Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: NBC Makes Things Easy To Follow In Wisconsin

With NASCAR’s national series off last weekend, I am going to look at the NTT IndyCar Series this week. It made its annual jaunt to Elkhart Lake, Wis. for the Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America, a 55-lap duel. It was an interesting weekend.

Entering the race, the biggest story of the weekend revolved around Will Power and his multiple issues during practice on Saturday (June 17). First, he was badly balked on the run down to Canada Corner by Romain Grosjean, then crashed with Scott Dixon.

This whole scenario was rather messy. For Power, it’s not necessarily out of character. If you’ve ever listened to his episode of Dinner With Racers, he talks a lot about actually fighting or wanting to fight people on there. It is apparently a result of where he grew up (Toowoomba, Australia, roughly 80 miles from Brisbane), where a significant percentage of clout apparently came from how good of a fighter you were.

See also
Alex Palou Steals Road America Win From Dominant Colton Herta

I generally don’t approve of fighting in racing since it just embarrasses you and everyone around you, but IndyCar is not the kind of series to heavily penalize people for arguing. If you want that, there’s the Intelligent Money British GT Championship, where that happened last weekend.

The situation actually gave IndyCar a little more exposure than normal. Most races don’t get highlights on SportsCenter these days outside of the Indianapolis 500, but this mess did, including Power’s comment that he wanted to punch Grosjean in the face.

As you can imagine, INDYCAR Live started off with this situation. The whole thing was over the top. You still got a number of interviews as well, but pre-race coverage was very short.

TV guide listed pre-race as being 30 minutes long. In practice, it’s more like 10-15. This is not like NASCAR. The race broadcast started at 1:30 p.m. ET on my guide. At 1:30 p.m. ET, the cars were climbing the hill, 10 seconds away from taking the green. Keep that in your back pocket for future INDYCAR race broadcasts.

Once the race got going, there were a couple of things that stood out. One is that Leigh Diffey was not 100%. It appeared that he was suffering from a case of laryngitis, and his voice continued to get rougher as the race went on. It was very tough for him, as Diffey wrote here:

Like a number of the drivers recently, Diffey has had a busy last few weeks. Memorial Day weekend was the Indianapolis 500. Then, there was the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix. After Detroit, he flew to France to help out on Eurosport’s broadcast of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. That feed was only available to American viewers if you watched the alternate feed on MotorTrend+.

Diffey’s voice was actually pretty good at the beginning of the race, but it didn’t take long for trouble to start. To be fair, the IndyCar race ran up against both the Grand Prix of Canada and Race No. 2 for Fanatec GT World Challenge powered by AWS from Virginia International Raceway. With the VIR broadcast on my computer while the IndyCar race was on the TV, it made me think there was a technical issue with my TV because it sounded like an audio issue. A re-watch confirmed that there was no issue.

The race had a lot more incidents than Sonoma Raceway for the NASCAR Cup Series did, but it was about as competitive at the front of the field. Colton Herta dominated until he pitted too early for his final stop. That allowed Alex Palou to run him down and pass him for the win.

Behind Herta, there was a good amount of racing for position to be honest. The smooth pavement made it a little easier for drivers to stay together provided they stuck to the groove. If they went wide, all bets were off.

As a result, the cameras weren’t focused at the front of the field all day. Those who chose to watch IndyCar were likely presented with a much more lively race than what you had in with the Formula 1 race in Montreal as there was plenty of action to be had. The stats more or less back it up. The problem is that the detailed stats don’t go back very far.

Alongside Diffey, you had Townsend Bell and James Hinchcliffe. Hinchcliffe’s still relatively new in the broadcast booth, but he’s driven the current version of the Dallara. He brings quite a bit to the broadcast. I still think he’d rather race, but he effectively ran out of options to keep his career going.

As for Bell, I did a sit-down interview with him for the site back in 2017. Here, I asked him about what he’s learned in the booth. He described being “dropped into the firestorm” when he started doing TV.

With Paul Tracy no longer being on the broadcasts, Bell has become the more outspoken member of the broadcast booth. Mind you, he’s never going to be as outlandish as Tracy was. He’ll never proclaim that Marco Andretti’s next ride would be with Uber. Regardless, I think he’s assumed a different attitude over the past year or so as something of a counter to Hinchcliffe.

In last week’s column, I talked significantly about how FOX seemed to miss a lot of incidents at Sonoma. The spins for Josh Bilicki and Aric Almirola were used as evidence. That was clearly not a problem Sunday at Road America. If the incidents weren’t caught live, there were plenty of replays. That’s how we got this picture of Grosjean popping a wheelie.

See also
Scott Dixon Makes the Most of a Tough Weekend to Stay in Championship Hunt

Post-race coverage was fairly extensive. Unlike NASCAR coverage, NBC Sports builds in a half-hour for post-race. If it can’t do it for whatever reason, then it can just put it on Peacock. That wasn’t necessary Sunday as the race ended early enough to give viewers content before that half-hour period started.

Here, you got interviews, a check of the points and some analysis. You also got some additional content that helped to explain things such as why Marcus Armstrong rejoined the track at a slow speed right in front of Palou on the final lap.

Overall, I felt much more informed Sunday during the INDYCAR race than I have during recent NASCAR Cup Series broadcasts on FOX. There were a lot of things going on, but you were good.

The on-track action was pretty dang good. This race was nowhere near as spread out as Road America races can get, which made for good racing. Remember that the entire second half of the race ran clean and green, so there was still plenty of racing after that point for position. I’m happy with what I saw. Hopefully, Diffey’s voice is a little better for Watkins Glen International this weekend.

Remember that the NASCAR Xfinity Series still has a standalone race at Road America at the end of July. If Sunday’s race is any indication, it will be wild, knowing that drivers are going to be all over the place.

That is all for this week. Next week, the NBC Sports portion of the NASCAR season begins with a tripleheader at Nashville Superspeedway for the NASCAR Cup, NASCAR Xfinity and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Meanwhile, IMSA will be at Watkins Glen for Sahlen’s Six Hours at The Glen. TV listings can be found here.

We will have, at the bare minimum, a critique of the Ally 400 in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. In the Critic’s Annex, we are going to do something different this week. ESPN debuted The Grandstand Sunday, an alternate broadcast of the Grand Prix of Canada with Daniel Ricciardo and Will Arnett. We will look at that and how it compared to broadcasts like the Manningcast that ESPN had for Monday Night Football.

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.

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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.

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.

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WJW Motorsports

I miss PT but that booth is great, and I’ll take Diffey with no voice over most of the others. That was a good one – passing all over the track – and a master class on how to cover a race, rather than cover the leader of a race. RA can punish severely for even a single dropped wheel, and those guys were pushing it. NBC was great in showing it all – but will likely not learn the lesson for the NASCAR broadcasts.

Bill H

Social obligations this weekend dictated that I record the Formula 1 and Indycar races on Sunday, and I spent the day today recovering from said social obligations and watching those two races, one after the other – Formula 1 first.

It was an eye opening experience. The Indycar drivers looked like a bunch of pre-teen children driving go karts. They reminded me of the old time Keystone Cops of silent movie days. They were crashing into each other, running off the track into gravel traps and grass fields (apparently simply because they were unable to remain on the track), crashing into walls, missing their pit stalls, not getting a full gas tank and having to drive slowly in order to save fuel…

They seemed to regard the race track itself as merely a suggestion as to where they should race, cutting inside some corners and swinging wide off the track after other corners in order to avoid having to slow down to negotiate the turn.

I’ve watched Indycar before, of course, and have never had a particularly high opinion of the genre, but watching these clowns playing bumper cars immediately after watching real race car drivers driving Formula 1 cars was something else.

Jeremy

Indycar and NBC have been putting out some pretty solid racing (and coverage) for the last few years. There has been a bit more “rubbing is racing” this season than in the past, and while I like the aggression it wears thin when the chance taken is not calculated and used sparingly. Meaning, there have been more instances of desperate “Hail Mary” moves that have no chance of success being made – or instances of just bashing the outside car into the wall to make a pass instead of making a respectable attempt for both cars to clear. I don’t like that, as Bill H said it makes the drivers look less professional and more Bush League. I hope Mr Penske takes note and corrects this – especially since a few of those moves were made by his own drivers.

Overall, though, it’s still head and shoulders above what NA$CAR has been doing for the last 20 years. I particularly like the short pre-race show. That the races typically only take abour 3 hours total, and that extended post race coverage is available (even if it is on Peacock). Oh, and the focus is generally more on the racing from front to most of the midpack. The tail runners often get overlooked, but generally do get some coverage at one point or another during the broadcast.

Bill H

I certainly agree that Indycar is a better watching than NASCAR. I gave up on that circus years ago.

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