Indianapolis is typically a really big deal in the world of motorsports. TV-wise, even the most sparsely attended Brickyard 400s generated some of the highest TV ratings of the second half of the season.
These days, the NASCAR Cup Series races on the 2.439-mile infield road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway… for now. Viewers got 82 laps of racing on the flat course and Michael McDowell waltzed out of there with the victory in by far the most dominant race in the history of Front Row Motorsports.
In the lead-up to the race, the focus was more or less correct. This was going to be a race in which an unexpected driver could contend to win. With the lack of cautions, Martin Truex Jr. was the highest-finishing driver in the top 10 in points. He finished seventh. Of those in front of him, only Tyler Reddick was in the top 16. Everyone else was below. Admittedly, that’s more or less unheard of without a lot of chaos.
NBC rightly thought that AJ Allmendinger would have been up there (after all, he won there in 2021). Instead, he had a wacky race that saw him start and finish 26th with a lot happening in between. His day just didn’t make sense.
Something that I figured that NBC would have covered during Countdown to Green was the ongoing Noah Gragson saga. As you probably remember, he asked for his release from Legacy Motor Club back on Thursday.
I thought going into that they would have at least made reference to it before the race. That was not the case. It was not referenced on the broadcast until lap 72 of the race. Not really sure about that decision as it struck me as very odd.
In addition to McDowell winning, Sunday’s Verizon 200 at The Brickyard will be best remembered for the sheer amount of green-flag racing. The last 77 laps and 79 of 82 were under green. Had stage breaks not been eliminated by NASCAR at the beginning of this season, this would have been a very different race.
Alex Bowman described the race as such. “It was how road course racing used to be. We didn’t have a million restarts to run over each other, which was nice.”
Even without stage breaks, Sunday’s race was much cleaner than you’d think. I’ve watched a lot of Cup races on road courses over the last 35 years. I cannot recall one with only one caution.
In all honesty, this race was close in feel to Saturday’s NTT IndyCar Series race. That race had a similar setup with a caution early for a wreck, then all green to the finish. The difference was that the drivers fighting for the win were on different strategies (primarily because Scott Dixon spun in the first-lap incident Saturday). That wasn’t the case on Sunday.
What do you do when the field spreads out on a 2.439-mile road course like it’s a 500-lap race at Bristol? Preferably, you try to cover as many different stories as you can. Find some good action to cover so that things don’t look boring.
Did they do this? To a certain extent, yes, but not as much as I would have liked. With the 77-lap green-flag run, there was less passing than last year by quite a bit. However, there was some action to be had. You just had to find it.
There were a number of stories that really weren’t covered all that well. One example is William Byron, whose car flunked inspection thrice Friday afternoon. As a result, he had to start at the rear with no on-track time and serve a pass-through penalty. He raced up through the field and finished a respectable 14th. Yeah, he was 36.237 seconds back at the finish, but with no cautions, it was quite commendable.
Brodie Kostecki spent much of the day in Byron’s crosshairs. He would have finished in that region had the team not gambled on a late caution coming out by short-pitting and hoping everyone stopped under yellow.
Another big story Sunday was the influx of international racers on the grid, such as Kostecki, Kamui Kobayashi and Shane van Gisbergen. The first thing that went through my mind here was one of the main issues I had with the NBC broadcast from Chicago: Butchering names.
Specifically, van Gisbergen’s last name. In Indianapolis, it got a little better, although Rick Allen appeared to be placing emphasis on the wrong syllable. It’s like how Stewie Griffin pronounces “Cool Whip.”
Unfortunately, there were more pronunciation screw ups as the weekend went on. Pronouncing Kobayashi’s first and last names proved to be tricky at times. I’m used to it since I watched Kobayashi in Formula 1 and the FIA World Endurance Championship in addition to his part-time IMSA appearances.
At this point, it’s like NASCAR doesn’t ascribe to the same rules regarding driver name pronunciation that the IndyCar team does. For example, the crew would point blank ask drivers how their names should be pronounced, listen to them, then say it correctly on-air.
I feel like Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte getting pronunciations incorrect is not necessarily a dealbreaker, but your play-by-play guy has to have that down pat. By nature, Allen is supposed to be the leader of the on-air team. If he’s screwing up that often, it’s not a good look.
Since the race took just 130 minutes to complete, NBC had a shade over an hour of post-race coverage Sunday. It that time doing the better part of a dozen interviews, previewing the final two races of the regular season and covering McDowell a little more in-depth than normal.
Overall, I felt that NBC did an okay job covering the action Sunday. There was a fair amount of strategy at play here, and it generally does a good job with strategy.
Pronunciation is still an issue. The broadcasters need to fix this going forward knowing that there is a possibility of more international drivers coming to the United States to race in NASCAR in the coming years. Project 91 is just one example of that.
As noted above, the race should have been a bit more inclusive in what was covered. You had drivers like Joey Logano in nowhere land for most of the day.
With IndyCar also in town, Leigh Diffey was on the broadcast and interviewed van Gisbergen. That led a number of viewers to wish that Diffey had a bigger role on NASCAR broadcasts. Given his schedule at the moment, that is not likely (he’s got INDYCAR, IMSA, Monster Energy AMA Supercross and Olympic events on his docket with NBC Sports, so he’s pretty much booked).
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, Watkins Glen International will host a tripleheader of action. The ARCA Menards Series will start things off Friday evening, while the NASCAR Xfinity Series will race for 200 miles Saturday. Sunday will have the NASCAR Cup Series racing for 90 laps in front of a large crowd. Away from Watkins Glen, SRO America will be in action at Road America. TV listings can be found here.
I will be in Watkins Glen along with Dalton Hopkins to cover this weekend’s action. Having said that, I will still be able to provide a critique of the action on Sunday for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. The Critic’s Annex will look at Friday night’s action from Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park.
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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.
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