Danica Patrick brings fearless approach to NBC’s Indianapolis 500 broadcast

On Sunday, Patrick will appear in her fifth Indy 500 as a broadcaster after a career in which she competed in the race eight times, including six top-10 finishes.

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Host Mike Tirico and analyst Danica Patrick will appear on NBC’s coverage Sunday of the Indianapolis 500.

Host Mike Tirico and analyst Danica Patrick will appear on NBC’s coverage Sunday of the Indianapolis 500.

NBC Sports

The closest I’ve come to experiencing the Indianapolis 500 live was via phone.

Years ago, my wife was in Indy on business, and the client brought her to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway infield during practice. She called me, asked me to guess where she was and aimed her cell phone toward the track as the cars approached.

I didn’t need a second guess. The sound forced me to move the phone away from my ear. I envisioned the cars zipping by in a flash. But the sound alone couldn’t do the experience justice.

“I always describe it as a sensory overload,” Danica Patrick, the race-car driver-turned-TV analyst, said Thursday. “You can smell it, you can hear it, you can see it. You can’t taste it unless you get a really unique scenario. There’s just so much coming at you.

“You can feel it through your body. When the field comes at you at speed, it sounds like fighter jets. And then the whistle gets louder and louder, and then all of the sudden they go by and it’s a whole new sensation. It’s something to be experienced.”

On Sunday, Patrick will join NBC host Mike Tirico for her fifth Indy 500 as a broadcaster after a career in which she competed in the race eight times, including six top-10 finishes. In 2005, she became the first woman to lead in the race and finished fourth. Her best finish was third in 2009, also a women’s record.

Since taking the baton from ABC in 2019, NBC has been an excellent steward of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” The network will begin seven hours of live coverage at 8 a.m. with a pre-race show on Peacock. Coverage continues at 10 on NBC and Peacock, leading into race coverage at 11:30, when play-by-play voice Leigh Diffey and analysts Townsend Bell and James Hinchcliffe take over.

Patrick looked like a natural in front of the camera when she made her NBC debut at Indy in 2019, the year after she retired from racing. She had done some analyst work as an active NASCAR driver for Fox’s coverage of the Xfinity Series. Patrick said she felt comfortable on the air, though it was strange to be at the track and not driving.

“I was sitting on the pit box as it transitioned from what Mike Tirico and I do before the race starts to the play-by-play broadcast,” Patrick said. “And I remember snacking because I had been on camera for a couple of hours. It was literally while they were taking the green, and I just thought, ‘Wow, what a different position I’m in this year.’ “

But Patrick has embraced her position, adding commentary work for Fox’s NASCAR coverage and Sky Sports’ F1 coverage. Though viewers of those circuits have given her mixed reviews — she had little success in NASCAR and never competed in F1 — Patrick stays true to herself by being herself.

“I’m never afraid to be honest,” she said. “I think that’s one of the factors that made people curious and interested in me, and some of them maybe like me and some of them not. When I was asked a question in an interview, I would answer it. I’d forget about the corporate b.s. of thanking your team and your sponsors. I’d just answer the question. Was I reckless about it? No. But was I honest? Yes.

“I don’t feel scared at all on air to give my perspective on what’s going on on the track. I do that even when I’m watching it. I look at the replay and I’m listening to the announcers, and sometimes I’m like, ‘Yep, exactly.’ Or I’m like, ‘No, guys, he hit him.’ Or, ‘He didn’t even have to hit him.’ That’s not a problem for me.”

Patrick, who grew up in Roscoe, Illinois, lives in Arizona but still owns a condo in River North. She makes it back to Chicago whenever she can, but life tends to get in the way.

“Every time I go back, I think to myself, ‘I need to come here more.’ And then I don’t,” she said. “And then every time I go back, I think the same thing, ‘I need to come here more.’ And then I don’t.”

But you probably can catch her at Indy every Memorial Day weekend.

Remote patrol

  • The White Sox-Tigers game Friday night will air on Apple TV+. Alex Faust, analyst Ryan Spilborghs and reporter Tricia Whitaker will have the call.
  • The Sky’s home opener Friday night against the Mystics is on ION. It’s their first of 10 appearances on the WNBA’s newest TV partner. Go to iontelevision.com to find the channel on your provider.
  • The Reds-Cubs game Saturday will air on Fox-32 as part of “Baseball Night in America.” Jeff Levering, analyst John Smoltz and reporter Ken Rosenthal will call it.
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