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NBC Team Eager To Bring Pageantry, Excitement of Unique ‘500’ to Viewers

NBC broadcasters for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge this Sunday expect the 104th Running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” to be a memorable television experience, especially with so many regular attendees watching from home.

Booth commentators Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy, along with hosts Mike Tirico and Danica Patrick, said the popularity of Marco Andretti’s first pole-winning run at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of many reasons why this race will be one to watch.

“For the Andrettis to qualify one of their own on pole, it’s like bringing the world back on to the right axis,” said Tracy, who drove in the race seven times. “We’re in a strange time right now and things just seem off, but (this) seemed to correct things.”

Patrick, an eight-time “500” starter, said the lack of spectators Sunday at IMS will put all eyes squarely on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES competitors and the action they’ll engage in on the iconic 2.5-mile oval.

“You can’t get millions of fans at the track, but there will be millions of people – and they have always been – watching the broadcast,” she said. “It’ll be our job to really engage the viewer, so they’re prepared for the race and they’re not distracted by the fact that it looks different. They’re invested in the race itself and how it feels and what’s going on and being on the lookout for certain things.”

Patrick said the team of broadcasters must be prepared to “bring the energy,” and she plans to.

“I’ll make sure to have six cups of coffee before we start,” she said, laughing.

This will be NBC’s second time to broadcast the “500,” the first coming last year. Despite the network’s relative inexperience with the event, the team of Diffey, Bell and Tracy have worked many NTT INDYCAR SERIES races together, and their synergy is evident.

Diffey believes the group delivered “perhaps the best call we’ve ever had” in last weekend’s Fast Nine Shootout of Crown Royal Armed Forces Qualifying.

“It was exhilarating, it was edge-of-your-seat stuff, it was legitimate and real enthusiasm,” he said.

The exhilaration featured Andretti besting five-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon for the pole on the final qualifying attempt. Andretti earned his first “500” pole with a four-lap average of 231.068 mph to Dixon’s 231.051 mph, a separation of just .0113 of a second over a 10-mile tour of IMS. Those runs were among the 12 posted in excess of 230 mph.

The field of 33 includes eight former “500” winners and five rookies. First-time starters Rinus VeeKay (fourth) and Alex Palou (seventh) will start in the first three rows.

NBC’s broadcast begins at 1 p.m. (ET) Sunday, with WTHR-13 having the Indianapolis-area coverage.

Mark Miles, president and CEO of Penske Entertainment Corp., said Wednesday the “500” will be broadcast in nearly 160 countries, up from 128 last year. He said NBC is realizing about a 20 percent increase in its INDYCAR ratings year over year.

As has been the case throughout NBC Sports’ coverage of the “500” this year, broadcasters will be socially distanced and stationed around the facility to give viewers different perspectives. Diffey and Bell will be on the Pagoda’s ninth floors while Tracy will be perched in a suite overlooking Turn 2. Tirico and Patrick will be on the Pagoda’s sixth floor with Marty Snider, Kelli Stavast and Kevin Lee working pit road. Rutledge Wood will interact with fans at home.

“Let’s make sure we welcome all these fans into this great story, the tradition, the rituals that make the Indy 500 one of the great slices of Americana,” NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood said.

Tirico said the experience of attending last year’s “500” was one of the coolest things he’s done professionally, and he valued getting to see IMS in its full color and glory with an estimated 300,000 people on hand. This year’s race will certainly have a different look and feel.

“I would say I think we’re all taking stock of the things that we do in life a little bit differently now,” Tirico said. “I am so darned thankful that I had the experience that we had last year. The lap around the track on race morning with Danica driving, getting a sense of what the drivers see, being on the track in front of the grid and all you could see are people everywhere. I’ve never experienced anything like that. I’ve been to every sporting event that we have in the U.S. -- I’ve been very, very blessed professionally – there’s nothing like (Indy).

broadcaster. So I’m so glad that I had that experience because I can now parallel that with what we’re about to experience again. And I think the other thing that helps me in this role is we’ve done several broadcasts from the sixth floor and the Pagoda, and you just have a sense of where it is, not just in the geography but also what the background is like, what the feel is like for an event that’s about to happen without the normal buildup from the fans being present.

“So that will, I think, serve us hopefully well in that part of the broadcast.”

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