Play­off dy­nam­ics draw NBC’s fo­cus

Crew of an­a­lysts stresses high stakes as field nar­rows

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS WEEKEND - By John Small­wood

NAS­CAR on NBC an­a­lyst Steve Le­tarte said it does not mat­ter which of the sports it is be­cause they all have one thing in com­mon.

“I’m a huge sports fan, and there is noth­ing bet­ter than the play­offs,” said Le­tarte, a long-time for­mer NAS­CAR pit-crew chief who is in his fourth year of call­ing races for NBC. “It doesn’t mat­ter if it is the Yan­kees-Red Sox. It doesn’t mat­ter if it is the Pa­tri­ots in the post­sea­son.

”The FedEx Cup in golf or the Stan­ley Cup in hockey, there’s noth­ing like it. The reg­u­lar sea­sons are fun, but there is noth­ing in the world for sports fans like the play­offs.

“Ca­reers are made in the play­offs. Hall-of-Famers are cre­ated in the play­offs. NAS­CAR is no dif­fer­ent. There is noth­ing like watch­ing guys rac­ing to keep their sea­son suc­cess­ful.”

The NAS­CAR play­off sys­tem is unique in that, while it started with 16 driv­ers qual­i­fied to race for the ti­tle, each race still fea­tures a full field of driv­ers. Add the fact that four driv­ers are elim­i­nated ev­ery three races un­til there are just four re­main­ing for a on­er­ace best-fin­isher-takesthe-ti­tle com­pe­ti­tion to end the sea­son at Home­stead, and new lev­els of in­trigue are added to each race.

It is the job of Le­tarte, an­a­lyst Rick Allen and for­mer Cup Series driv­ers Jeff Bur­ton and Dale Earn­hardt Jr. to present the race — and the race within each race — to the tele­vi­sion au­di­ence. They take that re­spon­si­bil­ity se­ri­ously.

“Be­fore a race, we look at all of the dif­fer­ent story lines that could po­ten­tially come up,” said Allen, who has been the lead an­nouncer for NAS­CAR Cup and Xfin­ity series races on NBC since 2015. “We try to have a game plan for those.”

In the NAS­CAR play­offs, the race to ac­cu­mu­late play­off points can be­come as im­por­tant as the race to chase an in­di­vid­ual check­ered flag.

Those dual story lines be­come even more pro­nounced in an “elim­i­na­tion race” such as the one at the Char­lotte “Roval” two weeks ago. Four driv­ers were go­ing home from the play­offs, but there was also a race to win that week’s tro­phy. There was also the idea that if any play­off driver won, that meant au­to­matic qual­i­fi­ca­tion to the sec­ond stage that started last Sun­day at Dover In­ter­na­tional Speed­way.

All mat­tered, and all had to be cov­ered with equal spirit and in­ten­sity.

This week­end’s visit to Tal­ladega likely will ratchet up the ur­gency.

“That all has to be ac­counted for, but any­time you’re do­ing a live event, you just have to roll with what is pre­sented to you,” Allen said. “You have to be ready for what­ever comes up.”

Like at Dover, when a crash late in the race al­lowed Chase El­liott to win in over­time and move out of the cut zone au­to­mat­i­cally into the Round of 8.

The abil­ity to dis­sect things that hap­pen sud­denly and al­most in­stantly dis­cuss the ram­i­fi­ca­tions is be­com­ing a spe­cialty of the four-man an­nounc­ing crew.

“You see the value of hav­ing mul­ti­ple guys in the booths,” Le­tarte said. “It al­lows us to ad­just to those oc­ca­sions when just two guys might not be able to ad­dress all of it.

”I’m not sure I have the brain­power to watch the race and the race in­side the race on my own. All of us check our­selves men­tally to make sure we aren’t as a crew miss­ing any­thing dur­ing the race.

“It’s im­por­tant that we let the peo­ple at home un­der­stand how big the stakes are ev­ery time these driv­ers get on the track.”

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