DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. â€” NBC Sports celebrated a perfect storm of television Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway for its first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series broadcast of the season.
The race was one of the best of the season, and the finish was classic â€” Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson engaging in two last-lap encounters before Busch rolled to the win. The broadcast also marked Dale Earnhardt Jr.â€™s debut as a Cup-race analyst, and reviews of his commentary were universally good.
The all-important ratings numbers also were pleasing as the broadcast attracted 2.55 million viewers, up 10 percent from the same race last year.
So, for week two of its part of the season, NBC is shaking up the broadcast? Yes.
The biggest difference for Saturday nightâ€™s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway will be the positioning of analyst (and Earnhardt Jr.â€™s former crew chief) Steve Letarte. He will move to the networkâ€™s pit box, which will be located in the same row as the team pit boxes.
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Also new at Daytona: Veteran broadcaster Mike Tirico, frequently a centerpiece of sports programming on NBC, will be included in Saturdayâ€™s pre-race show.
Letarteâ€™s move changes the broadcast setup. Last week at Chicagoland, he and Earnhardt shared a booth atop the grandstand, while lead announcer Rick Allen and Jeff Burton were in another â€śskyâ€ť booth.
Saturday Letarte will work alone in the pit box and will be sort of a middle man between the main booth and NBCâ€™s roaming pit reporters. Located near the end of pit road, the NBC box is very close to the racing surface, potentially bringing a lot of noise into the broadcast when Letarte is on the air.
And thatâ€™s good, he said.
â€śThe sound might be a challenge,â€ť he said. â€śBut I look at it as real. Let the fan know what Iâ€™m dealing with. This is where I sat as a crew chief. This is what itâ€™s like. The closer we can bring the fan to the real thing, the better.â€ť
Letarte said Earnhardt brought a new perspective to Sundayâ€™s broadcast and that the concept of adding a fourth person worked well.
â€śDale is a huge fan, and he was very well prepared,â€ť Letarte said. â€śHe put a tremendous amount of preparation into it. Rick and Jeff and I put a lot of preparation into having a fourth voice. That changes the dynamic quite a bit.â€ť