really enjoyed, because it allowed Jeff and myself and Rick to truly try to be better. So I think that’s what’s different. Now we have a year of practice under our belt, a year of experience under our belt and something to build on.
JEFF BURTON: I just think that we’re just all more comfortable. Like when we have Sam and Jeff and you put us in the booth together and we had never worked before. We all had a tremendous amount of respect as the year went on. We have a crew of people that have a passion for the sport.
We all want to work really hard at it. But to be quite honest until last year I didn’t know what that meant. I committed to working hard, but I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t even know what the job was. So now that I’m much more comfortable with what my position is, I think we’ll be more relaxed, have more fun, let our passion for the sport come through and probably just be more relaxed about it because we have a great group.
We all get along unbelievably well. And I just think bringing that enthusiasm, we’ll do a better job of that this year.
RICK ALLEN: Wrapping it up, I would go back three-plus years ago to when Sam Flood contacted all of us and more or less put us as a booth together. One of the first conversations I had before any of the announcements were made who the booth was going to be, one of the first phone calls I had was from Jeff Burton and calling just to say, hey, we’re going to work hard. I’m just letting you know we’re going to work extremely hard to be the best that we can be.
At the time obviously we were getting to know each other. Then after last year, working together and learning just tempo, and the way people react to certain things, I think we have become even better friends away from the racetrack than we could have ever possibly imagined. I think what that does is that translates into the three of us and everybody on this team being comfortable. We know what the other’s going to say, when they’re going to say it, and just help each other be a better broadcaster. What I think that does is put the best product that we can out there to the fans so they can enjoy the race along with us because that’s what we end up doing.
We’re, as a group, watching the race with the millions of fans that turn in every week, and we’re going to continue to get better because that’s what Sam, and Jeff, and everybody expects us to do, and that’s what we expect to do is get better every race.
Q. How will you be different with the Chase to the Sprint Cup?
KYLE PETTY: Different drivers.
RICK ALLEN: Once again, Kyle Petty, Mr. Obvious. You know, it’s going to be a learning experience for them, I think. For us, obviously, we’ve been through that format on the television side. But I think you’re going to see some guys make mistakes. There’s going to be strategy that needs to be played out on the XFINITY side of that Chase that they’re going to have to learn for themselves because the Chase drivers were able to do it two years ago, last year. They’ve got a lot of experience now with it. They understand it better.
The XFINITY drivers are going to have to do it for themselves, and they’ll learn along the way. But obviously, they have the benefit of being able to watch the way the format works in the Chase Series or excuse me in the Cup Series, so they’ll be able to take a little bit of that information in there, but it’s different, obviously, when you’re behind the wheel and in a position where you have to do something to advance.
So the teams do the right thing, and obviously the best normally rise to the top, so we’ll see who wins the championship.
TIM BUCKMAN: We’re going to close with some news that just came in. We spent a lot of time talking about Tony Stewart on this call and his big win last week. Well, to kick off our broadcast on NBC Saturday night at 7pm Eastern, we’re actually going to have Tony Stewart with us live on our pre-race set. Please join us for that, that will make for some great television and a great way to start our season. Thank you, everyone
— NBC SPORTS GROUP —