Tuesday, June 27th, 2017


Jun. 27, 2017

ALEX ROZIS: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to today’s NASCAR on NBC conference call previewing the 2017 NASCAR on NBC schedule and NBC’s coverage plans for this Saturday’s Coke Zero 400.

NBC Sports Group is just three days away from its 2017 debut of live NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series racing. On Friday, June 30th at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN kicks off its coverage of the 2017 XFINITY Series live from Daytona International Speedway. The following night, on Saturday, July 1st at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, NBC will be present the Coke Zero 400, NBC’s first NASCAR Cup Series race of 2017 and the first of 20 final races to determine the 2017 series champion.

Joining on today’s call are executive producer of NBC Sports Sam Flood, NBC Sports Group NASCAR analyst and 21-time cup series winner Jeff Burton, Daytona 500-winning crew chief Steve Letarte, NASCAR on NBC’s lead race announcer Rick Allen, and four-time Olympic medalist and our newest NASCAR on NBC features contributor, Ato Boldon.

We’ll begin with opening comments from each and then we’ll take your questions. Sam.

SAME FLOOD: Thanks, Alex, and first I’d like to congratulate Fox on a great first half of the season. We’re excited to carry the race to the finish line here in Miami. Should be a great season with all the story lines that have evolved, the young stars, the last ride for Dale Jr., a lot to play with, a lot to talk about. I think the stage racing has added a whole new component to the season, which has been fun to watch. Fun to see the good job Fox did explaining all that.

And we like to do new things each year. And the addition of Ato Boldon will add a dimension to our telecast, the classic fish out of water, a guy who drives his car too fast and gets tickets for it, but now he comes to the racetrack and gets immersed in NASCAR and learns what this sport is about and learns to be a passionate NASCAR fan by being around it and being a part of the team. We think it’s a great way to introduce a broader audience to NASCAR and continue to grow the sport.

That’s one of the many things we’ll be doing this year. We’re playing around with new cameras and these new cameras should add a new dimension to the speed of the sport and the visuals that everyone gets to enjoy at home.

Steve Letarte can talk about his all-star pit crew a great new idea that he came up with which we think will add to the coverage and add to an understanding of the people who really make these machines run and the human side behind the story is always exciting.

And a little twist we have. On Friday night, we’re going to have the Professional Fighters League. It’s going to have five fights in the infield of Daytona. This one will not be between drivers and the track. It will be between professional fighters in a decagon inside the infield of Daytona, which we think is a great addition to add a new dimension to the scene in Daytona, a story for us to cover. And at some point I imagine that Burton and Letarte will go at it because they’re a passionate booth pairing.

With that I hand it off to Jeff Burton, the 21-time winner.

JEFF BURTON: I’m not sure I want to get in the ring and fight Steve, but I like to debate him. My excitement is really high.

Watching all the races this year, I think the racing has been exceptionally good to watch. The stages have had a major role in making the races more fun, more exciting. Strategy has come into play and excited to get to Daytona and have our opportunity to explain to the fans what’s going on.

This will be our third year together, and it’s going into this year more comfortable and really feeling good about what we’ve done to prepare going into the year.

And just excited to get going. So I know Steve is on the call with us and he’s got some exciting things that we’re going to be doing this year. And just really looking forward to getting going. Steve.

STEVE LETARTE: Yeah, Jeff, much like Jeff, excited to get back to the racetrack. I think Daytona is a great place to kick off the NBC coverage. This race specifically has so many line items. You have Dale Jr. with his final race at Daytona. And I think that only adds to the pressure of a season that’s been probably a little down by 88 standards. He hasn’t really shown winning speed, so he comes to a track where he has so much history, his fan base, his dad has so much history that they’re going to be able to go here and see if they can punch their ticket to the playoffs.

As well as, Sam touched on that all-star pit crew. A great way to touch on the great stories of the men and women that really build the sport. For 20 years I was in the garage area trying to win races and I formed a lot of, you know, really life-long bonds with team members. And I think there were so many great stories, why the drivers and crew chiefs are covered all weekend, but there’s so many people that make the races go on. And there are great stories whether it’s a retired veteran from the Armed Forces or a football player or just someone who does a lot in their community.

So there are a lot of great stories we’re going to continue to cover and I think they’ll be a great addition to the coverage. But I am excited to get up in the booth with the lead play-by-play guy, Rick Allen.

RICK ALLEN: Along the lines of storytelling, that’s what I think NBC is best at. And already we have seen incredible stories starting to evolve, including the fact that you’ve got Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Dale Jr., Clint Bowyer all winless this season. There’s been 11 different winners, that includes Joey Logano, but that was an encumbered winner. Potentially, this could be the first time that all of the spots in the playoffs are filled with race winners. And, of course, you have the three-time winner already this year, Jimmie Johnson, with seven championships looking to go into elite status, something that no one has ever done before, win an eighth championship. Right now he’s still chasing DW and Bobby Allison as far as for career wins.

And so there’s so many different things that we’re excited about to get started to tell these stories all the way through Miami and find out who that next champion will be.

And along the way, with the storytelling, not only the things that are happening on the track, but with a different perspective we’re lucky enough to have the four-time Olympic medalist who, by the way, only three other men in Olympic history — Usain Bolt, Frankie Fredericks and Carl Lewis — have won as many Olympic individual medals as my good friend, Ato Boldon.

ATO BOLDON: Thank you very much. I’m listening to the enthusiasm from all the guys and I’m realizing that a young kid who has already been to Universal Studios a bunch of times is excited because he or she knows what the rides are like and they know the adrenalin and all the stuff they’re going to feel.

But I’m that kid who has never been but I’ve seen it. And the day’s approaching, and my excitement is building, I think even more than the guys who already know what’s to come, because I just know that cars are my thing. Speed is my thing. And listening to these guys is getting me that much more excited to be there.

And as somebody who is naturally curious, I think the way that I am being introduced to the sport and hopefully introducing new fans to the sport where I am going to learn this in the way somebody who was learning about basketball for the first time would learn about the steps that James Naismith took to create the game of basketball.

So I am not going just from what’s happening this weekend. Some of my first contributions are going to be what happened at the beginning of this sport. How did it start? Who started it? Why was it such a big deal early on and so forth?

So for me this is definitely new territory. But I do feel like this is going to be something that at the conclusion of the race this weekend I will say, yes, I’m in the right place.

Q. Steve, you talked about this being Dale Jr.’s last race at Daytona, yet he left the door open to possibly doing a one-off at some point in the future. I’m curious if you think he would do that at Daytona? Do you think that — what do you think the chances are that he would race again at Daytona after Saturday night?

STEVE LETARTE: From what I understand, he’s left the door open for sure because he has some sponsor commitments in the XFINITY Series next year, so I think he’s gone on record saying this isn’t the last time you’ll see him in a race car this year. Where those races are I don’t know.

I know he has a love affair with Daytona. Without a doubt his passion for this speedway bleeds over. And he showed me a lot about Daytona, I think our time here, which was capped off with that 500 win, had a lot to do with just his affinity for speedway racing. He loves it. He loves drafting. He loves to control the pack.

Best it’s a better question for Dale. I don’t know what his plans look for in the years to come. But sounds to me from all the quotes I’ve heard that he hasn’t closed any doors.

So what I’ve learned with Dale is that you never know what you’re going to expect. So we’ll have to see. Without a doubt it would be great to see him in a car in Daytona, but from what I understand and everything we’ve talked about, I know this year and this race is extremely important to him, to his team, to his sponsors.

The year probably hasn’t gone exactly like they had hoped. And arguably I feel like from here to Chicago this is the race I have circled as, without a doubt, the best chance for the 88 to make the playoffs.

Q. Obviously there’s a lot of social media buzz about like is he as engaged? Is he totally in it since he’s announced that it’s his last season? What have you felt from watching and talking to him?

STEVE LETARTE: I’m feeling he’s 100 percent engaged. I think if you just go back to this last weekend out in Sonoma, they looked like they had speed. They had an eventful race. But for (indiscernible) to get all the way back up. And I think a timely caution near the end, and Brad Keselowski in the 88 probably have the best chance to win on those pressure tires.

The sport is difficult. What we’ve seen Dale Jr. battle this year is exactly why we all tune in every Sunday because there are no gimmies, there are no guarantees. Joe Gibbs Racing is winless. Chase Elliott is winless. No one, I think, could have predicted that. And Jimmie Johnson has three wins, but he’s the only Hendrick driver to get to victory lane this year.

I think Dale Jr.’s retirement announcement is a good way for people to have a conversation about his focus, but what I’ve seen on the racetrack, seems to me from a driver and a team that want to go to victory lane, I don’t see a lack of determination or desire at all.

Q. Steve and Sam, there’s been a lot of talk about maybe Dale going into the broadcast booth next year. I don’t know where that stands. But does he have what it takes to be a broadcaster, do you think?

SAM FLOOD: I think he’d be an excellent broadcaster, obviously see what he decides to do. It’s up to him where he wants to be in the future. But he’s a talented guy, and I think he’d be a great addition to any broadcast because he is curious and asks good questions and cares deeply about the sport. And that’s the hallmark of our group.

These people care deeply about the sport of NASCAR and the growth of NASCAR and continuing to evolve the sport and make it a must-see TV. And that’s what Jeff and Steve have done since day one when they joined us and Rick in the booth with him and the rest of our team. So Junior’s got a bright future. It’s a question that’s up to him, what he wants to do with it and what the opportunity might be for him.

STEVE LETARTE: I just think Sam covered it well. The one thing I’ll add is what Sam said about Dale and his love for the sport. I think it comes through his social media. I was able to be his crew chief and it came through in our conversations. He, by no means, takes for granted his situation and the legacy that he’s trying to continue on with his father’s success and his success.

And I think it shows with his commitment to own an XFINITY team. And I think anything that Dale does to continue to be a part of this NASCAR group — whether it’s a team owner, whether it’s a partial schedule, like Bob just alluded to, whether it’s in the TV booth — any of that would be good for NASCAR just because for how much he cares for the sport.

Q. Jeff, once Dale gets away from the track, having something like broadcasting, does that help your transition when you weren’t driving anymore, to still be involved? And do you think that might be important for Dale to find something to stay involved?

JEFF BURTON: Well, I can speak for myself. And knowing Junior the way I know him, I have a passion for the port and Junior has a passion for the sport. That doesn’t just go away just because you’re not driving any longer.

I think there is a — you wake up in the morning and you’re a racer, and that doesn’t mean just because you’re in a race car.

So Dale Jr. won’t be able to wake up in the morning and just say, you know what, I don’t do anything in racing anymore. That would be really, really difficult.

I know that people think they can, but we’ve seen so many drivers, and Dale Jarrett has spoken eloquently about it, how difficult it was for him when he made the decision to leave. It’s difficult.

Fortunately for me, I walked right into the next thing, or as Sam said, I jumped right into the next thing head first and hit my head on the pool a couple times.

But it gives you an opportunity to have an impact on the sport. It gives you an opportunity to continue the relationships that you have built over a lifetime. It allows you to, quite honestly, talk about something that you would be watching anyway.

I watch almost every race live, rarely do I tape them and watch them because I love racing. I enjoy watching it. So Junior is no different. And for me it’s been a great transition and I think it will for Junior as well.

Q. Sam, can you talk about the new cameras? Apparently you got one that’s up in the air or something that follows the cars in a certain area of the track?

SAM FLOOD: Yeah, we’ve got a bat cam that zips down the back stretch of the track. We’re doing it at a number of tracks this year, up to seven. And it’s just going to add a different dynamic to where we cover it.

It’s away from the grandstand. It’s over grass, not where it might have been in Charlotte years past. But we think it’s a great camera, a fast camera. And the speed in the camera is going to be pretty dynamic when it shows off.

We also will be playing around with the helmet camera going forward, the visor cam. So we’ve got nice toys there that we think will help amplify the speed, the drama and the excitement on the racetrack.

Q. So the bat cam is on a cable. Is it like super speedy? Does it go really fast?

SAM FLOOD: Yes, not as fast as Jeff Burton did behind the wheel of a race car, but it goes fast.

JEFF BURTON: It may need to go faster than that, Sam.

Q. You’re debuting this at Daytona?

SAM FLOOD: Yes we are. And it will be zipping down the back stretch at — I don’t have the data in front of me, but it’s around 100 miles an hour.

Q. Wow. Okay. So that’s pretty innovative. You must have had the elves working hard over time on that one?

SAM FLOOD: We have good ideas and good people to execute them. And hopefully it will all come together the way we have planned, which will be a lot of fun.

Q. Steve, you mentioned how much Dale Jr. loves Daytona. With that in mind, what do you think this weekend is going to be like for him?

STEVE LETARTE: I think one of the things that Dale Jr. has to somehow balance is the emotion of coming to a track like Daytona for the last time with the project at hand, which is to get the 88 up into the points. And in my opinion it’s going to take a win for the 88 to make the playoffs. While mathematically that’s not the case, they just haven’t shown the speed to run the top two or three consistently, and I think that’s what it would take from the points position they’re in.

So I think that it’s that battle. It’s an emotional battle of a track that you want to come and run well at because it means a lot to you, but then you stack on top of that the importance of this race for your season, for the season that he has announced that will be his final.

Without a doubt he wants to make the playoffs in his final season. That was the goal in February. I’m sure it’s the goal now in July. So I think that’s going to be the task. The task is going to have to be somehow controlling your emotion and the enormity of this being his final trip to Daytona and the pressure of what this race means for his season.

Q. Ato, obviously a guy with quite a bit of speed on the track and now you’re looking at an entirely different track. How are you thinking all that’s going to translate and what are you most excited to see this season?

ATO BOLDON: I think for me as somebody — you know, all of my friends who know me said you pulled one over on NBC because they’re touting you as this guy who, oh, yeah, he’s an Olympian and he’s used to watching track and field speed.

But we who have known you since you were born known that you’ve always had an affinity for cars and speed. And in that respect I think this is not something that is — I’m certainly a neophyte to NASCAR, but not to — I’m a car guy. I’m a proud car guy.

So that’s the one thing in terms of what I’m looking forward to. You can’t be around this sport and have Dale Jr. getting ready to call it a career and not feel like you’re blessed to be around for that. If I was coming in next year and I missed that, I would have felt I wish I would have started a year early.

So for me, it’s pretty special that I’m coming in right when I’m getting a chance to see him on his way out.

SAM FLOOD: When Ato was a track athlete I was producing track and field for us back in ’96 and 2000 Olympics and he was always the biggest personality in the room. He would jump on our vehicles to get home on the track when we were in Athens in the world championships, and he wouldn’t stop talking, but he was always engaging and always colorful. And you wanted to listen to the guy.

So when we eventually got convinced to hire him as a track and field analyst, we suddenly had the best analyst in all of Olympic sports, because no one breaks their sport down better than Ato. And what a better chance to use that passion and personality in NASCAR than this one.

That’s why we brought him over, because he does have an infectious personality. He has fun with whatever he’s doing and he makes it fun for the people around him. And so we think that’s a great combination that’s going to help NASCAR and help Ato have some fun with his speed freak nature.

Q. This is also for Ato. Not that I’m your PR guy, but you do have a way of packing a massive amount of information into like quick sentences when you’re doing your track stuff. So clearly that’s because of the preparation you do. So just briefly walk me through what you’ve done to prepare yourself for this.

ATO BOLDON: I can tell you the first thing I did, I had a call with a reporter at like, I don’t know, early for me, like 10.00 a.m., and the first question she asked me was, I think she said name five NASCAR drivers and I came up with like three. One of whom was Jeff Burton and I think the two Earnhardts. And she wrote in the story: Oh, he couldn’t even name the drivers. I was like, okay, so since everybody’s going to expect me to not know any drivers, I need to make sure I know the drivers.

Now I’m a lot better with the drivers. The next thing I think I’m going to study is the stories and who doesn’t like who and which teams are the two biggest rivals and so on.

But for me that was kind of — it made me ashamed because I was like, wow, everybody is like he’s a real neophyte; he can’t even name three current drivers. So me I am about information, but one of the things that I got taught in part by Sam Flood is information is fine but you have to broadcast such that you use the information to tell a story or to make a point simpler. It’s not just information for information’s sake.

So, yes, I’m learning everything from how points are scored to the playoff system. But I only want to learn it so I understand it well enough to be able to tell somebody if they came down from space and said, okay, why do you like this sport, I can say, okay, I like this sport because here’s what they do and then these guys get to have this playoff run at the end of the season.

So it’s not just that I’m — I mean, I’m very grateful for the compliment, but I like to feel that I’m not just a stats and numbers or information guy, that I actually use it to hopefully enlighten the viewer.

Q. I in no way meant it’s just a recitation of facts and figures; somehow you manage –

ATO BOLDON: I didn’t take it that way.

Q. — so that I can even understand and I’m not a track and field guy. But I like listening to you. I’m interested to see how you’ll do because I’m sure it will be great.

ATO BOLDON: Thank you. Appreciate it.

Q. One name I haven’t heard you mention — I’ve been impressed with Kyle Larson so far this year. He’s the only driver I know of who has ever won a World of Outlaw Sprint Car race and a Cup race in the same week. Is he this generation’s Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, and Tony Stewart rolled into one, and should his story be getting more mainstream attention outside of the racing world?

JEFF BURTON: Listen, Kyle Larson has the ability to win races in bunches and win championships and to have a career full of big-time wins. But he’s at the beginning of that. To get into that elite lead, as you just mentioned, the championships and those things still have to be earned. So does he have the potential as a driver, 100 percent? He has the potential.

But it’s a whole nuther thing, everything falling together to make all those things happen. So Steve and I have commented and watched Kyle Larson grow over the last three years. Three years ago Kyle Larson would run really fast and hit something. He would run really fast and the car would get off late in the race.

He had speed but just couldn’t put all the pieces of the puzzle together in managing a race. Now you’ve seen the evolution of Kyle and how he’s learned to put all those things together. And now he’s starting to capitalize. Of course the last race he won, he won a late race restart and that’s been one of his weaknesses.

There’s no question he has the talent. There’s no question that anything he sits in goes fast. Those, at this point, for me, are givens. It’s can he and his team put it all together in those big moments in order to get into that rare air of greatness.

And the talent’s there, but you still have to put those results down.

RICK ALLEN: To add on what Jeff said, I think right now the media has done such a big — they’ve made such a big deal out of who is the next star and everyone’s always looking for who the next star is in the sport, because we’ve had big, big names announce retirements over the last three years and people are always trying to figure out who is going to fill those positions.

That evolves naturally. Right now Kyle Larson is stepping into that role on his own. He’s doing it because he’s going out and he’s winning races and he’s becoming a person who — every race now you look at Kyle Larson as being a contender for a win. Where, as Jeff mentioned earlier, in his younger years, just a couple years back, maybe he wasn’t as knowledgeable about what it took to win the races. He was fast, but he’s evolving into one of the greats of the sport.

But until he puts it together, like Jeff says, and is able to win on the biggest stage and accomplish the things that you had mentioned some of the bigger names ever in motor sports, he’s still just evolving into those roles.

But I think he’s definitely stepping up and trying to be one of the next greats in this sport.

Q. Ato, what is it about this job, this project with NBC that appealed to you the most? You talk about fast cars. I’m curious, what’s your daily driver?

ATO BOLDON: A P90D Tesla, 0 to 60 in 2.8. Us Tesla drivers are very proud of our 60 numbers. Obviously the speed is sort of a natural thing. But to be quite honest, I always look back at maybe before 2014 and the Sochi Winter Olympics. I’m one of those guys — I’m that way with music, too. I’m one of those guys that always felt like, look, there’s certain sports that will never interest me. Winter sports will never interest me.

I’m from the South Caribbean. NASCAR will never interest me because I don’t know anything about the sport and I didn’t grow up around it and it’s always going to be that way. And then I went to the Winter Olympics and got introduced to new sports, including ice hockey, by the way, because the final in Sochi was pretty spectacular.

And I think I came away from Sochi sort of feeling like what an idiot you are for ignoring these sports for no good reason. You have these like preconceived notions about these sports, most of which are wrong. And if you give some of these sports a chance, the way you were forced to in Sochi, you may actually — you might actually like them.

And I think I came back from Sochi feeling like you know what, I would like to sort of expand my horizons and see if I could sort of really embrace something else that is maybe 180 degrees away from the sports that I know and love and can tell you anything about. And this fell I think right along that road.

Q. We all have friends of ours who knew nothing about racing and some of my friends will tell me, oh, they just chase each other around in circles. And obviously by adding Ato to the booth, we’re trying to bring in some new people. What do we do and how do we bring in the new people, get them interested while at the same time not oversimplifying it for the hard-core fans?

ATO BOLDON: For me that’s what I have to do every Olympic game. And my producers constantly remind me of that. Listen, do not broadcast Usain Bolt as though it’s someone who is from Jamaica or somebody who follows the sport every single day.

You have to broadcast to a housewife maybe in Kansas who is tuning in for the first time and, yeah, she’s heard the name, but give her a reason to sit down and not turn the channel away from this guy. What makes this guy so special.

So for me I have sort of been groomed in that way for now a decade on NBC Sports to not just broadcast to people who absolutely know the sport like the back of their hand, but to broadcast to people for whom the sport is completely new.

The only difference is that now I’m on the other side of the pool being the guy coming in and having to learn the sport and relate the sport to people who are completely unfamiliar with it.

Q. Rick, Jeff or Steve, you take this hand-off halfway through the season with a huge group of championship caliber drivers still looking for wins. Just wondering if you would address that and obviously the intensity that you’re expecting as we close out the regular season. I’m guessing before the season began you guys didn’t expect this would be a story line probably at this point?

RICK ALLEN: We just had a production call about an hour and a half ago, and to a man — or to a person — on our team, we were all talking about how excited we were to grab the reins of what’s going on this season because of all the story lines that are out there and we can’t wait to experience it with the fans and be at the tracks and call these races. As you mentioned, there’s phenomenal drivers that have experience of winning races that haven’t won yet.

And so those story lines, will they get into the playoffs? Former champions that haven’t won a race yet that potentially might not get into the playoffs. And those are amazing story lines. So we’re very excited about it. And I know, like I said an hour and a half ago, we were just talking about how we can’t wait to get to Daytona and get started.

JEFF BURTON: Every year you never know what’s going to happen. And you just — that’s the magic of NASCAR, you can watch a race and everything looks like it’s going to happen and then 10 to go everything changes.

When the year starts, it’s the same thing. You just have no idea what’s going to happen. And especially in this year where you had this major change and with the stages and how is that going to impact racing and who is going to take advantage of it.

And it’s been fascinating to watch. And it’s who is going to win. We’re going to have more new winners. And every time we have a guy that hasn’t won and he gets that win, makes the points that much more difficult.

So the great thing that where we are in the sport now is that points matter. And so consistency matters. And I know we talk a lot about winning because winning gets you in, but you still — this is going to boil down to some really, really good race car drivers driving for really good race teams that are going to have to get in on points.

I don’t think we’ll have 16 or 17 winners. I just don’t think we will. I think you’re going to have points come into play.

And that makes every race, that makes every stage finish, that makes every pit stop important. It makes every single lap important.

So this combination of win you’re in and then the guys don’t get in on points, and then you get points for stages, all that is just going to ramp up the intensity as we approach Richmond.

And as Rick said, we had this production call a little bit ago, you can hear the enthusiasm from everybody on our team about where the sport is today.

We get to come in and cover it. And then going to Daytona, a plate race where anything can happen, anybody can win. So the enthusiasm is exceptionally high because of what’s gone on within the sport before we actually will cover it.

Q. My question touches on stage racing as well. Jeff, you seem to be a fan of it, but as a driver how do you think you would do?

JEFF BURTON: I don’t think it would suit me. I think that — I was never the fastest race car driver. I was more consistent. Most of the races I won were on tracks that were really slick and low grip and that’s where I was my best at.

So I don’t think stage racing would have been a complement to my style. I would have had to adapt and adjust and find a way to make it work. Because obviously winning stages and finishing high in the stages matters.

So it would have put more pressure on me in an area that probably wasn’t my strongest area.

Q. Steve, since you’re kind of the strategy guy, have you figured out how to explain stage racing and impact of playoff points to a guy like Ato as well as like the race fan who has been watching it all year?

STEVE LETARTE: That’s what I’m looking forward to most. Every time I’m in the booth with Jeff and Rick and they look to me for some explanation of strategy, I picture that I’m talking to my family at home, my father, who has worked in industry for decades. My father-in-law who is a construction worker and doesn’t know racing very well. My brother-in-law is an entrepreneur. My son’s a racer. My daughter isn’t. So I have a wide variety of people I’m talking to. So I always try to not talk down to my father who understands the sport but educate my father-in-law.

And I think Ato is that challenge for me. His enthusiasm and excitement is unbelievable. And I want to test my ability, much like he does in the Olympics, to take something I’m very passionate about, something I understand very, very well and explain it in a way to a very competitive man that he’s as excited as I am about that strategy, because that strategy is a huge part of the race fan.

Like pit strategy and fuel strategy, all those things used to be this thing that the hard-core race fan enjoyed and the casual race fan maybe did not. I think the casual race fan is starting to understand how wonderful it is.

So there is some complications, but as Jeff mentioned earlier in his answer, the complications are necessary because you can’t have stages without the points, without the playoff points and without the implications, you have to have all those things to close the loopholes, to make everything very valuable.

So I’m ready for the challenge. And short answer, I’m ready. And I think we’ll see it this week in Daytona. I think teams will hit pit road before stage ends, and Rick will politely toss it to me and have that look like, all right, buddy, it’s your turn. Explain to everybody what these teams are doing because the why is the beautiful thing about it, why are these people deciding to do these creative strategies. And it is fun, and I’m looking forward to explain it.

Q. Jeff, going back to Daytona last time at Daytona, Kurt Busch won the Daytona 500, assume you know him decently well as a former teammate, how would you evaluate his season having won the Daytona 500 but not much since?

JEFF BURTON: I think that is an example of how hard this sport is. And if you’re not 100 percent on your game, you look like you’re way off. They’re not way off. They’re a little bit off. Tons of momentum. Tons of enthusiasm. Tons of excitement at Daytona. Obviously I think Kurt is in a good place in his life. If you look at Kurt, the things he says, he seems to be exceptionally happy with his private life and that’s always a great thing.

The performance on the racetrack has, as seen by me over the last few months three to four races has started to improve. I know they’re not where they want to be, but they’re better than they were.

So I think that they have shown some improvements. I think they will continue to improve. I never won the Daytona 500 but I would imagine that it’s emotionally a little bit difficult to win the Daytona 500, have all that excitement, all that enthusiasm in a series where if you win you’re in the playoffs, right? And probably naturally there’s a little bit of a let down but you can see in my world you can see that they’ve definitely had a performance the last month.

They’ve run much, much better. So I think there’s a lot to be happy about. I think they have a lot of improvement that they can make and that they will make.

They have the foundation. He’s the driver. Tony is a really good crew chief. The two are a good combination, and obviously the company’s doing a good job. So I would expect to continue to see them improve. And I think they’ll be a force when the playoffs start.