Indianapolis Motor Speedway has plenty of history in regards to open wheel racing. 100 Indianapolis 500s have been run. These races have ranged from the boring to the exciting, from the safe to the tragic. Today, the Indianapolis 500 is one of the must-watch races of the year. There’s a reason why 350,000 people showed up this year, and it wasn’t just because it was the 100th running.
NASCAR at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is another story. The race was an excellent draw for many years, and the grandstands were full. Then, you had the mess that was the 2008 race, a series of heat races broken up by either competition cautions or wrecks caused by blown tires. Since then, the crowds have dropped off. Sunday probably was the worst crowd yet for a Cup race at Indianapolis. Let’s not even talk about Saturday.
Honestly, these races are profitable if no one shows up. They could cut the prices down to like $25 a ticket if they really wanted to boost attendance.
Crown Royal Presents the Combat Wounded Coalition 400
Despite the admittedly boring race action on Sunday, it actually got quite a bit of press. The event was all over SportsCenter and highlights of the event actually led the late night show Sunday night. In all honesty, I was shocked at that.
As you guys obviously know, the big stories this weekend were Tony Stewart’s final race at Indianapolis and Jeff Gordon subbing for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (not necessarily in that order). NBCSN’s pre-race coverage covered both stories in detail.
In regards to the Stewart story, they replayed a piece that aired last week on NASCAR America where Stewart was given letters to read from people that are close to him. I’ll fully admit that I liked the piece and found it informative. We all know that Stewart lives, breathes and sleeps racing. The man’s 45 years old and I’m pretty sure he dreams about racing at night. There’s a reason, as he admitted in the piece, that he’s single and never been married.
However, outside of racing, people really don’t know much about Stewart. He’s an intensively private person who lives outside of NASCAR’s sphere of influence intentionally. To hear stories of Stewart absconding with his father’s riding mower as a toddler humanizes him just as much as the mess that has been his life over the past three years.
In regards to Gordon and Earnhardt, Jr., there was a full 10-minute discussion of the situation. Admittedly, there was nothing new to report after Friday, but they talked about Earnhardt, Jr.’s improving health and Gordon’s role on Sunday. They really couldn’t add much to the discussion, but they had to talk about it. It was the gorilla in the room.
The race itself was another one in which there was excitement in and around the restarts. However, once you get beyond that, the field got very spread out, a true challenge for NBCSN, or any TV partner, for that matter.
The action just after the restarts is easy to cover. Just point the cameras where the field fans out and you’re good. NBCSN did a good job with that.
Outside of those periods, you have to do some searching. That means that you cannot simply stick to the front of the field. Sure, sometimes there’s some action there. Other times, not so much. I found that NBCSN was OK in this department, but nothing spectacular.
For most of the first half of the race, fuel mileage was the primary story. However, it seems like they may have forgotten that the early caution due to Matt DiBenedetto’s blown engine happened. The four-lap yellow allowed everyone to save fuel while running around the track at 70 mph. Therefore, it shouldn’t have been a shock that Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano were able to go 42 laps before making their first stops. NBCSN even noted that Team Penske seem to be the grandmasters of fuel mileage and have been for the last four years or so.
Even with the substantial effort put out there to cover the race, there were some things missed. There was never any real confirmation on the broadcast (that I can remember seeing) of Greg Biffle blowing a tire. That’s what led him to wreck. NBCSN didn’t have a good view of the crash and never really indicated that they knew what happened. I’m unclear as to whether they actually did an interview with Biffle after his wreck (if they did, it didn’t make air), but he did talk after his retirement and indicated the failure. NBCSN could have done a better job of covering that incident.
I know Sunday’s race got really spread out, but if you’re going to spend time in the middle of the race talking about driver comfort, at least keep the running order bar on-screen. I’d rather not have an entire segment go by without being able to tell what lap it is (yes, I know I could check online, but I shouldn’t have to do that).
The late race yellows caused the race to run over its slot by a good 20 minutes. Regardless, that did not affect the post-race coverage. There were still a decent number of interviews, but I found the coverage to be a little heavy with analysis.
Overall, I found the race to be rather boring. I was surprised to learn that the event actually copped an increase in TV ratings over last year. That technically means that Sunday’s race is the most watched event ever on NBCSN (overtaking last year’s race). I suppose that’s a good thing long-term, but NASCAR needs to do something to help the racing at Indianapolis. Whatever it is, the groove must be widened. Everyone’s humping the white line in the turns and that simply isn’t conducive to good racing. IMS’ repave program doesn’t help either (complete repave any time a bump forms).
The coverage was about average. NBCSN was good on the restarts and I guess decent at best during the long runs. The network needs to expand its focus more when you get races like these. You can’t focus on even just the top-15 and get away with it when it’s 25 seconds to 10th. You have to take whatever you can get, wherever you can get it.
Finally, for those of you who thought that NBCSN may have been sugarcoating their thoughts about the race, you probably didn’t see NASCAR Victory Lap after NASCAR America Post-Race wrapped up (due to the race running long, it actually started an hour behind schedule). There, they weren’t mincing their thoughts. The panel of Parker Kligerman, Sam Hornish, Jr. and host/moderator Dave Briggs came right out and said that the race wasn’t competitive. Hornish even stated that he was unsure if NASCAR could make Indianapolis races competitive. That’s a bit of a warning sign going forward.
Lilly Diabetes 250
Saturday brought the XFINITY Series back to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for its fourth visit to the big rectangle. As we all know by now, Kyle Busch might as well have collected a Starman before boarding his flight to Indianapolis as he was essentially invincible. Obviously, a driver’s invincibility does affect a race broadcast.
Pre-race coverage was not focused on anything Busch had done to that point in the weekend (win both poles, get spun out, go fastest in at least one practice session, etc.). Instead, the focus appeared to be on the XFINITY Dash 4 Cash, of which Indianapolis was the fourth and final edition of the season. Viewers saw interviews with a number of potential candidates (Erik Jones, Ty Dillon, Elliott Sadler, etc.) for the competition during Countdown to Green.
Sadly, both of the heat races were nearly devoid of action. I’m not completely shocked at this fact as it was also true at more competitive tracks that hosted the heat races this season. There were some intermittent races for position that made air and that made me happy. However, the rest of the heat race content consisted mostly of coverage of single-cars. It’s tough out there for NBCSN.
The feature really wasn’t all that different. However, they did go into detail on the topic of why it is so hard to pass at Indianapolis. Using Erik Jones’ pass on Kyle Larson for second early in the race, they broke down the pass in detail. Since IMS is a one-groove track, a driver must take advantage of minute details to be able to pass. Larson couldn’t get underneath the white line in turns 1 and 2, but Jones could. That gave Jones a better run on the 3300 ft. backstretch and allowed him to pass. While I’m sure race fans can appreciate the attention to detail here, it does not make for a very exciting race.
If anything, the telecast of the 63-lap feature may have had less racing for position per capita than we saw during the heat races. Like on Sunday, NBCSN needs to make use of what they have available to them, and provide viewers with as much competitive action as possible. If that means putting the NASCAR equivalent of 2012-Brian Barnhart in the TV Compound with a bunch of monitors and live timing and scoring, so be it. In fact, that wouldn’t be a bad idea.
I really wasn’t entertained by the Lilly Diabetes 250, but that’s not NBCSN’s fault. There was next to nothing of substance in this race. Would it have been different if the race were still at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis? Probably. At bare minimum, it would have been more competitive.
NBCSN was thrown a tough card here. They tried to make the best of it, but this might have been the most boring race of the entire season in any of NASCAR’s three national series. I thought that they did ok with what they were given, simple as that.
Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series travel to Pocono Raceway for some action. They’ll be joined by the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards. The XFINITY Series makes its second visit of the year to Iowa for a night race. They’ll be joined by the K&N Pro Series, which will hold a combination race Friday night. The Verizon IndyCar Series, along with the Mazda Road to Indy support series and Pirelli World Challenge will be at Mid-Ohio, while Formula One is at Hockenheim and the NHRA takes on Sonoma. Listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab.
I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck series races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. The Critic’s Annex this week in the Newsletter will focus on one of two races. Saturday’s Northeast Grand Prix from Lime Rock Park is an option with first-hand anecdotes because I just so happened to be there. The other option is Friday night’s Sioux Chief PowerPEX 200 from Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis for the ARCA Racing Series, which I watched when I got home from Lime Rock on Friday.
If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below. Even though I can’t always respond, I do read your comments and I’m happy with the increased number of comments so far this year. Also, if you want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons. If you would like to contact either of NASCAR’s media partners, click on either of the links below.
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About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.