For all that is new to Jeff Burton as one of NBC’s NASCAR analysts, much remains the same from his racing days.
This weekend at Daytona International Speedway marks Burton’s debut as NASCAR returns to NBC. Burton joins race announcer Rick Allen and former crew chief Steve Letarte in the booth for NASCAR Sprint Cup races this season.
But how Burton – who won 21 Cup races and finished in the top five in points four times – will prepare for each of the races remains similar to how he prepared as a driver.
Before Burton headed to the booth, he chatted with NASCAR Talk about his role and what he’ll look to offer fans the second half of the season.
NASCAR Talk: Define your role as analyst.
Jeff Burton: I view my job as an opportunity to share over 20 years of experience that I have in the sport, to kind of give a driver’s viewpoint of things that are going on during the race, things that are going on during the week. I was lucky enough when Jack Roush and then Richard Childress, they allowed me to be more than just a driver. I also understand the business of the sport. I understand racecars, so I can bring a perspective about more things than just driving.
NT: Instead of being in the car, now you’re in the TV booth overlooking everything on the track. How does your view change going from driver to analyst?
Burton: I don’t think it has. My focus is still on the competitive side of things. For me to do my job, I still have to look at it as a competitor. I have to look at it from a competitor’s eyes to be able to tell the story, to be able to tell what’s really going on either right in front of you or behind the scenes. I don’t want to quit being a racecar driver mentally. I still want it to be about the competition and look at it from a driver’s standpoint and a car owner’s standpoint. That, to me, is my job.
NT: How do you have to prepare for this?
Burton: I think it’s very similar, but I will tell you this, I don’t 100 percent know. I’m still learning. What I used to do to prepare from a driver’s perspective was I watched a bunch of video, the last couple, three races. I’ll still do that. I still take notes. I’ll take notes as soon as the race is over about things that happened so when we go back to that racetrack you can remember those things. Racetrack knowledge is a lot of the job. Drivers change, cars change, tires change, the racetracks, yes, they get a little older and change a little bit, but they change less than the rest of it. Every racetrack has its own personality. Every racetrack changes throughout an event.
NT: How will you balance criticism of competitors while also maintaining relationships with those in the garage to keep abreast of the latest changes in the sport?
Burton: I believe when I signed up for the job, I signed up to tell the truth. I also believe you can say almost anything but how you say it is very important. Jack Roush perhaps did more for me in my racing career than anyone, but they’ve run terrible. They have some problems. It’s not my job to cover that up. It’s my job to try to understand it. They know they have problems. I think you have to be respectful in talking about it. A lot of it is looking with people with respect first and trying to figure out what’s going on or what just happened. People know that I’m being objective, and it’s my job to call it like I see it. It’s also my job to analyze it. That falls on me to analyze it correctly. When I don’t, I’ve got to be man enough to say I didn’t and make the apology and make it right.
NT: What do you hope to get across to fans?
Burton: I’m excited about varying viewpoints that we have in the booth, that we have on pit road. All the little things. Yes, I know that Jimmie Johnson took the lead but how did he do that? Answering the question why. That was the first meeting I had with NBC. That was it. They said your job is to answer the question why. Why and how.