Soon after NBC Sports announced it had acquired the rights to broadcast NASCAR events beginning in 2015, speculation began on who would be named to represent the sport and the network in the broadcast booth for its share of the Sprint Cup schedule, including the all-important for revenue, the final 10 races known as The Chase.
Would the ambitious sports network, which admittedly has set its sights on taking powerhouse ESPN down a few rungs on the ladder, turn to the tried and true and hire familiar names and faces for its Sprint Cup broadcasts? Or would it go for the new, perhaps someone with a sports background but unfamiliar to racing fans, as ESPN tried, when it resumed broadcasting NASCAR in 2007?
Apparently NBC Sports has decided upon sticking with the former. And so far, it's batting .1000.
Rick Allen began his broadcasting career at the University of Nebraska, his alma mater. His cool Midwestern demeanor will serve him well in his role as the play-by-play announcer in the broadcast booth. His current gig, as the play-by-play voice for Fox Sports motorsports coverage, including the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, offers an air of familiarity for the race fan. He has also been in the broadcast booth for select Sprint Cup and Nationwide series' practice sessions. His knowledge of the sport and its players runs deep.
The choice of Jeff Burton as the color commentator from the driver's perspective was a stroke of genius. Dubbed by the media "The Mayor of the Cup Garage," writers could always count on Burton's candor when answering the tough questions and his good humor when responding to the oft-asked mediocre ones.
With his driving career coming to an end, Burton brings his knowledge and experience of having raced against the current field of drivers and the ability to offer a frank assessment of his former mates. This alone will prove to be indispensable to the viewer at home.
NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood said of Burton, "Jeff's the go-to guy who will have a strong, well thought-out position on whatever's going on. He'll offer opinions and not play the PC game. He'll tell you what he thinks, and if it goes against one of his buddies, he knows he wears the Peacock (NBC's logo) first. His job is to the audience and not to protect friendships."
And now comes the announcement that Hendrick Motorsports crew chief Steve Letarte will leave his post as the leader of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Sprint Cup team at the end of 2014 and join Allen and Burton in the booth, completing a trifecta of talent that promises to deliver a fresh perspective on the television broadcasts of a sport that is in dire need of a new approach.
Of Letarte, Flood adds, "I've always been impressed with Steve Letarte’s interviews and feel smarter after hearing him break down the crucial elements of each race. It wasn't long into our first meeting about this potential role on our broadcast team when I realized that Steve is going to be 'Must See TV.'"
Making this trio of talent noteworthy is that each man has enjoyed success at his current job, but it's just enough to not let his ego get in the way of his work—something we find happening all too often in the current crop of NASCAR's on-air broadcasters.
Of the three, Allen obviously brings the most experience as a broadcaster. However, both Burton and Letarte are familiar with taking direction from a faceless voice in their ear on race day. Expect all three to have the look and feel of broadcasting veterans when NBC Sports takes over the Sprint Cup telecasts in the summer of 2015.
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