ESPN held a media conference call to kick off its coverage of the final 17 races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, which launches with the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, July 31. On the call were lap-by-lap announcer Allen Bestwick, analysts Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree, ESPN vice president, motorsports, production, Rich Feinberg and ESPN vice president, programming and acquisitions, Julie Sobieski. A transcript of the call follows:.
Q – Rich, what are some of the new things you have going on for production and what can the viewers can expect to see Sunday?
RICH FEINBERG: On the production side, we’re as excited and energized going into what I refer to as the second half of the season, or our long portion of the season, as I can remember in the past few years. The sport seems to be on a healthy upswing. It was nice to see that their other broadcast partners did well with their Cup racing. As everybody knows, our Nationwide coverage has been ongoing since Daytona, and we’ve seen an uptick there.
But for the Brickyard and our coverage of the Sprint Cup Series, we’re excited to roll out a number of new initiatives beyond the talent assignments that we announced last week. We have worked real hard in the off‑season on some technology development, including some new HD in‑car camera systems, upgrading our SportVision race effects system. We’ve been in production on a number of features that will air as part of our weekend coverage, and probably the most anticipated thing which doesn’t start this weekend but represents another initiative by ESPN in serving our fans is the NASCAR Nonstop that will start with our coverage of the Chase for the Sprint Cup in Chicago.
Q – Allen Bestwick I believe you’ve been asked this question a lot, but what’s your thought about moving into the anchor position?
ALLEN BESTWICK: I would agree with your sentiment. I have been asked the question a lot, but it’s a pleasure to be asked the question a lot. I’m very excited for us to get started with our Sprint Cup Series coverage this week for a lot of reasons, all of the hard work that our team has put in, all the things Rich was just touching on. Our team has dug and dug and dug, and I’m really excited about a lot of the things that we have going on.
I’m excited that the coach tapped me on the shoulder and said we want you to move here. I’ve always been about one thing in my approach to broadcasting this sport, which is trying to do the best possible show for the fans and for the viewers, and whatever it is that Coach wants me to do, I’ve always been happy to do, because it’s all about our team working toward that end goal. I’m pleased to get the tap on the shoulder from Coach. I work alongside him as just one member of a phenomenal group of people that I’m very proud to be a part of, and I’m getting an on airplane to Indy tomorrow and I had to stop myself from getting on it today because I’m really excited to get this thing going.
Q – A racing question for Andy Petree: For this particular racetrack, since it’s different, what kind of communication is necessary between a driver and a crew chief that doesn’t happen anywhere else?
ANDY PETREE: The track itself is so unique that it’s kind of hard to communicate. You have to have really good antennas. The cars go completely out of sight. It’s so big on the backstretch, it’s really hard to communicate. And you’ve got to make sure when you’re telling your driver what you need and especially when it’s important getting that message across, you relay it to the spotter a lot of times, but you’ve got to ‑‑ a lot of times you really want to make sure you’re talking to him when you can see him, and that’s really coming off of turn 4 down the front straightaway.
The radios have gotten better and better every year, but it is one of those things you’ve got to be paying attention to. Like I say, if you miss your pit call by a lap, it can really mess you up. I mean, it can change your whole strategy and really kind of just throw it out the window. Communication is really key to winning up there.
Just kind of reflecting back on what some of the others said, I always look forward to this part of the season. I’ve been with ESPN now since 2007. Every year I get really pumped up about this part of it and going to the end. We do a lot of shows and it’s a pretty big workload, but it is very rewarding. I love this sport, and covering the Sprint Cup Series is really just kind of like icing on the cake for me.
Q – Dale Jarrett, a quick question for you. Of course you’re a two‑time winner of the Brickyard 400. Where do those two wins with the history of that racetrack rank in your career?
DALE JARRETT: Near the top for sure. Just the history itself of this racetrack, it was such an honor to be able to come here and race and have that opportunity, but then to go to victory lane where I know that some of the most talented race car drivers and respected race car drivers in the world have been, and to be a part of that winning group means a lot to me to this day and time. I know how difficult a track it is just as Andy was talking about, not only with communication, and yeah, missing your pit call by one lap and you run out of gas, it’s a long way around here, as we can attest in 1998, so you have to have everything to go perfectly and do your job.
It’s just such a challenge as a driver, and I think that’s what ‑‑ as much as the history of the racetrack itself, it’s just the challenge that the track presents, and you know at the end of the day when you’ve done your job that you had a big part in it, and so this ranks very high on my list of wins, and being very fortunate to do it twice, I’m quite honored.
With that, I’m excited about the weekend. I got excited about being able to come here and drive. I didn’t know how that would transfer over as I took this role with ESPN as an analyst, but every year I get excited about coming here. Yes, it’s the start of the season kind of for us, even though we’ve been doing the Nationwide side since February, but I get excited about doing our job, but I also get excited because I know at the end of the day on Sunday, the feeling that one driver and his team are going to have, it’s almost overwhelming to think about how excited you get for being the winner of this race. So I’m looking forward to our coverage for these 17 but in particular on this Sunday.
Q – I’d like to get Andy and DJ’s take on this: So of the races in the first half of the season were determined by strategy, be it track position or tire wear, fuel mileage, all that, a lot of the buzz words. What do you guys think of the reasons for that, and is there any reason to think that won’t be the case again at the Brickyard where it won’t come down to the final pit stop?
ANDY PETREE: This season we’ve seen kind of a shift in how many cautions we’ve had and when they kind of come out. We’ve just seen a lot of green flag racing. I think that has opened up a lot of these strategy plays and created these opportunities to use them.
The other side of that is the drivers and the teams, and the teams kind of training the drivers on how to really extend the range of that fuel tank. It takes ‑‑ there’s like layers of it. You can save a little bit of fuel and slow down very little or none at all, or you can save a lot of fuel, but you have to slow down. And then you have to calculate, okay, if I slow down X amount, what is that going to do to me at the end of the day if the caution doesn’t come out. So they’re kind of gambling on that now that it’s not going to, and it’s played out quite a few times.
But I think it’s a combination of those things and the teams being able to really extend that range. You’ve seen drivers with these in‑car shots that we take where like Brad Keselowski is clutching the car going down the straightaway, coasting in the corners, letting it back out, going down the straightaway. We saw Tony Stewart do the same a couple years, I think it was at Pocono when it kind of started, but you see all these guys now have learned how to do it, and that’s creating more and more opportunities for more teams, and with the caution flags not flying like they did last year and the years before, I think that’s why you’re seeing more of it.
DALE JARRETT: And also I think the teams have made the car better for the drivers. The competition is better from 1st to 30th than we’ve seen in a long, long time, and so the opportunity is there to make these strategy calls. It’s brought us some different winners along the way.
But I think the competition level is just very good. Goodyear makes great tires. This is probably the best tires they’ve ever had on race cars as long as I can remember, so that opens it up to where this type of strategy can be employed.
I’m going to go on the other side, too, and steal something that Vince Welch, one of our colleagues, said on our conference call this morning. He made a great analogy, I think. We’re acting like this is something that’s totally new and should or shouldn’t it be a part of racing because of the competition that maybe doesn’t always see the fastest car win. Well, it’s the same way if you take baseball; a game is not always decided by home runs. Sometimes a manager has to employ a squeeze bunt to get that run home from third. So that’s a strategy. Running out the clock in the NFL; are you going to throw it, are you going to run it, what are you going to do there? So there’s strategy involved. It’s paralleled with other sports, it’s just we’re seeing it happen more now, and I think that has a lot to do with the competition and these crew chiefs trying to take advantage of opportunities.
Q – Would you expect to see it again at Indy that it could come down to track position?
DALE JARRETT: Absolutely, yes, as long as we’ve been coming here because you don’t have that banking in the corners, passing is very difficult so you really have to work hard as a driver to set up and make a pass. That’s one thing that I always enjoyed as a driver here is how hard you had to work to make that pass, and conversely keeping someone behind you, the things that you could do to keep the air dirty for them. So yes, I think that we will see that happen here. There’s a good possibility. We may see them finish three wide across the stripe, but the likelihood of track position being very important towards the end of this race I think is pretty high.
Q – Dale, I want to ask about among the bigger story lines you’ll be focusing on is Junior, as well. How troublesome is it in the big picture for the sport that he’s fallen off and risking falling out of the Chase field? And I also want to ask about Kyle Busch, if you think he’s the driver to beat Jimmie this year.
DALE JARRETT: Well, we’ll start with Junior. I thought five weeks ago, six weeks ago that I was really seeing Junior and his race team getting themselves prepared to go to victory lane. I mean, I really felt that they were making strides and gains each week. Exactly what’s happened over the last four or five weeks, you get in slumps as a race team just like a hitter in baseball or something, and sometimes it’s hard to get out of. You’re not exactly sure where to put your finger and to try to turn things around.
It would be beneficial to our sport to have our most popular driver to be a part of the Chase and get in that mix and challenge for wins. It’s not that we’re not ‑‑ nobody is going to make that happen in any way; it’s that race team that has to do it. But it sure would be beneficial. You always want, whether it’s the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees playing, that’s always a big attraction. Well, we have our biggest star; the people that vote for the most popular driver, that’s who they choose is Dale, Jr., so yeah, we would like for him to be a part of that. Hopefully they can get that turned around. This is a difficult racetrack when you’re struggling to kind of get things turned around, but they’re going to have to right their ship very quickly.
Kyle Busch is certainly a formidable foe for Jimmie Johnson because he’s shown that they can win and challenge on most every type of racetrack, and that’s what you have to be able to do. If they still have something that I want to see, that seems to be a little bit of a weakness, and I don’t know if it’s a little bit of Kyle’s driving style that they have a hard time adjusting the car, but the flatter racetracks still seem to be a thorn in their side. We thought for a while maybe it was the crew chief that couldn’t get it to Kyle’s liking, but we saw them blow a tire at Loudon, New Hampshire, and put him in the wall, so these flatter surfaced racetracks seem to be something they still have to work on and improve their setup if they’re going to challenge Jimmie and Chad because they have it figured out on pretty much every type of track.
But Kyle Busch is a tremendous talent and it would be fun to watch he and Jimmie and a few others go head to head at the end of this.
Q – Andy, at the start of the year the pressure was clearly on Junior, and I wonder if you think the pressure is shifting to Letarte at all.
ANDY PETREE: Seems like the pressure is always on Junior’s crew chief, I don’t care who it is. Steve Letarte knew that when he took the job.
I think the Junior Nation, they’re getting impatient a little bit. They saw a spark, like Dale said. At the beginning of the year it looked like they were really on track to start to win some races. We’ve seen as the summer rolled in, we haven’t seen it as much out of them. I’ve always been a big fan of Steve Letarte. I think he’s one of the best crew chiefs in the garage, one of the smartest guys, and at the same time I think he is a great leader. I would caution anybody to start putting any pressure on him right now because I think he’s doing what he needs to do for Junior.
At some point Junior is going to have to step it up a little bit, too, and he has; he has at the beginning of this year. But he’s got to continue that, and I just think that is a good match. I think they’re a good group. There’s still a lot of races left this year. We’ll see what they can do with them.
Q – My question is for Dale. You were asked earlier about what winning at the Brickyard meant, and I just wondered, in the last couple years for a variety of reasons we’ve seen kind of the luster of the Brickyard lost, at least as far as fans are concerned with a downtick in attendance. But I wonder from a driver’s perspective, do you think that winning or participating or racing at that venue and then winning would ever be diminished in the drivers’ eyes?
DALE JARRETT: I really don’t think so, not in the drivers’ eyes. I know that it was 2008, whenever we had the tire situation here, and I think that soured some fans, and Goodyear went to work and has made the whole sport better.
But back to your question, I don’t think anything in drivers’ and owners’ minds can take away from what this race and this racetrack means to our sport and to a driver and your career as far as putting this on your résumé. It has stayed right up there near the top. Every one of these drivers that show up here this weekend want to be able to hold that trophy, go to that victory lane, kiss the bricks at the end of the day, and it means as much now as it ever did.
We were fortunate that when I came along, it was at a really good time in the sport to see the incredible crowds here, and we talk about the attendance is down, but there’s still a huge amount of people that come here. It’s just a lot of things have gotten involved in that with the economy ‑‑ I’m not telling any of y’all anything that you don’t know, but it certainly has affected our sport and the way that people go about things.
But from the drivers and owners, from the first time that we came here in ’94, as bad as anybody wanted to win that first one, I’ll assure you that these drivers and team owners and crew chiefs and teams want to win this Sunday just as bad.
Q – Dale, Jeff Gordon turns 40 here shortly. In the last decade it was his last championship. He’s been divorced, he’s remarried, he’s had two children. In your relationship with him, how have you seen the last decade shape him or maybe in a way reshape him to some degree?
DALE JARRETT: Yeah, well, he has been through a lot in his personal life and on the racetrack. The changing of the cars, I think, had an effect on him. Learning to drive these cars is a difficult challenge, and it took something totally different, and he had a feel he was looking for. So I think that made as much difference.
He’s in a great place with his personal life. He’s extremely happy. He’s very satisfied with what he has there with his family. We talk about 40; gosh, I look back on my career, not to compare because mine pales in comparison to his, but my career didn’t even start right until I was at the age of 40 with a lot of good things happening.
I think Jeff Gordon has a lot of good years to go. He’s been through a lot. He’s matured through all of it. He’s handled it all with class, and I’m not sure that ‑‑ we saw some great things from Jeff Gordon, but I think that we still have the opportunity to see some really good things to come from him.
And I’ll tell you, the conversation that he and I had about three years ago, two to three years ago, we were leaving a racetrack together and he was telling me how at that time he thought that maybe one, two more years at the most at that time was going to be it, and a recent conversation I had with him, he has no intentions of going away from this for quite a while. He’s been loving it. He’s more competitive, and that always makes you want to do it more. So I think we’re going to see some good things to come from Jeff Gordon, possibly a championship this year.
Q – Question for Julie or Rich: Last year I think there was a couple races where you guys also were able to put online, and then obviously it was shown on NASCAR.com online because of the Turner rights. Where does that stand? Is something like that possible again? Or is that from ESPN’s perspective a dead issue of having any type of the racing online this year?
JULIE SOBIESKI: I can take that one. I can say currently it’s not in our plans to do so. That being said, that does not mean that it’s not something that is not important to us. Clearly you’ve seen our business follow the trend of the industry, I think, where fans want to be able to see our live telecasts and are able to do that on our WatchESPN platforms. It’s still important to us. We still have a dialogue going with NASCAR, and certainly Turner is at play, as well, and we’ll continue to have those dialogues. But at the same time the exclusivity of our product is paramount and we need to come to an acceptable business solution for that to move forward.
So while we’re not in a position to do so now and not currently, it is still important I think to partners to figure out a digital solution for fans, and I think that’s where we are at this point.
Q – Dale and Andy, can you talk about the youngsters that are winning for the first time or even like Keselowski, his second win, Regan Smith and Bayne, and people kind of forget that it does take a long time to break through to get these wins. Can you talk about the growing pains and the learning curve that it is today as opposed to maybe what it was back in the day?
DALE JARRETT: Well, I think it’s been difficult regardless of kind of when you start. Certainly at this day and time with the mixture of veterans there and really good race teams, it makes it more difficult, I think, to win in this day and time. These young guys come in here with a lot of talent, a lot of racing experience, but I think once they reach the Cup level they find out just how hard it is.
Now, you have exceptions; Trevor Bayne winning early on, I think that was his second start at the 500, and that was just incredible. Those type of things do happen. But for the most part it’s hard to get that first victory, and you say, well, once they get that first, then the second will be easier. But there’s just so much competition out there. There are a lot of these drivers that have a lot of experience that I think that we’re going to continue to hear from.
But these young guys, they don’t know what the old cars really drove like, and I think that’s where some of the veterans are having more of a problem in adapting to these cars. Even though we’re in I think our fourth season now, still, it’s very difficult trying to get that feel back that you knew, that you had with the other cars. And these young guys don’t let that bother them.
So it’s great to see. It’s great that we have a mixture. We see that we still have a number of years left with these drivers that we’ve been following for a long time with Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon and even Jimmie now; he seems like a long‑time veteran even though he still hasn’t been here all that long, he’s just accomplished so much in a short period of time. Yeah, you have that, and then there’s a mixture. We have a lot of really good talent that can be there kind of waiting in the wings. But they don’t have a lot of patience. They want to win now, and it’s fun to watch them go about that.
Andy, as a crew chief I would have to think these young guys, it’s kind of fun to get that kind of enthusiasm whenever you have that.
ANDY PETREE: Here’s my take on it for the young guys: You don’t know what you don’t know. Sometimes that plays into your favor. These young guys come into this and they don’t know what that old car drove like, they don’t know how things used to be, they don’t care. They just want to go fast, they want to win, and the enthusiasm is contagious, and we’ve seen some great talent coming into the sport. Trevor Bayne is a great story and Keselowski now coming into his own.
The other thing, what you don’t know can hurt you. They don’t have the experience of going to a lot of these tracks many times, and it takes ‑‑ this sport, just like Dale said, really, it’s so hard, these guys are the best drivers in the world. And you’re coming in here, it takes a special talent to come in here and be able to beat them.
You know, that experience does pay off, but it also takes character, and some of these young guys are developing that, and I think that’s what it takes to win a championship. I think enthusiasm coming here, maybe win a race or two on talent, but to win a championship it takes character. You’ve got to really figure out how not to let bad days blow you away and how to keep everybody pumped up, and you’ve got to keep moving forward.
I think that’s one thing we’re seeing in Kyle Busch this year. I think I’ve seen a lot more character in him. I don’t know that we’re going to see a championship out of him this year, but he’s working himself towards that. And I think that’s one of the things that’s really tough in this sport is it’s a long, hard grind, and it takes a lot out of you. The young guys come in fast, but they have to learn how to do it for the long haul.
Q – For Rich or Julie, you touched on your other partners having good ratings, and you say your Nationwide ratings are doing fine. Can you guys kind of talk about why the ratings have been so good for both FOX and I think SPEED, the truck ratings are better? Can you address where we are TV‑wise?
JULIE SOBIESKI: I don’t know what answer I have other than there’s so many factors that go into ratings. I think the simplest is fans obviously are happy with the racing and seem happy with the broadcasts, and that’s great. There’s great story lines out there. There’s a lot of positive momentum it seems in the sport. I think a lot of that is stemming back to changes that have happened over the last year and a half here, and certainly we’ll continue through this year with the now implementation of Wild Card as we head into our portion of the season, as well.
So we can’t speak to anything specific, but we certainly love the trend. The men 18 to 34 demos, which were talked about a lot over the last several years, seem to have rebounded, and for us on the Nationwide side with the ratings that we have, those numbers are up double digits this year over last year, and last year was a strong year for us and we had great stories in the series. So there’s a lot of positive momentum out there that we certainly believe and hope will carry through our portion of the season.
But there’s not specific factor that we can point to and say this is the reason why ratings are up. I think it’s a confluence of a lot of great things that have come together, and we’re seeing that in the ratings.
Q – What do you think, Rich?
RICH FEINBERG: Well, I’d agree. I think predicting ratings is a death sentence for all producers, so I stay away from that. But the story lines ‑‑ and that’s what DJ and Andy have been spending the last half hour talking about. We’re going to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, their centennial celebration year. It’s a place that we’ve had a relationship with for a long time, starting with doing the first‑ever Brickyard 400, and whether it’s Jeff Gordon or Kevin Harvick or the new young people, those are all really exciting things that get us ready to go in.
I heard Allen saying he’s ready to get on a plane today, and I think that most of us sort of feel that, and then you kind of add on top of that all, we still have the Nationwide Series, and oh, by the way, the debut of Travis Pastrana on that from LOR on Saturday nights. There’s just ‑‑ as Julie said, momentum is very much in a place where we like it to be as we take on the second half of the season.
Q – Julie, can you comment on how sales are going for when you do the split screen, and have you gotten any feedback from advertisers? Do they want to have both full screen and split screen in the same telecast or have you found that they want something in the first half but don’t want the split screen in the second half?
JULIE SOBIESKI: Well, it’s one of the reasons why we have set it up in that way so that advertisers have a choice and every conversation is individual to those advertisers which they prefer over the course of the year. It’s still early. Initial conversations with our key advertisers have been really positive on this, and I think the positive reaction from fans and even in the press here certainly helps that, that this was something that we did for the fans ultimately.
We really believe with a sport that doesn’t have any natural break in action that this is the right direction to start heading in, but we need to be responsible to our advertisers, as well, and I think the choice of format is important, and it’s an individual conversation and decision as we go along with each advertiser.
Q – For Andy, did you get a chance to watch Pastrana at all at New Hampshire, and if you did watch him, what did you think and where does he have to do?
ANDY PETREE: I did watch. He was having trouble right off the bat. I was up on top of one of the haulers. He got into turn 1 on the very start of the race, got in the wall, so the car was banged up and it wasn’t really a fair assessment. He didn’t have a good day there. But I have seen some of the other races. I think he’s got a lot of potential. I’m really interested, and I’m going to be watching very closely at LOR to see how he does in that first race. But I think if he does well it’s going to be great for everybody, and I think he’s got a lot of potential. So we’ll see what happens. I’m really looking forward to it.
Q – For Rich, could you speak to the new production tools for the broadcast, in particular the development of the dual pass transmission on the onboard cameras as well as the graphics package overhaul?
RICH FEINBERG: Sure, the dual pass transmission is something that we’ve been talking about for years honestly and working on for probably a year so now behind the scenes. Basically up to this point, and it became harder with the innovation of HD in‑car cameras a few years back when we first got back to the sport in 2007 and debuted them in the Nationwide Series, there’s a limited amount of, without getting too technical, bandwidth, frequency restrictions, things like that, that have prevented up to this point the ability to have multiple signals coming out of a car. Normally on any given race, we have eight cars wired with in‑car cameras and three cameras on each car, but you can only see and show the viewers and record for isos and replays one camera at a time.
What the technical people have been working on is a series of new transmitters that will not increase weight in the cars, that will not require new equipment that the cars, the teams and the crew chiefs are used to us installing but will offer us the tool and the ability to show multiple angles at once, so whether that’s a live presentation where you might see the driver shot as well as the roof shot, or in replay during an incident when we want to show multiple angles of the effect on what that incident had on the driver and how he handled it and how he handled his car. It’s another story‑telling tool for us and will hopefully just represent another upping of the quality of presentation.
The graphics package is part of a network overhaul. You’ve seen it on other sports. This will be the debut on NASCAR, and includes just a whole new in‑set look. We feel it’s a little easier to read, a little bit more modern and fresh, and then a series of animations that we’ve just been developing for the Sprint Cup Series.
In general we want it to feel fresh, we want it to feel new, we want our viewers to be excited about our coverage going into the second half of the year.
Q – Julie, you touched on this a little bit, but with the NASCAR NonStop, ultimately how will it be judged whether it’s a success or not and whether it will be expanded? Is it basically primarily the reception and interest from the advertisers and how they view it, or will you be ‑‑ how much depends on whether the ratings go up specifically at that part of the broadcast? Obviously the fans will probably like it no matter what. What will help it going forward, I guess, if the fans want to ensure its success?
JULIE SOBIESKI: I think there’s a number of factors, and in fact we’re having those discussions now about what are all the different ways that we’re going to take a look at this and determine how we make it better, and eventually certainly we’d love to be doing more of this, certainly not less. So we want to take a look at a number of different metrics, and we’ll do that.
Obviously we’ll be looking at the ratings and the specifics around the time spent viewing during those times, when we’re in the nonstop portion of our broadcast compared to how we’ve done in years past. We’ll look to consumers and probably do some qualitative research and ask their opinions about it, and as far as the presentation itself are there any ways to improve upon that.
I think you’ll always know us to constantly be looking to improve what we’re offering, and that’s important.
And then clearly on the business side, as you know, we need to be talking to our advertisers and making sure that we’re delivering the appropriate amount of value here for them in this type of format, and we’ll have conversations there. Each one of those will be unique, I think, but we’re always looking for ways to differentiate ourselves and provide unique content opportunities and sponsorship opportunities within the broadcasts for those sponsors to be associated with.
At the end of the year and probably all along the way, we’ll be looking at all of those different factors and in the end we’ll make a decision for next year how we’ll proceed.
Q – Following up on the question earlier about the first‑time winners this season, I think everybody will agree that the quality of racing in the Cup Series is very good, in most races anyway, but I wonder if Andy and Dale could address the Danica Patrick issue. Do you think she’s going to come over to NASCAR? And do you see any other really talented young racers out there? I’m thinking of Austin Dillon and his brother maybe. I know they’re not ready for the Cup Series right away, but anybody like that?
DALE JARRETT: Well, as far as Danica goes, it would be great if she did. I think that she has shown here in this second year that she has a lot of talent. She ran ‑‑ she’s really run some good races and had opportunities to really prove herself, and I think the more that she does it ‑‑ and if she came over here on a full‑time basis, we would see just the kind of talent that she is. I know she probably isn’t having the type of season in IndyCar that she would really like to have and competing for wins there as much as she would like to, so maybe that will influence her because I think it would be great for our sport to have someone of her talent and persona that would be really good for our sport. I’ll have to wait and see, but it would be really good.
As far as other young drivers, I really, really like what I see in Ricky Stenhouse. I know that he’s only just a year removed from being taken out of the car a week at Kentucky after he crashed trying to qualify at Nashville the week before and things, but the turnaround this young man has made, he has a tremendous amount of talent and he has something that I see that you can’t teach, and he knows how to go fast, but what he’s learned to do is harness and control some of that speed to keep himself in the races, and now he’s got himself in the battle for the Nationwide championship. He’s going to be in a Cup ride very soon.
Richard Childress’ grandsons look fantastic. They do a really good job, and I know Austin won the truck race at Nashville last week, ran a great race in the Nationwide race. And of course we keep talking about Trevor Bayne, and he’s got a lot of talent. He’ll be there. Elliott Sadler is still a young man. Even though he’s been in the Cup Series, he’s back there in the Nationwide, but I think he still can make an impact in the Cup Series. So there’s a lot of talent that will come along, it’s just are there going to be seats there available for these young guys because we don’t see a lot of the veterans going away any time soon.
ANDY PETREE: Dale pretty much says it all. The thing about Danica, I just think she really needs a full season in the Nationwide Series with all her eggs in one basket there without any distractions to see what she can do. I think she shows the potential. In Las Vegas early in the year, she ran really, really good. I know she got a break to get a good finish, but I just think she hasn’t really reached her full potential in stock cars, and until runs a full season, I don’t think she will.
And the same thing with the other young guys. I agree with Dale. Ty Dillon is also another grandson of Richard Childress. We haven’t seen him on the touring scene yet. I think we’ll see him coming up through there. I think he’s got just as much talent and potential as Austin does, and I think Austin has definitely got what it takes. That’s my take on all the young guys.
Q – This is really out of your control, but with the dire predictions about a significant downturn in attendance for Sunday, is this anything that you believe detracts at all from the quality of the telecast for the viewers to see lap after lap a lot of empty seats?
RICH FEINBERG: For us as story tellers, it’s about the competition, it’s about the teams, it’s certainly about the history of what racing in Indianapolis Motor Speedway means. We’re obviously aware as we travel week in and week out that we’ve seen some attendance issues over the past months and years, but frankly in my opinion I think viewers want to see great racing, listen to great story telling, and hear from people who will help guide them through the competition and ultimately results in a rewarding experience for everybody.
We try to work closely with our partners in NASCAR and at the Speedway to help where we can, but at the end of the day, I think that our telecast sort of goes beyond the number of people in attendance.
Q – Allen, what are the best traits you think you’ve brought to TV, and along the way what skills do you think you’ve developed and acquired that are going to help you most in the lap‑by‑lap coverage?
ALLEN BESTWICK: A couple things come to mind, and the reason I hesitate is I don’t want to sound conceited in any way. But I’ve managed over the years for whatever reason to be able to understand how a race unfolds. I think that’s mostly by working with great people over the years, stretching back to Barney Hall and going through Benny Parsons and on today to DJ and Andy. The job of the anchorman is to take all this information that’s coming in from all these different sources. We’re going to have, what, 76 cameras at Indianapolis, and we’ve got our four pit reporters and our experts who have been in the race cars and been down on top of the pit boxes, and just take all this information and make sure it’s all telling one story, and filter that through an understanding of how people watch television.
I’ll just throw a really quick example. We’re watching a pass for the lead at lap 120, but that might be a car that bounced off the wall at lap 3 and got a lap down changing a tire and came back and got a free pass and now is all the way through and racing for the lead. Understanding how people watch television, you’ve got to be able to update them on that quickly and make sure they understand the significance of what they’re seeing. Just making sure all this information that unfolds over the course of 400 miles, it all tells one story as succinctly as possible and it all makes sense.
Q – What’s does working with Dale and Andy do for your confidence level, knowing these guys know so much about racing?
ALLEN BESTWICK: It’s not just know so much about racing but are really good at explaining it and making it understandable and have a really good feel for the art of the conversation, if you will. It’s fun. It’s just fun. We have a great time together. I think we’re all really good friends, and I think that translates through on the air, and we just really enjoy seeing who’s going to win and how. They make it really easy to share that experience, and we have a lot of fun together.
Q – My question is for Rich and also the anchors, but can you talk about the challenge of producing a road course at Watkins Glen, the challenges that face you at a road course compared to an oval like Indianapolis?
RICH FEINBERG: I’ll give you a quick sense of the truck and then defer to Allen and the guys because I think that they have a challenge, as well. At the end of the day, though, for us, there aren’t any cameras that can see an entire racetrack, so it makes us change our coverage philosophy somewhat. And by the way, Indianapolis Motor Speedway is very much like that. Beyond the chopper cam, there is no camera that can see the entire racetrack.
One of the things we’ve implemented I’d say in the last 12 to 14 months is when there’s green flag pit stops, we go to a two box and we try to keep one camera on the leader on the track, which often changes as the green flag pit stops cycle through, and then cover the action on pit road with another camera. We can’t do that as easy on a road course because we have no cameras that can follow that leader for the entire lap of the car.
So it’s basically from a coverage point of view a more spread‑out environment, but I think that our team has done a good job of trying to take advantage of that visual change and that visual difference week in and week out, whether it’s through the chicanes or up and down the hills or those type of things and just offer a different flavor for our fans’ palates week in and week out. Perhaps the rest of the announcers could weigh in.
ALLEN BESTWICK: I think Rich has got it exactly, which is that you can’t just look out the window and see the entire course to understand the broader context of what’s going on, so that does make the road course or the Brickyard a little bit more of a challenge. But I think that’s where technology has come in, as well.
Back in the day, you used to keep track of every pit stop by hand, and every time a car came on pit road you’d be writing numbers down and that kind of thing, and if you missed someone, you had to hope somebody else caught it and that information didn’t elude you. Now we’ve got all these electronics and NASCAR’s scoring loops and that kind of thing, and all that information. When someone comes onto pit road at Indianapolis, we know it right away. We see it on one of the electronic scoring systems that’s right in front of us. We don’t have to wonder where he is on the track or whether he’s on pit road or not. He’s right there. So the advances in the electronics have helped eliminate some of the difference and compensate for not being able to see the whole track out the window for the announcers.
Q – My question relates to all of the people there. I live in a community where I get constantly asked about NASCAR, and the biggest complaint, and I hate to throw complaints out, but this is what it is, the races are too long. I have people come in and tell me they watch the beginning of the race, they go out and work in the garden, they come back towards the end because the middle to them is dead. I know Allen is going to make it a lot more exciting and the crew that he has with him, and I even got that statement from a NASCAR official a couple of weeks back. He told me, without me asking any questions, he told me, these races are too long. How can we combat that problem?
JULIE SOBIESKI: I would start from a fan perspective, as well, but when it comes down to the actual research, because we hear this a lot, the ratings research does not bear that out. There’s not a precipitous drop in the middle of the race that then turns around and builds at the end. It has a natural progression, these races, as they do in any other sport where people come and continually as you get toward an event and things start to heat up toward the end of an event, those ratings continue to climb. It has a similar arc as it does in other sports, and while there’s that perception out there that that might be the case, and shortening a race might be something that people might say that we should look at, when it really comes down to seeing fans’ trends and how they consume a race, that doesn’t bear out in the ratings.
I would also just add that from a ratings perspective on that front, these races are some of the strongest numbers that you’ll see out there in sports on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. And a lot of people are clearly tuning in and enthusiastic about coming week in and week out to see these races, and shortening those races certainly isn’t something that we look at when we say what are strategies that we look to moving forward to get ratings up or to serve fans. That’s not something that we see in the cards.
Q – I want to tell you, there are lots of things that could be done to change that that would have to be done by NASCAR obviously, but there is a certain amount of restraint shown by a lot of drivers during the middle of a race. They drop to the back and they cruise, and I think that’s what these people are picking up, and they’re saying.
DALE JARRETT: As a driver I will assure you that there’s no time that you set yourself on cruise. Your race car might not be as good and it might look like that at times, but you’re driving the race car as hard as you can without wrecking it every single lap. Even though it may look like some guys get on cruise, yeah, you don’t take as many chances in that middle part of the race because there’s really no reason to do that. It’s just like a football team, an NFL team going down, and are they going to attempt a field goal or are they going to punt from the 40‑yard line at the same time that they would during another part of the game? Probably not. Their strategy is a little different. And it goes the same way with a driver in a race car.
How that’s perceived by fans ‑‑ the one thing we’re not going to do is please everybody with everything. Could some of the races be shortened? I’m not going to disagree with you there at all. Even when I drove I thought some of them could be shortened for the betterment of the sport and making the competition better throughout the entire day. But that would be the only reason. But I promise you they’re not on cruise, even if it does look like that.
Q – This is for whoever wants to pick it up. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing won last year and would have won the year before with Montoya had he not gotten a speeding penalty in pit lane. Do they know something about the Brickyard that some of the other teams may not?
ANDY PETREE: I think they do have a great package for that kind of racetrack. They did last year. But you know, this year they just haven’t shown strength at any of the tracks like they had shown last year coming into this one. I’m not going to predict they won’t be as good, but I haven’t seen them that good coming into it.
We’ll see what they have this year, but this is a unique track. Indy, it takes a unique setup, and you kind of go at it a different way. And I think that Ganassi, they’ve done a great job. They came up with something a couple years ago that really made them fast there.
DALE JARRETT: And I think Montoya may be a big part of that. His experience at this racetrack, just driving the track itself and he takes a little different approach than a lot of the normal oval track drivers take at this place and wide entry into these corners, which gives him a good run up off the corner, straighter there, and I think that probably whatever it took them to do to his race car to give him what he wanted, I’m pretty sure that probably Jamie McMurray benefitted from that, too, and with his talent he was able to do that, as well, so that’s where teammates can help and having all that information there, too.
It’ll be interesting to see, as Andy said, since they haven’t been performing quite as well as this year, will they be able to bring that magic here and contend once again with Montoya and with Jamie.
ALLEN BESTWICK: I was thinking while you were both talking, I know you both experienced in your careers that race or that place that to an owner you were working for was just that much more important to him that when he would walk through the shop and say, what are we doing for Daytona, for example, for Robert Yates, DJ, and I just have this vision of Chip walking through the shop and saying, What are we doing for Indy.
DALE JARRETT: I’ll agree with you. Yeah, owners step up and drivers step up to big places, too.