All-star lineup of talent includes Jeff Burton and Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In the time since it was announced in July 2013 that NBC Sports would be returning to its coverage of NASCAR, a snowball effect-type buzz has been building around the media group's Stamford, Connecticut, studios that would make Winter Storm Juno jealous. With its first season of Sprint Cup Series coverage in nearly a decade barreling towards us, the buzz reached a paramount on Tuesday when the incoming, all-star team was introduced during the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour. "Everybody at NBC Sports is thrilled to be back in the sport," said Jeff Behnke, NBC Sports Vice President, NASCAR. "It's been eight and a half long years and I can tell you that the buzz around all of our production people, our engineers and our talent, sales, marketing; every group. We are absolutely thrilled to be back in the sport." Following Behnke's introduction, an eye-popping promo video for NBC's coverage (which begins Fourth of July weekend with the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway ) was played, featuring enough high-throttle footage of raucous racing and wrecking to get the heart pumping -- and the season hasn't even started yet. "I wish you could go up to Stamford, Connecticut, and walk through the halls," said Kyle Petty, former driver and NBC newcomer. "They are truly excited to have this property; it's crazy. With the Premier League, with NHL, with NFL, some of the other properties that they have, the whole building there's a buzz, and there was a buzz building all last year. "That's the exciting part for me. Sometimes when you drove a race car, all it took was a different paint job on the car and you got excited when you showed up at the race track. Or you put on a different uniform, a different sponsor and you were excited. It was like being a kid again. This group is excited to come back. It's a new look, it's a different feel and I think they're going to bring some stuff this year that hopefully will excite (the media) but I know it's going to excite the fans." Of course, live racing on television can only take you so far without a group of highly talented individuals to call the action, so NBC has arranged a star-studded crew to bring it all home. Media veteran Rick Allen will helm the lap-by-lap duties while 21-time Sprint Cup Series winner Jeff Burton and former Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 crew chief Steve Letarte will join him for color commentary. Other on-air talent includes Marty Snider -- who was part of the original NBC coverage from 2001 to 2006 -- NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett, Krista Voda, Kelli Stavast, Mike Massaro, Dave Burns and Rutledge Wood. Motorsports journalists Nate Ryan and Dustin Long have also signed on for editorial coverage. For Burton, who was in the car for four races just a season ago with Michael Waltrip Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing , this whole "being a media member" thing is a completely new, heavier experience. "I've put on some weight," Burton said. "The media gets fed well, so that's been an issue for me. Jeff has done an incredible job of putting a group of people together. This is just like building a team, it really is. It's the same as being part of a race team. We have a goal that's different than winning races, but it's about doing the best broadcast we can and it's really been fun to get to know everybody." In addition to the studio in Stamford where the flagship show "NASCAR America" will be broadcast from, additional support will come from an NBC Sports studio in Charlotte, along with a smaller studio at Burton's own late model garage -- appropriately titled "Burton's Garage." While the long-time driver is more focused on the culinary aspects of being a member of the media, Letarte -- an employee of Hendrick for two decades -- may find that his biggest obstacle is objectivity. Even so, it's an aspect that he's looking forward to. "For 20 years, I've basically looked at one car and one car only,” Letarte, most recently crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr ., said. "…You're looking at one car and that car is your whole day. The opportunity to step back and see the entire race unfold, all 43 competitors, the different strategies; it's going to be nice to not have to cheer for one car but to cheer for a good race and to see what competitor can bring his best game that day. That's a big difference for me." The commitment to NASCAR that NBC is making cannot be understated, and it really began last year. The outlet found ways to marry motorsports into its coverage of other sports and entertainment, whether it’s seeing Jimmie Johnson race Jimmy Fallon on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," Snider doing a piece with Johnson and his love of bicycles for the Tour de France or Carl Edwards teaming with Kentucky Speedway for a Triple Crown promotion. Dale Jarrett will also have an upcoming segment on the Golf Channel to showcase his links knowledge. WATCH: Johnson race Fallon in a Cooler Scooter Race On Friday, we’ll see the newest installment of cross-promotion when the NASCAR Gridiron Challenge airs at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN, pairing drivers with former NFL players for a 20-lap race and an NFL skills-type challenge. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet on second season: 'We need to be in the Chase' Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Around this time last year, Austin Dillon 's blood pressure was rising. The then-defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion was a few short weeks away from beginning his rookie season in the Sprint Cup Series -- the big leagues -- but even more cold-sweat-inducing was the car number that would be adorned on the side of his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet: NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt's legendary No. 3. With his second season upon him and his rookie stripe removed, Dillon exuded an aura of confidence, put-togetherness and relaxation on Thursday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom -- at least for now. "There's a lot of pressure any time you move to a new series," said Dillon, who immediately backed off the naysayers by winning the Coors Light Pole Award ahead of the 2014 Daytona 500 . "Having the 3, there's so many fans behind it and it was a great year to go through. Nothing crazy happened. This year, I think we've got to start getting crazy. We've got to start making things happen. "When I say that, we need to be in the Chase; we need to be part of the chaos at the end of the year. I want to put more pressure on (myself) and you can more focus on the competition side of things. … People know how we approached that first year; I think we did it right. Now it's time to make fire and go fast." A big part of how Dillon and returning crew chief Gil Martin are trying to improve is in preparation, not only physically -- which he's determined to stay on top of -- but also mentally. "Mentally, it's having more days at the shop. … Knowing what we're going to do when we go through practices so we can be more organized with practices," Dillon said. "We were able to really scramble at certain points through the year and make our cars good when we struggled in practice. I think preparation this year, we want to be ready for those changes. We don't want to be behind where we have to make a long shot or a Hail Mary at something. ... I think that's one thing that I've really told Gil and my guys. I want them to stay on me to stay focused and push me." Dillon mentioned that a number of sponsorship appearances and NASCAR events having to do with the famous car number pulled him away from the health-conscious steps he took last offseason to get ready for his rookie year. He and his team have taken this into consideration, working diligently to keep Dillon and the No. 3 team on a more even-keeled schedule throughout November. It should allow Dillon to maintain his consistency -- his average finish of 17.5 ranked 15th in the series among full-time drivers, ahead of Chase drivers Kyle Busch , Kasey Kahne , Kurt Busch , AJ Allmendinger and Aric Almirola -- the same consistency that projected Ryan Newman to the Championship 4, 50 yards shy of a title. That consistency also came in the form of completing 10,488 of 10,541 laps (99.5 percent), the second-most in the series. The 24-year-old is also scheduled to run 20 XFINITY Series races in 2015, which he believes will help him figure out the ins-and-outs of his Cup ride. The new technical packages for Sprint Cup cars in 2015 is much more closely aligned with NASCAR's second series than in years past. There's a lot for Dillon to build on for 2015 and a Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup berth is not out of the question. With the initial attention around the No. 3 car's return now mostly a thing of the past, it should allow the RCR driver to stay steady throughout the year and keep his head down. "The good thing is, we had a decent year last year, but when you can find places to improve, and you know where those are, you should be able to take those and make them better," Dillon said. "I think that's what I've been able to do the last couple of years when we go from say, rookie year in Trucks or ( XFINITY ), then second year and you win a championship." "I'm not saying we're going to go out there and win a championship, but that's our goal. I think we can, and what Ryan and Luke (Lambert, No. 31 crew chief) were able to do, I think me and Gil want to accomplish that -- have a shot at the end of the year." MORE: Newman eager to build on last season's gains FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Technology Countdown: Aerodynamics
No changes to postseason, but flared side skirts will be policed RELATED: 2015 Charlotte Media Tour schedule, live video CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The way NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France sees it, no news is good news, as far as potential changes to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format are concerned. In confirming that the sanctioning body will stand pat with its 10-race playoff format this year, France indicated that one of the primary governing factors in the decision to keep the Chase status quo was the overwhelming response from fans. "I want to talk a little bit about the Chase, because it's overwhelmingly popular with the most important stakeholder -- our fans," said NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France in kicking off the Charlotte Motor Speedway NASCAR Media Tour presented by Technocom at the Charlotte Convention Center. "The research and data that we've got over the winter not only suggests that, it determines that loud and clear. "They like the fact that it tightened up competition. They liked the drama down the stretch. They liked the emphasis on winning. And one of the things they told us that they really liked is the idea that we weren't going to change anything, and they strongly suggested that we didn't, and we're not going to." Accordingly, the 16-driver Chase will use the same criteria for determining driver eligibility and the same elimination format for determining the champion. "It's not because there aren't a tweak or two here that we didn't get good suggestions on," France said. "but one of the magical parts of this Chase, and we want to make sure we keep it this way, is the simplicity of it: Win and you get in; be in the top eight, top four, whatever it may be, and move on; coming down the stretch, beat the other three drivers and you win the championship. "So whatever we would do into the future, we want to make sure that simplicity is right there." The Chase aside, it’s not as if there won’t plenty of changes for fans to embrace in 2015. Perhaps most highly visible is the new pit road officiating system that combines video and computer technology with a smaller number of officials on pit road. A sophisticated computer system will make cut-and-dried calls and will flag possible violations (such as pit crew members over the wall too soon) for review and verification by a team of eight officials at computer terminals in a trailer. The input for the system consists of approximately 46 high-definition cameras mounted above the grandstands. Overall, the new officiating system promises to provide more relevant data to television partners, media and fans. "We already know that 2015 and the edition of the Great American Race ( Daytona 500 ) will forever have a chapter in the sport’s history," said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer. "It will be the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event to utilize our new pit road technology, and if you haven't heard of the innovation, you soon will. "At the heart of this, its purpose is the ability to provide an extraordinary experience to our broadcast partners, the race teams, and ultimately our fans. We're going to do this by way of statistics, video, and data during a NASCAR event. And with this technology, we know that we're going to be safer, we'll be more exact, and we'll realize a fairer and more balanced playing field." RELATED: Inside the new pit road technology O'Donnell also addressed the issue of side skirts on the cars, which teams have used to improve the aerodynamic performance of their cars. In 2015, manipulation of the fenders and flares no longer will be permitted, and teams will be required to return to pit road when a violation is detected. RELATED: NASCAR to police flared skirts in 2015 NASCAR teams will have to adapt to a new rules package on open-motor tracks this season, one that features lower downforce numbers (via a smaller spoiler) and reduced horsepower, factors NASCAR hopes will make the racing even more competitive than it was during last year’s first 16-driver Chase season. France stressed that the new rules package is a work in progress, as NASCAR continually strives to improve the quality of its on-track product. "It'll always evolve, and the reason for that is the teams are always trying to gain an advantage, and that's what they do," France said. "They go out, whatever we package we present, and they try to lead every lap and they try to have an advantage, and so our job is to make sure that the playing field is level and that more teams have a good shot at competing at a high level. "And given that it always changes, we have to change, too, and circumstances change. Tires change, tracks wear down differently. We change tracks from time to time. So there are other variables outside of what even the teams do that will always keep us looking ahead." Closing his speech, France spoke about NASCAR Sprint Cup Series four-time champion Jeff Gordon 's announcement that 2015 would be his final full-time season. "From everyone at NASCAR, I want to wish him a strong final season," France said. NASCAR also unveiled its new Drive for Diversity class for the 2015 season. Competing under the auspices of Rev Racing will be returnees Devon Amos, 23, of Rio Rancho, New Mexico; Jay Beasley, 23, of Las Vegas, Nevada; and newcomers Collin Cabre, 21, of Thonotosassa, Florida; Dylan Smith, 22, of Randolph, Vermont; Natalie Decker, 17, of Eagle River, Wisconsin, and Kenzie Ruston, 22, of El Reno, Oklahoma. Ruston already has two years of competition in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, where she finished ninth in the final standings last year. Also speaking on changes at the track, Daytona International Speedway president Joie Chitwood provided updates on Daytona Rising, the major redevelopment project at the Florida track. "We have 40,000 new seats open and available for the Daytona 500 ," Chitwood said. "We're going to change the way fans enjoy our sport." The track now features a wider concourse for fans to walk and new escalators that will make travel to seats and concession stands easier. NASCAR.com staff reports contributed to this story.
Rick Hendrick thanks Jeff Gordon for the impact he has had on NASCAR, and Gordon talks about his mindset headed into his last full-time season in the Sprint Cup Series.
Joey Logano evolves into full-package driver on verge of first title; Agree? Disagree? Cast your vote MORE: Chase hub page " #MyChaseNation MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView
Career year for Earnhardt sees him place sixth; Do you agree? Vote now! MORE: Chase hub page " #MyChaseNation MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView
Find out where all 43 cars finished and why