NASCAR, IndyCar doubleheader puts NBC to test
NASCAR and IndyCar will hold the first doubleheader of its kind this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and NBC Sports says producing both events has turned into one of its most complex projects ever.
While IndyCar and NASCAR’s third-tier Truck Series have run at the same venue on the same weekend before, this weekend’s event at IMS will mark the first time that IndyCar and NASCAR’s premier Cup Series will do such a feat in the long history of their respective series. NASCAR’s Xfinity Series is scheduled to run there this weekend as well.
Only about six months ago, some IndyCar executives were predicting that such a doubleheader may not happen until 2022, given the complexities of setting it up. But the coronavirus pandemic changed everything as both series looked for ways to schedule events to salvage this season.
NBC has media rights to both series — for the full season with IndyCar and for the second half of the season with NASCAR. This will mark NBC’s first NASCAR weekend in 2020.
Jeff Behnke, NBC Sports’ vice president of NASCAR production and motorsports, said the stakeholders around the weekend have been holding weekly Zoom meetings with roughly 40 people to sort out the logistics. Some of those include the fact that NBC’s IndyCar talent and other related workers will be on site at IMS, while the network’s NASCAR talent and support team will be calling the action from hundreds of miles away at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
No fans will be on site for any of the races.
“We’ve been game-planning everything from the programming schedule to production schedule to track schedule and how these three different groups are all going to meld together,” Behnke said.
Mike Tirico will host festivities all weekend from the sixth floor of the IMS pagoda, and he will be joined by NASCAR analyst Dale Jarrett, the Hall of Famer who is recovering from the coronavirus.
Crossover will be a major theme, with NBC bringing on NASCAR drivers and analysts during the IndyCar portion of the weekend, and vice versa during the NASCAR portion. For example, IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe is doing a part-time gig with NBC this season, and he will roam the venue with fellow talent Rutledge Wood during the NASCAR race.
The weekend will start on Friday with practice for the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix. On Saturday, the Grand Prix will take place on the track’s road course at noon ET, and then NASCAR’s Xfinity Series will run its race, the Pennzoil 150, at 3 p.m. On Sunday, NASCAR’s Cup Series will own the day with the running of the Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at 3:30 p.m.
Behnke said that some of the cameras at IMS will be positioned in a way where they can face the infield road course for IndyCar and then simply turn around to face the oval to shoot the NASCAR scenes.
NBC is having fewer people travel to the event than it usually would if a pandemic weren’t occurring, including the NASCAR group, which will take over CMS’s two broadcast booths for the on-air talent.
The network is also planning a full slate of shoulder programming in the days leading up to the weekend with a similar crossover theme. For example, on Monday NBC will pair IndyCar play-by-play man Leigh Diffey and NASCAR studio analyst Kyle Petty to talk about the respective series.
“I cannot stress enough the quad of NBC, IndyCar, NASCAR and the track all coordinating and coming together,” Behnke said. “That’s what has made this a special time in planning and having these Zoom meetings with people who have never talked to each other before.”