NASCAR ensures star-studded ‘Logan Lucky’ stays grounded in racing reality

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CONCORD, N.C. – As crew members hustled through the Sprint Cup garage last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, there was one team that might have stood out.

Its car, equipment and uniforms were standard and blended in with the rest of the field furiously preparing for the Bank of America 500.

But closer scrutiny at those working on the car – while being recorded by a phalanx of cameras – would have revealed more to the story.

Or in this case, a script.

Logan Lucky spent a few days on location at Charlotte for a fully immersed shoot in the world of NASCAR. The Steven Soderbergh-directed movie, which is slated for release in the second half of 2017, is constructed around an elaborate heist during the Coca-Cola 600 and has a star-studded cast that includes Channing Tatum, Daniel Craig, Hilary Swank, Adam Driver, Seth MacFarlane and Katie Holmes.

The elevator pitch for the movie is Ocean’s Eleven (another Soderbergh vehicle project) set in NASCAR with Charlotte’s 1.5-mile track as the stand-in for Las Vegas’ Bellagio.

“It is a sort of different world,” producer Mark Johnson said. “Steven is obviously so good at doing heist movies, so the idea of doing this one in a NASCAR world is very similar. It’s the same philosophy, just different characters and different worlds. In the Ocean’s movies, you’ve got George Clooney and Brad Pitt in tuxedos. I haven’t seen a lot of tuxedos here at the racetrack.”

A scene shot last Sunday highlighted the unfamiliarity for Johnson, who is well accomplished in movies (part of the Academy Award-winning Rain Man in 1988) and TV (Emmys for outstanding drama with Breaking Bad in 2013-14) but wasn’t as well-suited for stand-in work as an extra playing a NASCAR official.

“I was the only one who didn’t know what he was doing,” Johnson said with a laugh, showing off a pair of gray inspector pants. “So I just walked around the car. I was counting the tires. Yep, there are four of them. OK!”

Johnson said screenwriter Rebecca Blunt set the film at a NASCAR track because it seemed “very exotic. The idea of having a heist take place while there’s a major race going on, just seemed like too delicious a concept to ignore.”

But the producers needed help with fleshing out story concepts and critical details, such as whether a Sprint Cup car would be equipped with a rearview mirror.

A team of NASCAR and track officials was happy to assist, particularly given the film crew’s attention to detail and nuance.

“We work on a bunch of different projects — TV and some film stuff — and we’re usually fighting to make sure that things are authentic,” NASCAR vice president of entertainment marketing and content development Zane Stoddard said. “These guys want it to be embedded, which is harder to do, so the scene is being shot that it feels like we’re there at a race. AJ Allmendinger’s car was literally right next to the car that was in the movie, and you wouldn’t have known the difference aside from the army of cameras.”

As the movie crew filmed a scene involving an ornery car owner (“a bit of a horse’s ass who has a driver that he beats up without mercy – not that there’d be anyone in NASCAR like that”), Johnson said Allmendinger’s crew wasn’t distracted.

“As long as we stayed out of their way, that was fine; they had a job to do,” Johnson said. “It was good for us in that it gives a great verisimilitude to the whole world because it is real. We’re shooting a silly scene, and yet all of this reality is happening behind us that has this great context.”

Shooting, which was scheduled to wrap this week, also took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but the crew took great pains to ensure the exteriors (all the way down to the colors of the concession stands) still resembled Charlotte “so the NASCAR fan would be able to see the movie and not be taken out of the, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not Charlotte. That’s not how races go or what a car looks like,’” Johnson said. It was very important to get it right.”

Stoddard, who also worked with movies crews while he was a marketing executive at the NBA, said NASCAR might be the “most difficult sport to make sure you get right because it’s not about a general audience. It’s about the guy who actually knows what’s going on inside our sport.”

The Logan Lucky production consulted with the NASCAR competition department for realism, but Stoddard said the crews didn’t need much correcting.

“These guys are real, real pros,” he said. “We’ve had a hard time finding flaws in things they’ve done.”

logan-lucky-ryan-blaneyThe film also will have some nods (or “Easter eggs,” as Stoddard calls them) to eagle-eyed NASCAR fans, too, in the form of several driver cameos. Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards are playing West Virginia state troopers; Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are security guards; Ryan Blaney is cast as a delivery boy, and Kyle Larson will drive a limo.

But Johnson said he hopes the movie mostly wins over NASCAR fans with its realism.

“The NASCAR fan is rabid in his or her sense of the sport, its history and the meticulous of it where a lot of NBA and MLB people love the sports, but aren’t that specific,” he said. “We felt a real responsibility to get it right, even though the movie is taking place in a world that doesn’t – and really can’t — exist. It’s hopefully like all the movies and TV shows we do, you want to have respect for the audience. We’d love every NASCAR fan to see this movie. We want to make sure they feel the sport has been respected.”

The grassroots support will help an independently financed movie that is planning a wide release despite the lack of major studio support. Johnson said the movie plans to advertise through racetrack signage and ad buys on NASCAR broadcasts.

Stoddard said NASCAR will support the film through its digital and social channels.

“It’s in our best interests to make sure we’re leveraging everything we can to make NASCAR fans aware of this and engaged in it,” he said. “We’ve started to kick around some ideas. I know the film has the intent, just like with distribution, of being nonconforming, if you will. As we get past production and post-production, we’ll start to look at figure out what are some creative things we can do together to help drive the release.”

Jimmie Johnson to start in the rear after gear change

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INDIANAPOLIS – Jimmie Johnson‘s bid for a record-tying fifth Brickyard 400 will have to begin at the back of the 40-car field.

Johnson qualified fourth Saturday but stated on Twitter that he’ll have to go to the rear of the field because they had to change the rear gear.

Although track position is pivotal at Indianapolis Motor Speedway because passing is difficult, optimists can view Johnson’s woes as a good sign. He has scored two of his three wins this season – Texas and Dover – after starting in the rear.

Also starting at the rear today is Cole Whitt (rear gear change) and Joey Gase (engine change). Whitt qualified 34th. Gase qualified 38th.

Today’s race is on NBC. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET with Countdown to Green.

 

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Today’s Cup race at Indianapolis: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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The NASCAR Cup Series takes part in the 24th annual Brickyard 400 today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It marks one year since Kyle Busch earned his last Cup win, when he claimed his second Brickyard 400 in a row. Busch starts from the pole for the second year in a row.

Here’s all the important info you need ahead of the race, which airs on NBC.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 2:32 p.m. Green flag is set for 2:44 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 160 laps (400 miles) around the 2.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 50. Stage 2 ends on Lap 100.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Cup garage opens at 9 a.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is at 12:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 1:55 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Carly Pearce will perform the Anthem at 2:26 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBC will broadcast the race. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. with Countdown to Green. Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network will broadcast on radio and the Performance Racing Network at 1:30 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the IMSRN/PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts 89 degrees at race time with a 15 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST YEAR: Kyle Busch started from the pole and led 149 of the race’s 170 total laps. It was his second win in a row in the race. Matt Kenseth finished second, Jimmie Johnson finished third.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the full starting lineup.

Get a humorous look at life in the pits in, what else, ‘The Pits’ on NBC livestream

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Life in the pits can sometimes, well … really be the pits.

But it can also be a hilarious look at life in NASCAR, as well.

That’s the premise behind “The Pits,” a three-part “mockumentary-style series” that spoofs the life of the fictitious SONIC pit crew in NASCAR.

“The Pits” debuts Sunday on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app. After each 2-3 minute episode airs, replays will be available on NBCSports.com and also the NASCAR on NBC Facebook page.

The first episode airs during this Sunday’s live stream of the Brickyard 400, which will be televised on NBC.

Episode 1 follows pit pro Rita, who falls for tire specialist Max, but Max’s only affection is for SONIC Pretzel Dogs.

The other two episodes of The Pits will livestream Saturday night, August 19, during the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway, and during the Sunday, October 15 race at Talladega Superspeedway.

“The Pits” is produced for NBC Sports Group and SONIC Drive-In by The Kicker, with shareable content running across NBC Sports Digital assets.

Starting lineup for 24th annual Brickyard 400

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Kyle Busch will lead the Brickyard 400 to the green flag Sunday for the second year in a row.

He earned his fourth pole of the year and is seeking his first Cup win since the 2016 Brickyard 400.

Following Busch in the starting lineup is Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin.

Hamlin is the only driver in the top five who hasn’t won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Click here for the full starting lineup.