Monday, June 4, 2018

Musings From the Weekend: The Unknown

Scott Dixon climbed another step forward in the history book, Ryan Hunter-Reay got off the snide but the most talked about thing from the IndyCar weekend in Detroit was a GM executive wrecking the pace car almost immediately after exiting the pit lane for the pace lap. In other news from Detroit, a few squirrels had a staring contest with death and lived to tell the tale. The Iberian Peninsula kept Italians from a joyous weekend at Mugello. Michael Shank is having a difficult time justifying not running two cars full-time in IMSA. DTM had a nightmare of a Sunday in Hungary. NASCAR had a pretty good race at Pocono. Fernando Alonso, Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima led the Le Mans test day for Toyota. Here is a run down of what got me thinking.

The Unknown
Congratulations IndyCar fans! The divorce is final. ABC is gone. No more headaches from poor pre-race packages, no more hastily put together pre-race and post-race shows, no more catchphrases from Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear. It is time to move in with NBC. I hope you are ready and I hope you are prepared.

NBC Sports has been a great partner to IndyCar dating back to the days of Versus. It was an odd partnership and one that did not receive a lot of fanfare when it was first announced. The series became harder to find and it was a set back as many fans did not have the ability to follow the series. Nearly a decade later it is the place every IndyCar fan wanted to be. It just goes to show what a little bit of care can do.

The Versus days were promising but still rough because of how hidden IndyCar was within cable television. However, it was a year-by-year development that turned what is now NBC Sports' coverage of IndyCar into what it is today. The only remaining member of the original Versus broadcast team is Jon Beekhuis. The booth experienced a few shake-ups. The pit lane reporters experienced a few shake-ups. It took a few years to get it to click and get the right combination of people.

It is an odd deal. IndyCar has a new home but it has been living there for quite a while. All the pieces are in place for IndyCar. NBC Sports doesn't have to hire anybody. The booth is set, pit lane reporters are set and there are a few questions over who will fill auxiliary roles such as Indianapolis 500 broadcast host but that is a minor thing though for a major race. The full-time crew is set. It is a good thing but familiarity can get boring.

For a long time, majority of IndyCar fans have shared the displeasure with the ABC broadcast team but they are gone. The overused clichés are gone. IndyCar no longer has a disconnected booth of three minds working against one another. But just because IndyCar has a stable booth doesn't mean it will not be picked apart because that is what fans do. Even if it is something in its best form it is open for dissection and that can lead people to quickly get disenchanted with what they have and want something different because they think it is better.

Along with broadcasters, style is something to keep an eye on. NBC might want to try a few different things in the broadcast to keep it fresh and other NBC Sports personalities will likely be at some of the races, most notably the Indianapolis 500. For as big as the Indianapolis 500 is as a sporting event it has never been given that top tier broadcast we have come to expect in the 21st century. ABC had it stuck in the early-1990s. NBC is going to give it a modern take and while that sounds great I bet most IndyCar fans might not like what that will actually look like because it will go beyond the race. Let's say the race gets a two-hour pre-race show. That isn't going to be all about the drivers. It is going to talk about the Snake Pit and other cultural aspects of the race. Bob Costas and/or Mike Tirico will likely host that race. Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir might be there. The Today Show will likely be there. You may even get NASCAR personalities such as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Rutledge Wood at the race and all of a sudden the IndyCar bubble will feel infiltrated by outsiders and reject the attention it so badly craved for years.

I do not think IndyCar's fan base is ready for what is about to happen. Some are but knowing this fan base it may get a shock in 2019, especially when it comes to the Indianapolis 500 and worse of all, if all the glitz and glamour is spent on the Indianapolis 500 the moment we return to the normal pomp and circumstance for Belle Isle, Texas and every other race on the IndyCar schedule people will say NBC Sports is not committed to the series. IndyCar fans, like all motorsports fans, are fickle and nothing is ever good enough but I am hopefully the changes are not met with backlash because they will be good for the series.

Don't think the rough patches are behind IndyCar. There will still be conflicts. There will still be hard outs when a race is preceding another major sporting event on network. There will still likely be sessions on CNBC. NBC Sports is still a crowded neighborhood and everyone needs to be pleased. IndyCar isn't going to run the neighborhood. The series will take a backseat to events you might not agree with. It is part of sports broadcasting. There are many major events and NBC's time is scarce. IndyCar will not always be priority.

Just like how no one driver is going to lift IndyCar to the heavens the switch to full-time coverage on NBC Sports isn't going to be the magic solution to get IndyCar back into the national sports discussion. We are all hopeful it will benefit the series, increase ratings and make the series more desirable to sponsors and in turn help out teams currently on the grid while also attracting a few more to the series but none of those are a guarantee especially in these changing times when it comes to viewing habits.

For a decade we knew what IndyCar was getting into. Now we have reached a black tunnel and we have no choice but to enter not knowing what is inside.

Winners From the Weekend
You know about Scott Dixon and Ryan Hunter-Reay but did you know...

Jorge Lorenzo won MotoGP's Italian Grand Prix from Mugello, his first victory with Ducati. Miguel Oliveira won the Moto2 race. Jorge Martin won the Moto3 race, his third victory of the season.

Martin Truex, Jr. won the NASCAR Cup race from Pocono. Kyle Busch won the Grand National Series race.

The #31 Cadillac of Felipe Nasr and Eric Curran won the IMSA race from Belle Isle. The #86 Acura of Katherine Legge and Mario Farnbacher won in GTD.

Paul di Resta and Marco Wittmann split the DTM races from the Hungaroring.

The #14 Emil Frey Lexus Racing Lexus of Albert Costa, Christian Klien and Marco Seefried won the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000km.

Coming Up This Weekend
IndyCar has another night race as it reaches the midpoint of the season at Texas.
Formula One returns to Canada.
Switzerland has its first major motorsport race since 1954 with Formula E racing in the streets of Zürich.
NASCAR will be at Michigan.
World Superbike will be at Brno.
The World Rally Championship will be on the island of Sardinia.