Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Leigh Diffey Brings the Energy in Indianapolis

Memorial Day weekend is the biggest race weekend of the season, with the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on tap.

It makes for quite the day of racing. One could get out of bed Sunday morning, sit down on the couch and not leave that couch until nearly midnight. Not every day that you can do that.

Today, we’ll look at NBC’s broadcast of the Indianapolis 500. Tomorrow, this space will check FOX’s broadcast of the Coca-Cola 600.

The action on Sunday (May 26) was fast and furious, very competitive. It was a swell race to watch and very exciting. Too bad it didn’t run on time.

The last lap was incredibly exciting, and Leigh Diffey brought his A-game to the booth. I know that some people (including my own mother) find him annoying, but his excitement brings gravitas to events.

The race itself was incident plagued at times, but quite competitive. The 49 lead changes are the fourth-most in the Indianapolis 500 (the record is 68, from 2013).

Strategy was the name of the game. A number of drivers who started toward the back of the field got themselves off sequence in order to try to improve their standing. As a result, viewers saw quite a bit of Conor Daly and Sting Ray Robb at the front of the field. NBC did a pretty good job presenting the various strategies and how they could play out.

As you can imagine, Kyle Larson was a big story. Anyone attempting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway-Charlotte Motor Speedway double is going to be notable, but Larson kicks it up a notch. Viewers got an interview with him in the motorcoach lot, but there were a bunch of technical issues, so it was difficult to figure out what he was saying.

After the rains came, Larson made the determination that he was going to stay and run the race regardless.

See also
Kyle Larson Will Stay in Indianapolis to Focus on Indy 500

For now, that move cost Larson the points lead in the NASCAR Cup Series. Stay tuned to see if there are any more repercussions down the line.

Later on, Scott Dixon, the overlord of fuel conservation, got himself off sequence and was really good to win the race. Had Will Power not crashed to bring out the last yellow with 53 laps to go, Dixon very well could have won. At the bare minimum, a number of the strongest drivers early in the race had bad strategies and ended up stuck down the order.

If there’s one thing that I would have really liked to get more information on, it is the engine issues with the Hondas. A number of teams, especially early on, went out with engine failures. Marcus Armstrong suffered a failure under caution on lap 7. Katherine Legge broke in the first 25 laps. Felix Rosenqvist was in the top 10 when his Honda turned traitor.

The booth appeared to attribute this to moisture getting into the cars and wreaking havoc. While that is possible and a very real issue if this were a mid-race delay in NASCAR, they never wheeled the cars out to the grid when it was raining. It was about 3 p.m. ET before the cars came out of Gasoline Alley. By that time, the rain was long gone.

There had to be something else at play. In the NTT IndyCar Series, engines are expected to be able to go over 2,000 miles before an engine change. The broadcast noted that the engines in every car on the grid were changed after qualifying. In that circumstance, the boost increase isn’t that big of a deal since the engines are timed out anyway. Might as well go out on top.

In practice, those engines the teams qualified with were the same engines that raced at the Streets of St. Petersburg, the Streets of Long Beach, Barber Motorsports Park and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. That doesn’t even include all the practice time at Indianapolis and the exhibition event at The Thermal Club.

I would have liked to see NBC be able to get a hold of someone with Honda had those issues continued. However, those issues didn’t continue after Rosenqvist’s failure.

Speaking of Larson, yes, we know that he got busted for speeding on pit road and that it ruined his race. The booth made note of it being his first time pitting under green, which is true. However, it made it sound like a rookie mistake. It can happen to anyone. Two years ago, Dixon led 95 laps and looked like he was going to win it for the second time. Then this happened on his final stop.

Dixon ended up 21st after having to serve his penalty. There just wasn’t any time left to recover from the penalty. Larson was in a slightly better position than Dixon was due to his penalty occurring earlier, but he couldn’t do much.

Coverage of racing for position was quite plentiful but very much restricted to the front of the field. Effectively, the production was glued to the front of the main pack, even if there were during pit stops and they weren’t leading. It missed a couple of passes for the lead using this strategy that didn’t involve stops.

Outside of the pit stop sequences, it was a little hard to see who was moving up and down through the field with this strategy. You just saw the absolute front and that’s it. I’m not the biggest fan of this strategy. You could easily go a full race and only see a few cars.

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Post-race coverage was actually pretty substantial knowing that the race had gone late by four hours. Viewers on NBC got eight interviews, including two with race winner Josef Newgarden. Additional post-race coverage exclusive to Peacock gave viewers a couple of more interviews, along with Newgarden’s kiss of the bricks.

The weather was known to be an issue at Indianapolis. Because of that, the usual pomp and circumstance at the track was very subdued. Mike Tirico and Danica Patrick hosted pre-race coverage, along with Jimmie Johnson, who was making his NBC Sports debut. It wasn’t really much of a debut since he also had to get his tail to Charlotte. He was gone well before the race ultimately started.

Very quickly, the broadcast devolved into a rain-fill situation since the track evacuated the grandstands and notified everyone to seek shelter. Luckily, that evacuation took place quite a while before the rain showed up. When it did, it was downright dangerous there. NBC effectively got knocked off the air at 12:48 p.m. ET.

By that time, everyone was already inside and any interviews (ex: David Letterman) were done from a temporary studio. Having been at Indianapolis last fall for the TireRack.com Battle on the Bricks, I know that there are a number of suites behind the Formula 1-style garages that can be used for exactly this reason.

Shortly afterward, NBC cut to coverage of last year’s Indianapolis 500. There were periodic updates from the track, where drying efforts were underway. The track leased units of NASCAR’s Track Drying System to try to expedite things.

By 3:20 p.m. ET, the broadcast was back on for the rather substantial pre-race activities. These were slightly modified for the sake of time (driver Introductions were in victory lane instead of the drivers walking on the small platform that crosses the pit wall) but were just about as grandiose as normal.

There was a feature on how the drivers’ wives handle racing. One heard from Heather Carpenter, Emma Dixon and Beccy Hunter-Reay on the emotions that they have when their husbands are racing.

See also
'I Need Redemption' - Katherine Legge Plans to Resolve Unfinished Business at Indianapolis

Next weekend, we have a full array of action. The NASCAR Cup Series will be at World Wide Technology Raceway for the third time along with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Meanwhile, the NASCAR Xfinity Series will be at Portland International Raceway for its one and only standalone race of the year, along with the ARCA Menards Series West.

The NTT IndyCar Series follows up the Indianapolis 500 with the Chevrolet Grand Prix of Detroit on the streets of Downtown Detroit. The IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is on the undercard there. TV listings can be found here.

Before we even get to next week, we’ll have a Wednesday edition of Couch Potato Tuesday this week in addition to this column. It will cover the Coca-Cola 600. Normally, that would have been covered here, but the delays combined with other issues made that impossible.

Next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday will cover the Enjoy Illinois 300 from Gateway and possibly the Pacific Office Automation 147 from Portland. The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter will cover Saturday’s Drivers Only broadcast of the BetMGM 300 from Charlotte.

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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About the author

2021 Phil Allaway Headshot Phil Allaway

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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Tom B

What was Newgarden so angry about when screaming into his cell phone with the bottle of milk. He was yelling Fxck with rage holding the glass bottle of milk. You could easily read his lips. Last year he poured the milk on top of his head. This year he did not.
Regarding Diffey, I agree with your mother. He is very annoying. Yelling into the microphone here we go, here we go, here we go isn’t excitement, just annoying!

Steve

Not a big fan of Diffey either. Very knowledgeable, but the hero worship and over the top excitement level just make him hard to listen to. Excitement is fine, but acting like a pass or restart on lap 12 is the most exciting thing ever is a bit over the top.

I found the broadcast strikingly different than a Nascar broadcast. While Larson was a big story, they didn’t overdo it and they let the drivers determine the storylines. I don’t think the Nascar broadcast would have handled it the same.

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