The view from my couch

NBC Coverage of the Brickyard 400
by Cheryl Lauer
August 9, 2004

Overall, I thought this was an excellent broadcast by the NBC crew. Producer, Sam Flood, seemed to make a concerted effort to show a lot of racing throughout the pack this week and that was great. The commercials did not seem to overpower the race this week either. Perhaps the high number of cautions helped, but it probably had more to do with being back on NBC where they can sell the ads for more than on a cable station. That way, NBC didn't need quite as many of them as TNT. Also, I thought the hype for Indianapolis was down just a bit this year and that was good. The only negative thing about the broadcast was that NBC didn't seem to allow sufficient time for the possibility of so many cautions. Perhaps the networks' decision to start all the races later in the day this year is proving to not be such a good decision. It seemed like the post-race coverage was too brief because they had already gone a half hour over the alotted time slot for this race.

Pre-Race Show

Obviously, NBC is heavily promoting their Olympics coverage since the broadcast started out with three minutes of "sports updates" rather than racing. When Bill Weber came on the air, he had a great highlight reel from all the past winners from the 10 previous NASCAR races at Indianapolis. Next were interviews with the pole sitter, Casey Mears and a feature on Tony Stewart, followed by a live interview with him by Weber. The "theme" for this broadcast seemed to be to follow the four drivers from Indiana. Unfortunately, it wasn't until far into the actual race that we heard that Tony Raines was the fourth driver that NBC was including in this number.

Dave Burns told us about how the NASCAR tradition of the winner kissing the bricks originated with Dale Jarrett's team in 1996. I hadn't realized this and found this story quite interesting. Next was a taped feature with Bill interviewing last year's winner, Kevin Harvick and his car owner, Richard Childress.

Several drivers were interviewed on the starting grid and I noticed that most of them were not wearing their traditional ball caps. This had me wondering if it was a coincidence or NBC had asked them to leave them off this week for some reason?

Bill told us that NBC was using 80 cameras and had 150 personnel working on this broadcast. Unfortunately, NBC did not present the race in widescreen this week as they did with the Chicago race. I guess all their newer cameras were busy getting ready for the Olympic coverage.

Last, we got to see Wally's World with some "supermodel" this week. Where do they come up with these people? Whatever their connection is to NASCAR is certainly lost on me. I think most fans would rather see a regular person get a ride along with Wally Dallenbach.

When NBC went to Allen Bestwick, Wally, and Benny Parsons in the booth, they introduced the starting grid, along with making comments about every driver this week. This was excellent and something the viewers like to see! NBC also showed pit road and discussed how long it was, but that it's narrowness presented a challenge to the teams. They showed us where several key teams would be pitting. I felt this was an excellent use of the bubbles/pointers as it didn't detract from our view of actual racing.

The Race

After the contact with Ward Burton and Casey Mears on the first lap, the NBC crew told us that Ward had told his crew on the radio that he "owes" Casey.

NBC caught the end of Jason Leffler's early wreck and Allen told us that he had brushed the wall earlier. NBC quickly queued up a replay of the incident. Benny said it looked like he cut down a right front tire. After a commercial, they showed us a replay of the initial brush with the wall as well. During the caution, NBC showed Mark Martin on pit road and Allen told us that he fell back on the start of the race. We also got to see a replay of Martin hitting the wall during that time and were told his crew was pulling his fenders out because of the damage. Marty Snider told us that his crew chief believed the damage was mostly cosmetic though.

NBC went to commercial again and got back as the cars were at the start/finish line for the restart. Allen told us that Michael Waltrip had ducked into pit road just as the green came out. Benny speculated that he might be topping off with fuel, but Dave reported that he had a right front tire going down as well. Allen pointed out that since the cars had not gotten up to speed yet, he would not lose a lap. This was good information.

Allen told us that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had gotten into the back of Mears. Wally pointed out that several people got past Mears because of the loss of momentum and Allen confirmed that he had fallen back to 8th. There were replays of the contact and Dave reported that Earnhardt claimed to his crew that Mears cut him off. Wally pointed out that he wasn't far enough up alongside Mears that he should expect to be given the lane.

Next, NBC caught Tony Stewart going three-wide to pass Kasey Kahne and Mears. Then we saw Kahne get into Mears and a replay of the contact as well. We were told that Elliott Sadler had a 3.1 second lead as NBC went to commercial at lap 16.

When they returned, NBC did their first Through the Field of the day beginning on lap 21. As usual, after covering 10 cars, Allen gave us an update on the leader and told us that Sadler's lead had dropped to 2.6 seconds. Before they could get back to talk about the rest of the lead lap cars, someone yelled "Caution" and told us that Stewart had spun. Matt Yocum reported that Stewart told his crew on the radio that it was his fault because he'd gotten too close to the rumble strips. NBC showed us a replay of the incident and Wally pointed out that the rumble strips were painted which caused them to have little traction.

When pit road opened, NBC had a really good shot of all the cars heading to pit road. Allen told us that Martin took only two tires on this stop. Before the cars pitted, we noticed that Kurt Busch's car appeared to be smoking, but NBC didn't mention it for quite some time. I was listening to the Indy radio broadcast on XM and they mentioned the smoke and that the team took a long time on their pit stop.

During the next racing segment when Jimmie Johnson spun, the announcers discussed what happened with Ryan Newman during the replays and they believed Newman didn't touch him, but got close enough to take the air off his spoiler. NBC showed Johnson's pit stop and Bill reported that the team was taking a spring rubber out of his car. Wally followed up by explaining that this would get the rear of the car up in the air and make the spoiler work better.

NBC went to commercial and missed the next restart. When they returned, Benny told us that Martin had a flat tire. Allen told us that Johnson was now running in 38th and Martin in 39th because of their problems. He also pointed out that Jeff Green had been running in the top ten all day long so far. Finally around this time, Marty reported on what happened to Busch. He explained that he had a flat after having to jump on the brakes to avoid Stewart's spin. The tire had come off the rim and wrapped around some suspension parts and brake lines, resulting in no left rear brakes on his car. Wally pointed out that you didn't use a lot of rear brakes at this track anyway, so he should be fine.

Around laps 35-40, NBC showed a lot of coverage of good racing throughout the field. When they came back from commercial at lap 41, Allen told us that the field was under caution for a Tony Raines' flat tire. He also mentioned that Raines had been running 19th at the time. Since pit road was not yet open, NBC showed us the results from the truck and Busch races at Indianapolis Raceway Park and the points standings for those series as well.

After pit stops, NBC had a replay of a loose tire by Mears' team and how a crew member jumped out in front of another car on pit road to retrieve it. The announcers also told us about how the track was paying $200 or $400 for every lap led during this race and that Derrick Cope led two laps during the caution, so he'd get part of that bonus. They told us that Kenseth took four tires and everyone in front of him only took right side tires.

TV was away at commercial when Kahne cut a tire and hit the wall, but they did show us a replay as soon as they returned. Allen told us that he fell from 10th to 39th position, but that he was the first car a lap down. Bill covered the issue with the tire and said the team wasn't sure if it went down when he hit the wall or before. Later, he followed up telling us that the team determined it was down before Kahne hit the wall.

NBC started to break for commercial but stayed around to cover when Sterling Marlin cut down a tire and the subsequent fire when he stayed on the track. Wally said this many tire problems led him to believe the teams were running a lot of camber. NBC got a lot of really good shots when the tire caught fire from the heat of the brake rotors. They also played radio communications between Marlin and his team. They followed with a very good animation demonstrating what stress the camber causes that leads to uneven tire wear. Bill reported that Goodyear was telling the teams to stay at the minimum recommended tire pressures or higher to avoid further problems. Benny said that when the tire pressures were too low, the tires got too hot. This was an excellent example of all of the members of the NBC contributing to a story!

Twice during the day, NBC introduced us to pit crews. First it was Elliott Sadler's team and later in the race they did the same with Jeff Gordon's team. I really like this feature as we get to learn a bit about the people working hard behind the scenes, instead of only focusing on the driver.

On the next restart, the major incident of the day occurred, involving many cars. NBC quickly showed us numerous replays, with an excellent analysis of what they thought had happened by the announcers. Included in these were several in-car cameras from drivers involved, such as Rusty Wallace. Lastly, they played the radio from Michael Waltrip where his spotter or crew chief said "Wow, look at that!" That was pretty funny! When Wallace came down pit road, Dave told us that he told his crew he wasn't even using the throttle, so the throttle linkage was probably stuck. Marty had an interview with Scott Riggs who was a major player in the incident.

When NBC returned from a commercial, they had a graphic listing all the drivers involved in the accident. Around this time, NBC seemed to be having some video problems as the picture locked up for a few seconds.

During the caution, we could clearly see Dave Blaney enter pit road, but Allen told us Jamie McMurray was the first car to pit. Eventually, Allen did mention that Blaney would be getting the free pass back to the lead lap. They also told us Johnson had come back in to top off with fuel. After the commercial, Bill told us Johnson fell to 24th and had an interview with his crew chief to discuss their handling problems.

When the cars were ready to restart, Wally pointed out how slow the leader, Sadler, had been on the last restart, and said that may have contributed to the stacking up behind him and caused the multi-car accident. This was a great observation! After the cars took the green, NBC told us that Kenseth was loose and that the last time he had four new tires it took about 15 laps for his tires to come in.

Marty had an interview with Ward Burton who was involved in the wreck. He also told us that Terry Labonte was still in the in-field care center, but that everyone seemed to be okay.

It wasn't until lap 85 that Allen told us which cars were out of the race. Normally, he tries to do this as cars retire, but this week, it was delayed quite a bit. NBC went away for commercial not too long after this and when they returned, Allen told us that Johnson had blown up. They also pointed out that he had only two prior DNFs this year and both those times it was because he was involved in an accident. NBC played the radio communication between Johnson and his crew chief, where he confirmed the engine had blown up. Wally pointed out that Jeff Gordon was probably worried about his engine now (since the two are teammates).

When pit stops began, Benny said that most teams could probably make it from there on only one more pit stop. After another commercial, Marty interviewed Johnson who said that it was the crankshaft in his car that went bad. Allen said Johnson would probably finish 35th or worse.

During this time we had the sponsored "Improvers" and "Snoozers" graphics. The second group was really just cars who had fallen out of the race. To me, this graphic would be more meaningful if it displayed information on drivers who started up front and were still running, but dropped back because of handling problems. Also, I noted NBC used the pointers on the leader on most every restart. As usual, I think this is unnecessary.

Throughout the day, the announcers and pit reporters did a good job of telling us which teams took two and four tires and where they were running as a result.

When Brendan Gaughan wrecked, the announcers were quick to point out that he cut a tire from contract with Kahne. During the replays, they pointed out how unusual it was for the tire to blow immediately after the contact. Later, Marty had an interview with Gaughan. Marty seemed to be the busiest guy on pit road all day.

When the race restarted on lap 102, Allen told us there were still 32 cars on the lead lap because of the numerous cautions. At lap 106, Allen told us that Kenseth had taken 2nd place from Sadler. At lap 112, NBC showed an unscheduled pit stop by Blaney in an inset and Allen told us he would fall to 31st position and lose a lap again.

After returning from commercial at lap 118, NBC had another Through the Field . They told us that Robby Gordon had a broken shifter knob, and right after that they had to break from the feature to show that he had a flat tire. Benny pointed out that Robby was in 3rd place when it happened and someone said it definitely looked like a camber issue. Wally asked why were these guys staying on the track until the tire came apart and caused so much damage to their car. Good point! Allen told us that NASCAR had told Robby's team to have him stay out of the groove because of the debris he was shedding.

Allen told us this would probably be everyone's final pit stop as everyone should be able to make it from that point until the end on fuel. NBC had a really cool shot of the flaming debris off of the 31car. There were also several shots of the crew working to put the fire out while pitting the car and the announcers also told us about how the smoke and fire suppressants were causing problems for teams pitting adjacent to the 31.

At the lap 129 restart, Benny pointed out that Jeff Gordon had just run his fastest lap of the day. After this, NBC had excellent coverage of the battle between Newman and Bill Elliott. When Elliott finally got by, Allen said "all that for the 15th spot" which was pretty funny. Not too long after this was the silly duck on-screen commercial, and as usual, the NBC crew drawing more attention to it than it deserves.

Around lap 140, NBC told us that Kenseth had closed the interval between he and Gordon from 1.75 to 1.5 seconds. At lap 141, NBC showed the speeds of the top 10 cars on a "pilon" graphic. I always enjoy seeing this late in the race.

NBC covered when Kenseth had to make an unscheduled pit stop because he ran over debris on the track and thought he had a tire problem. Then Allen told us the caution had come out for the debris and we saw what the announcers thought was a lead weight out of someone's car. NBC quickly switched to catch Robby Gordon diving into the pits because he had a flat tire. When the pits were open, we were told that the first car to pit was Busch running in 11th position. A pit reporter talked to Jeff Gordon's crew chief, who told us that Jeff said he had hit the debris and then NBC quickly showed us the damage on the right front of his car. They speculated it might make his car tight going into the corners.

At lap 146, NBC again caught a lot of good action with drivers going 4-5 wide for position. Allen told us that Kevin Harvick was the first driver with four tires making a charge towards the front. Marty reported that Kenseth's team had found that the tires they took off his car weren't flat after all.

NBC were covering Scott Wimmer when he blew a left front tire. Allen told us this was the 11th caution of the day. He also mentioned that driver, Brett Bodine, was behind the wheel of the pace car. This was nice to know. I'd wondered what he was doing since he went to work for NASCAR. During the caution, NBC played the radio from Gordon's car from the previous caution when he hit the debris where he said he thought it had "killed" the car. This was interesting.

On the last couple of restarts, Benny kept saying "Gordon is holding serve." I sure wish the announcers could refrain from mixing sports analogies.

As the action was heating up in the waning laps, the announcers told us that they thought Jarrett had scraped the wall. When Newman hit the wall, they told us that Brian Vickers was the other car involved. I was disappointed that they didn't have a clear view of what happened between the two drivers. As Matt McLaughlin of Racing One pointed out, they told us they had 80 cameras for this race. Like him, I'm surprised one of those 80 didn't get a better shot of how the incident actually started.

During the caution, the announcers seemed to get excited telling us that this might be the first time we'd get to see the Green/White/Checker finish in a Cup race. Allen launched into his spiel about "if you are new to NASCAR or don't follow it week to week..." To those of who are not new to NASCAR and do follow it every week, this kind of preface always sounds very condescending.

During the caution, NBC gave us a nice shot of an empty Victory Lane. It was very interesting to see what the Indianapolis Victory Lane looks like without the usual 100s of people crammed into it. Unfortunately after this, the pit reporters went a bit overboard exploring the possibilities that some teams might not make it on fuel because of the extra laps. Give it rest guys! All the crew chiefs they spoke to seemed confident they could make it through the additional laps.

NBC used the time during the caution to show us recaps of prior victories at Indy by the leader, Gordon, and second place runner, Jarrett. This was a nice refresher, even to those of us not new to the sport. They also gave us a brief shot of Gordon's mother and stepfather, anxiously awaiting the results of the shoot-out.

The announcers told us that Mears had a flat tire on the restart as did Ricky Rudd. Around this time, the NBC team seemed to get a little too excited about the "story" of Gordon winning a 4th Brickyard 400. First they told us that Martin "blew up," but after the race told us he had actually cut a tire. Since the caution came out on the last lap, Allen explained the race would enter under caution.

After Gordon took the checkers, they played his excited comments to his crew. They stayed with the broadcast to show him stopping at the "yard of bricks," getting out of the car, and saluting the crowd. Since the rest of the 24 team ran out on the track, Bill Webber joined them and interviewed Gordon out there. During this time, NBC scrolled the finishing order across the screen, but did show us a complete graphic of it before they went off the air. I really appreciated that we didn't have to rely on the scroll only.

Because the race ran longer than NBC's alotted time slot, they only had time to interview Jarrett and Sadler who finished 2nd and 3rd. Then they told us that not only Martin, but Earnhardt cut tires on the last lap and fell far back in the final order. They also showed a graphic of the points before they left the air at 6:30.

As I said in my introduction, I think NBC did an outstanding job with this broadcast. The few things that I found annoying really were minor indeed. The most important being the fact that races started so late in the day are tiresome for the folks on the east coast. I'd like to have them not end right in the middle of our usual supper time.

The fact that the producer covered so much of the racing throughout the pack during a very eventful race was excellent! There appeared to be less commercials than on TNT in recent weeks, but I didn't keep track of them to know for sure. But if the impression was there were less commercials, then the producer did a good job in spacing them out appropriately. I also didn't count how many commercial-free laps we got at the end of the race, but there were quite a few, and I really appreciated that.

I probably won't be doing a review of the Watkins Glen race next week as I'll be out of town for a USAR race, but I'll be back to cover the Michigan race in two weeks! In the meantime, keep up the good work NBC/TNT!

If you are interested in rating this race or just discussing the coverage of it by NBC, please check out the new Speedcouch Fan Forum at www.SpeedCouch.com/forum! Read the RULES, sign up now, and jump into the discussion to let the networks know your thoughts about the race coverage.

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