In recent years, races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway have been a mixed affair. The Indianapolis 500 has generally been very competitive in recent years. I’ve enjoyed the races, recent television coverage from NBC and I think most race fans would agree.
For NASCAR, it’s been a downward trajectory since the repave in 2008. The 2008 Brickyard 400 was not quite to the level of travesty that was the 2005 United States Grand Prix, but the stench from that weekend has marred NASCAR in Indianapolis ever since. Attendance for the Brickyard 400 dropped 75 percent in a decade as fans abandoned the venue.
This year, NASCAR made the move to switch the Cup Series race to the infield road course, a circuit that’s nothing really special, but could at least put on a competitive event. The race also had a 1 p.m. ET start time on NBC, something that fans have been desiring for what seems like forever.
At first, the racing seemed to be a decent recipe for some Sunday afternoon fun. Then, things went sideways. As you all likely know, this race will be remembered for the temporary curbs that chose Sunday (Aug. 15) to fight back against the cars. Swell.
The result was all the video and pictures that you’ve seen since Sunday afternoon. Jeepers. It was a mess there all day, not just late in the race.
Two separate debris cautions were thrown Sunday due to large pieces of debris from cars in the chicane. I’m not sure where it came from, but someone got their entire splitter stuck in the curb on lap 41. The second was when a large piece of metal came off Garrett Smithley’s car and ended up on track. I have no doubt that other pieces of metal flew off cars there prior to Smithley’s piece.
I don’t believe Indianapolis Motor Speedway is to blame here. They’ve used this road course configuration for years. Yes, there have been some launching incidents in the past. Scott McLaughlin and Kris Wright‘s episodes from Saturday are just a few examples but there have been others.
The track crews were out there all day tending to the offending curb, drilling holes and attempting to salvage it as much as they could. NBC Sports showed the work being done on the broadcast. As a result, I don’t believe any form of negligence caused what we saw.
My best guess for overall causes of the curb failure are as follows: 1) Overall wear and tear. The curbs took a beating all weekend, but much more during the Cup race. 2) The current ride height rules in the Cup Series (or the lack thereof). No race car that I can think of, including prototypes, the Dallaras in IndyCar, or even Formula 1 cars are as low to the ground as a Cup car and I have no idea why. They shouldn’t be.
The lap before the failure, you could see plenty of parts flying off cars at the chicane after Kyle Busch jumped the auxiliary curb. This incident was pointed out on the broadcast as well. More pieces flew off Kurt Busch, Ross Chastain and Matt DiBenedetto’s cars. Further back, Christopher Bell ran in the back of Martin Truex Jr. and spun him out, which did not cause a caution.
Before that, you could see a small puff of dust after Chase Briscoe went over the curb. I believe that that was the beginning of the curb coming apart. The NBC booth did think something along those lines happened here, but they never pinpointed the point of failure.
The next lap brought the Big One as the curb finally gave way. Chaos reigned. I’ve never seen anything like this wreck happen in a Cup race and I’ve been watching for 30 years.
On the NBC broadcast, Steve Letarte ascribed to reason No. 1 for the issues. There’s merit to that since it was the third race of the weekend and two of those saw heavy curb usage. However, he doesn’t believe that NASCAR Cup cars would be any harder on the curbs than their Xfinity Series counterparts. Given the current rules in play, I’m not so sure about that.
To be honest, this curb wreck was one of the scariest moments in recent years during a NASCAR road race. Joey Logano’s hit was massive. He effectively pile-drove the barrier at unabated speed. You never want to see that.
The live coverage of this incident was probably not with the best camera selection. It was zoomed in too close. As a result, you couldn’t see the full picture of what was going on. You saw William Byron spin out (joined by Kyle Busch), followed by Logano piling into the wall. Then, the shot stayed too close as Dale Earnhardt Jr. was describing more drivers getting into trouble from his viewpoint at the end of the straightaway.
NBC did have an aerial shot that allowed viewers to see a lot more of what was going on, but we didn’t see it until something like 15 minutes after the crash. That’s because viewers were bombarded with shots like Corey LaJoie taking flight over the auxiliary curb.
Even after racing resumed, it was an awkward sequence, as you had eight or nine laps of caution after the red flag. I do understand that at least part of that was due to James Davison putting down fluid after he resumed. However, that ended up being the better part of a half hour under yellow after the red was withdrawn. It seems like NASCAR should have kept the red flag out for longer than the 20 minutes that it was displayed.
The race’s 1 p.m. start time, much earlier than normal, was mainly due to the fact NBC had coverage of the championship match of the U.S. Amateur Championship at 4 p.m. and wanted to show that. They moved up the start of the Cup race to compensate for it.
Heck, I thought 200 miles was too short for this race. Of course, when your race goes 31.7 extra miles, that changes things pretty quick. Based on the time slot and the actual start time (1:19 p.m. ET), NBC and NASCAR expected this race to take a little under 2.5 hours to run. It ended up taking three hours and 21 minutes with the cars in motion, plus another 25 minutes under the red flag.
After the Big One, the plan was to air the rest of the race on NBC, then switch to NBCSN for all post-race coverage. Then, Michael McDowell got way too aggressive after the restart and launched off the auxiliary curb, triggering another big crash and a second red flag.
After the second red flag was withdrawn, NBC made the decision to move the finish of the race to NBC Sports Network. As you can imagine, that caused quite the uproar at the time. It was frustrating as heck, to be sure. By this point, the broadcast was already 50 minutes beyond the sign-off time and my guess is that the network couldn’t hold off any longer. It’s sad, to be honest.
I came out of this portion of the broadcast confused about what was happening with Bubba Wallace. It was stated on the broadcast Wallace was going to be penalized for going around the auxiliary curb, and thus, cutting the course. It seemed like it didn’t happen, but it did. With the scattering that occurred after Ryan Newman clipped the auxiliary curb with two laps to go, Wallace effectively got everything back that he lost due to the penalty (he finished 13th).
Then, you had the Briscoe-Denny Hamlin shenanigans. On the broadcast, viewers saw that Briscoe had been penalized before the incident with Hamlin occurred. We heard radio transmissions about the penalty and a graphic in the scoring pylon. Briscoe later stated he didn’t know he had been penalized until he was in the process of hitting Hamlin. NASCAR apparently didn’t agree with that as they parked him for the contact.
There is a bailout area if you miss turn 1 that would have allowed Briscoe to continue without penalty, but he was too far into turn 1 to take the bailout when he got shoved off course. In order to preserve his race, Briscoe would have needed to back off once he rejoined. The likelihood of that happening was not great.
The race ultimately ended approximately 80 minutes behind schedule due to the red flags and long cautions. NBCSN was more than a half-hour into what was supposed to be the time slot for the motoGP Grand Prix of Austria (which was a wild race in its own right, but for different reasons).
Under normal circumstances, they would do everything to get off air as fast as possible. Not so in this case. Viewers still got a decent amount of post-race coverage. A lot of that was centered around the Hamlin-Briscoe conflict. The two drivers had a post-race discussion while surrounded by cameras and reporters trying to stick microphones in there. You couldn’t quite make out everything that was said, but viewers got both sides of the story here.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) August 15, 2021
Meanwhile, AJ Allmendinger is an expressive guy, win or lose. He was jacked up like he drank a two-liter bottle of Mountain Dew in his race car, making for an interesting winner’s interview. Ultimately, viewers got a half-dozen more interviews and a points check before NBCSN left Indianapolis approximately 65 minutes behind schedule.
Of course, just to exemplify the mess that NBC Sports had TV-wise Sunday, the aforementioned U.S. Amateur Championship match went beyond 6 p.m. At that point, the match was moved to NBCSN so that the local newscasts wouldn’t be interrupted. Once that finished, the motoGP race broadcast resumed. The result was that the entire schedule for the night on NBCSN was pushed back.
Given the news last week of Bob Jenkins’ passing, I didn’t get a chance to write about the MVP coverage that NBC used at Watkins Glen International. At Indianapolis, it was back in play once again. MRN Radio’s Mike Bagley had the turn 1 post, while Earnhardt Jr. was in turn 7. Jeff Burton set up in the grandstands outside turn 12.
While Bagley is not the most experienced TV personality, he brings over 20 years of radio experience to the telecast. He comes off as the most informed of the analysts and well-crafted in what is necessary to make for a good broadcast. He’s also used to working with a variety of different people since turn announcers tend to come and go on MRN Radio. To make a long story short, he very easily ingratiated himself into NBC coverage both Sunday in Indianapolis and at Watkins Glen. Not quite seamless, but very well.
Overall, I suppose that the NBC booth said it best themselves. They thought that Cup racing on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s infield road course would be the equivalent of a short track-style, rough-and-tumble type of battle. The curbs hijacked the race and turned it into a wreckfest.
Outside of that craziness, there was good racing to be had. It was a competitive event when people weren’t destroying things. NBC did a decent job showing that action for position. It looked way more competitive than recent Brickyard 400s with nowhere near the tire issues the oval has seen (Ex: Hamlin’s crash that cost him the win last year after he blew his right front tire).
That said, they did miss some things. I don’t know who spun in turn 7 on one of the late restarts. Plus, there was no mention of Briscoe getting parked during the broadcast. Most everyone only found that out when the result sheet was put out by NASCAR that listed Briscoe as parked. Perhaps that wasn’t officially noted until after the broadcast ended.
The track will have to make changes going forward to the curb setup in order to have another race weekend like the one that just finished. With the Next Gen car coming next year, I think some of the issues you saw Sunday won’t be as much of a thing, but NASCAR mandating a minimum ride height once again wouldn’t be a bad idea.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, coverage and competition will likely return to something resembling normal – no curbs turning traitor or anything like that. The NASCAR Cup and Xfinity series teams will be at Michigan International Speedway for their sole visit of the year along with the ARCA Menards Series. Meanwhile, the NTT IndyCar Series and Camping World Truck Series will be at World Wide Technology Raceway (Gateway). Finally, the FIA World Endurance Championship has the biggest sports car race in the world, the 24 Hours of Le Mans. That’s a busy race weekend.
TV listings can be found here. We will provide critiques of the Cup race from Michigan and Friday night’s Truck race from WWT for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. In the Critic’s Annex of our Frontstretch Newsletter, it’s going to be a busy week. We’re going to cover Saturday’s action from Indianapolis there.
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. 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.
As always, if you choose to contact a network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.