ESPN’s NASCAR Coverage Shifts into High Gear with Brickyard 400

For Allen Bestwick, time wasn’t flying fast enough.

“I’m getting an on airplane to Indy tomorrow,” said the lap-by-lap anchor, barely able to contain his enthusiasm, “and I had to stop myself from getting on it today. I’m really excited to get this thing going.”

ESPN kicks off its coverage of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season with the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this Sunday.  The live, flag-to-flag telecast is the first of 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup events on ESPN networks, including all 10 races in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Bestwick will be joined in booth by Dale Jarrett, the 1999 NASCAR Cup champion driver and two-time Brickyard winner, and Andy Petree, two-time Sprint Cup crew chief. ESPN’s pre-race NASCAR Countdown show will feature 1989 NASCAR Cup champion driver Rusty Wallace alongside host Nicole Briscoe and analyst Brad Daugherty.

“It [feels like] the start of the season for us, even though we’ve been doing the Nationwide side since February,” said analyst Dale Jarrett, “but I get excited about doing our job. 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. I’m looking forward to our coverage for these 17, but in particular on this Sunday.”

ESPN’s on-air anchors and analysts are hardly alone in their eagerness for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season to get underway.

“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,” said Rich Feinberg, vice president of motorsports production for ESPN. “We’re excited to roll out a number of new initiatives.”

ESPN’s telecast of the Brickyard 400 will introduce the use of dual-path transmission for on-board cameras. In a typical NASCAR telecast, ESPN wires eight cars with three in-car mounted cameras. However, because of available bandwidth and frequency restrictions, particularly after the installation of HD in-car cameras, ESPN could only broadcast one feed at a time.

Dual-path transmission, developed in conjunction with Broadcast Sports Inc. (BSI), will allow ESPN to play two high-definition video feeds simultaneously, made possible by the installation of new in-car transmitters that do not increase weigh or require additional equipment. The new technology will enable ESPN to access two different onboard perspectives at once, pairing views from the roof cam, face cam, and bumper cam.

“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 the driver and how he handled it and how he handled his car, it’s another story‑telling tool for us,” said Feinberg. “Hopefully, [it will] represent another upping of the quality of presentation.”

The Brickyard presents a unique challenge to the lap-by-lap anchor and analysts, who cannot see the full course from their window and must rely on various camera feeds of the race. The production team employs a two box cam setup: one camera is kept on the race leader at all times, who changes frequently as green flag pit stops cycle through, while the other covers pit road. Beginning with the Brickyard 400 and continuing throughout the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, ESPN will utilize a helicopter camera for the first time, providing broadcasters and at-home viewers the ability to see the entire 2.5-mile racetrack at once.

In addition to the unobstructed view from the helicopter cam, ESPN upgraded its Sportvision race effects system, expanding the use of pointers for easier car identification. To help viewers keep track of their favorite drivers, ESPN implemented the technology into trackside robotic cameras and aerial cameras. In total, ESPN will use 76 HD cameras to cover the Brickyard 400, including Bat Cam, which can run at more than 80 MPH on a cable over pit road and the frontstretch.

As part of a network-wide graphics overhaul, ESPN will debut a modernized, progressive graphics package for NASCAR telecasts. The new in-set, easy-to-read will be accompanied by a new animation package.

“We want it to feel fresh,” said Feinberg, of ESPN’s approach to this Sunday’s telecast of the Brickyard 400. “We want it to feel new. We want our viewers to be excited about our coverage going into the second half of the year.”