Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: A Tragic Situation For NBCSN, NASCAR, IndyCar

Greetings, fans. Last weekend started off pretty well with a couple of decent races at Bristol. Sunday afternoon was pretty much the best possible setup for race fans with no Cup race in play. The TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, Verizon IndyCar Series and ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards were all in action at the same time. Makes me happy that I got a better DVR with more tuners in it recently (of course, having said that, it wasn’t exactly by choice that I got it).

Before we get into the NASCAR critiques, I have to talk about NBCSN’s coverage on Sunday from Pocono Raceway. This will not be a full critique of the race broadcast, but a more focused piece.

ABC Supply 500

By now, most everyone that’s reading this critique knows what went down late Sunday afternoon. Sage Karam wrecked his No. 8 out of the lead with 22 laps to go, hitting the turn 1 wall nose first. That wreck, in and of itself, could have been a lot worse than it was. Granted, that’s not the focus of the conversation.

The focus is how NBCSN handled the coverage of Justin Wilson‘s fatal injury. The incident was admittedly strange in that Wilson effectively had the crash missed. Unfortunately, the debris field was quite large from Karam’s crash and a piece of the nosecone struck Wilson in the helmet. Sadly, Sunday was not the first time that a driver has been killed in a major open-wheel race by being hit in the head by debris. Ayrton Senna is one, albeit a far more grotesque example. Henry Surtees, son of World Champion John Surtees, is another.

What we had here is a situation where the absolute highest level of professionalism by both the broadcast booth and the production truck is paramount.  Unfortunately, it’s precisely where a decent-to-quite-enjoyable broadcast went straight into the john.

At the time, NBCSN had just aired an interview with Chip Ganassi where Ganassi was touting Karam’s great day. That’s fine and all. The crash happened and viewers saw reaction shots that were rather unnecessary. We didn’t see the debris hit Wilson live, but we did see Wilson hit the inside wall exiting turn 1 after striking the nosecone.

Given the situation, there was a fair amount of confusion involved here since Wilson was not principally involved. However, given the amount of hustle from the Holmatro Safety Team, the booth quickly realized that they had a serious situation on their hands.

Now, we’ve been through situations like this in the past. They all bite. I’d rather not have to deal with them. However, there is a fairly strict protocol involved. Wait for updates from official sources. Try not to speculate. Given the circumstances, don’t show replays until you get some kind of idea of what you’re up against. Using Sunday as an example, NBCSN violated the last tenet at least because we did see multiple replays of Wilson’s impact with the nosecone from at least two different angles before we had any news on Wilson’s condition. That led to multiple replays airing on SportsCenter and various other sports shows (and likely non-sports related shows as well).

The booth discussion also verged on the inappropriate as well. The main takeaway was that they tried to compare it to the incident in last year’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis where a winglet hit James Hinchcliffe in the visor, complete with replays and an extra zoom. Given the circumstances, that just wasn’t necessary. Most everyone watching the race remembers that incident. A verbal explanation would have been plenty.

Quite simply, that was overkill. Looking back to last year in Japan, NBCSN handled the situation with Jules Bianchi’s crash in a very professional manner. However, it should be noted that they weren’t providing the pictures there. Instead, NBCSN was airing the FOM World Feed from Suzuka. The World Feed never showed what happened to Bianchi. In the case of Sunday, they were (via the Lingner Group that produces the broadcasts). They could have handled the situation better than they did. They shouldn’t have shown the replay on-air. However, since the booth (Leigh Diffey, Steve Matchett and Paul Tracy) needed to understand what caused the situation, they could have watched the replays during a commercial, saw what happened, then conveyed that to the viewing audience (which I wouldn’t be shocked to find was another NBCSN record for the Verizon IndyCar Series given the sheer amount of Twitter mentions prior to the crash) in a professional manner while explaining the seriousness of the situation.

What we did get was gauche. Not cool. Understandably, the Karam-Wilson incident took the sails out of the race. Had it not happened, the race would have been remembered for a number of wrecks, Graham Rahal confronting Tristan Vautier, a fox running across the track and the seven-wide restart. Most of that would have reflected positively on the series. Unfortunately, Sunday ended up being a black eye for INDYCAR, and NBCSN didn’t help any with the situation.

Wilson was a great racer, one that had fallen on tough times due to the merry-go-round that seems to happen with seats in IndyCar.  Regardless, he was a very competitive individual who could shine if given the opportunity in any type of racecar.  He was the first man ever to win for Dale Coyne Racing, a veritable feat of strength when he pulled it off at Watkins Glen in 2009. He even sold shares of himself in order to raise the money necessary to race for Minardi in 2003. By all indications, Wilson was a very friendly individual and will be missed sorely in the IndyCar paddock.

Irwin Tools Night Race

Saturday night saw the Sprint Cup Series return to the high-banked Bristol Motor Speedway for 500 laps of action. If you watched Countdown to Green Saturday night, you probably noticed a lot more emphasis on the driver introductions and opening ceremonies. That was a welcome change from the pre-race analysis that we usually get, but it also contrasted with a sticking point viewers had with ESPN in past years. Fans wanted to see them, but ESPN intentionally chose not to show them. The reasoning given at the time was that ESPN would have to license the songs to air the ceremonies. As we know, music licensing isn’t cheap. Apparently, that was not an issue for NBCSN. As a result, pre-race was a bit more interesting than normal.

According to officials, approximately 150,000 tickets were distributed for Saturday night’s race (140,000 paid chaps, plus 10,000 more via giveaways). It was just short of a full house at Bristol. Those fans in attendance were treated to a decent show.

Action at Bristol comes fast and furious. If you’re going to discuss something, you have to make it quick. If you’re too slow, you might mask something important. In the case of NBCSN Saturday night, they missed Kyle Busch taking the lead from Carl Edwards on lap 281 due to a discussion of the pit-road setup stemming from Martin Truex Jr.’s unscheduled pit stop. Yes, we saw the pass, but it was like it didn’t happen. Granted, I know that the pit-road setup at Bristol is unique in NASCAR (such setups used to be a bit more common, but started to go away in the 1990s).

Unlike recent Bristol races, it got to the point where the upper groove got too much rubber, forcing drivers to go lower to make speed. It’s a similar setup to what Martinsville had with the grounded corners that allowed for side-by-side racing…until the chunk of concrete came out to play and smashed in Jeff Gordon’s nose. As a result, the second half of the race saw some good racing for position. NBCSN was prepared to give viewers that action.

The first half of the race was effectively a Joe Gibbs Racing benefit as the team led the first 224 laps of the race. With very few lead changes, coverage seemed to alternate between the front of the field and further down the order. Passing is as difficult now at Bristol as it was before the 2007 resurfacing.

Post-race coverage was about average, but given that the race ended earlier than expected, a bit thin. Viewers saw a few driver interviews, result and point checks prior to the start of the NASCAR America post-race, which also started about ten minutes early. I would have liked to see more driver interviews, especially since the NASCAR America Post-Race show was nearly completely centered on race winner Joey Logano. I do find the idea of peeking on the post-race press conferences to be a pretty good idea and something worth keeping in the future. Having said that, if you’re going to give viewers what amounts to 35 minutes of post-race coverage, I’d like to see more than five drivers interviewed.

Overall, I felt that NBCSN did a decent job with the race. The most important stories in the race got covered to the degree that they needed to be and I didn’t find that any one driver received preferential treatment of any kind. Yes, the JGR coverage was substantial, especially early on in the race, but that can happen when the front of the field is a benefit for one team. However, the focus seemed to expand as the race continued on. I do believe that NBCSN does need to work on giving viewers better explanations for what happens to put people out, though. For example, Matt Kenseth had an engine failure early on. While they did a good job giving viewers some kind of explanation for the smoke, we never got any kind of an interview with anyone from the No. 20 team.  While Kenseth had every right to decline an interview, it seemed like they didn’t try to get one.  The treatment reminded me of how Cup regulars treated problems in Xfinity races back in the early 1990s.

Food City 300

Friday night brought the Xfinity Series back to action at Bristol Motor Speedway for 300 laps of action. This race used to have a guaranteed 10 cautions. Not so much now.

During Countdown to Green, NBCSN profiled NXS points leader Chris Buescher. The rub on Buescher is that he’s a laid back chap, and part of that might extend back to his upbringing in Texas. There, we find that his family had a couple of acres of land when he was growing up that he could unwind on.

Unlike many drivers who eat, sleep and breathe racing, Buescher is still rather relaxed. When he’s home, he helps take care of dogs, both his own and others that he and his girlfriend foster. What stood out the most to me is that Buescher claimed that he’s claustrophobic in the piece. That’s interesting, given the fact that NXS (and by extension, Sprint Cup cars) are very tight inside. Wouldn’t be surprised if Buescher gets a little wound up during races because of it (see: on-track conflict earlier this season with teammate Darrell Wallace Jr.).

If you took Buescher out of the equation, the race was really dominated by Sprint Cup regulars. Busch and Denny Hamlin were up front early and often, earning the lion’s share of coverage. Meanwhile, the start of the race was marred by some kind of a chain reaction stack-up. I’m not really sure what precipitated it, but Hermie Sadler ended up on the apron and someone ran in the back of Derrike Cope and significantly damaged the No. 70. Viewers never saw a replay of what happened to make the start a complete mess.

The JJ Yeley crash on lap 213 was interesting to me. The booth seemed to indicate like it was a normal crash, but it seemed anything but. Dakoda Armstrong seemed to just plain drive through Yeley and take him out. I’m surprised that they didn’t take some kind of umbrage to the incident because it looked intentional from my viewpoint.

For as good as NBCSN is at covering on-track action, I find them to be deficient when it comes to explaining issues with non-marquee cars. FOX seemed to do a better job of that this season. For example, Dylan Kwasniewski retired from the race after his incident with Ryan Reed. I didn’t see Kwasniewski hit anything. My only explanation for the retirement is that the engine wouldn’t start on the No. 97. NBCSN didn’t really follow up here. We saw Kwasniewski get out of the Vroom Brands Chevrolet and walk to the ambulance, but that was it. I don’t like the lack of follow-up. Same thing with Michael Annett’s near-immediate retirement Saturday night in the Cup race. What happened there? Apparently, it was an engine problem. The man didn’t even get through turns 1 and 2 before he dropped off the pace. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t an S&P since no one who’s S&P’ing bothers to have someone write a preview of their race.

Post-race coverage was about average. Viewers saw a decent number of interviews, including one with a “pissed” Buescher, who lost because of an engine burble on the GWC.

I thought that the telecast was OK, despite my gripes that I’ve noted above. I’m always about inclusiveness with broadcasts, and I think NBCSN could have done a better job here with that.  It’s better than what we’ve had in past years, but I still think we’re missing stories.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is the final off-week of the season for the Sprint Cup Series. Many of the drivers have already jetted off for vacations in order to unwind prior to the Chase. Meanwhile, the Xfinity and Camping World Truck series will both be tackling road courses this weekend. The Verizon IndyCar Series has to carry their heavy hearts out to Sonoma for their season finale, while the World Endurance Championship returns from their post-Le Mans break. Here’s your listings.

Tuesday, August 25

2 a.m. - 3 a.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*# (from August 24)
6 a.m. - 7 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from August 24)
7 a.m. - 8 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from August 24)
5 p.m. - 6 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1

Wednesday, August 26

3 a.m. - 4 a.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*# (from August 25)
6 a.m. - 7 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from August 25)
7 a.m. - 8 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from August 25)
4:30 p.m. - 5 p.m.The States of NASCARNBC Sports Network#
5 p.m. - 6 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
10 p.m. - 11 p.m.Bike Road Racing: Cookstown, Ireland, Part No. 2CBS Sports Network*/

Thursday, August 27

1 a.m. - 2 a.m.Bike Road Racing: Cookstown, Ireland, Part No. 2CBS Sports Network*/#
2 a.m. - 3 a.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*# (from August 26)
4 a.m. - 5 a.m.Bike Road Racing: Cookstown, Ireland, Part No. 1CBS Sports Network*/#
5 a.m. - 6 a.m.Bike Road Racing: Cookstown, Ireland, Part No. 2CBS Sports Network*/#
6 a.m. - 7 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from August 26)
7 a.m. - 8 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from August 26)
4:30 p.m. - 5 p.m.The States of NASCARNBC Sports Network#
5 p.m. - 6 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.K&N Pro Series West NAPA/Toyota 150NBC Sports Network*/ (from August 22)
9 p.m. - 10 p.m.TORC Series: Rumble on the River, Part No. 2FOX Sports 2*/# (from May 17)
10 p.m. - 11 p.m.TORC Series: The Chicagoland Slam, Part No. 1FOX Sports 2*/ (from June 18)
11 p.m. - 12 a.m.K&N Pro Series West NAPA/Toyota 150NBC Sports Network*/# (from August 22)

Friday, August 28

1 a.m. - 2 a.m.Road to IndyNBC Sports Network#
2 a.m. - 3 a.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 2*# (from August 27)
6 a.m. - 7 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from August 27)
7 a.m. - 8 a.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network*# (from August 27)
2:30 p.m. - 4 p.m.XFINITY Series Practice No. 1NBC Sports Network
4 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.NASCAR America No. 1NBC Sports Network
4:30 p.m. - 6 p.m.XFINITY Series Happy HourNBC Sports Network
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR America No. 2NBC Sports Network
7 p.m. - 8 p.m.Whelen Modified/Southern Modified Tour Bush's Beans 150NBC Sports Network*/ (from August 19)

Saturday, August 29

9 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.Empty Cup: Quest for the 1992 NASCAR ChampionshipFOX Sports 1#
9:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.Camping World Truck Series Practice No. 1FOX Sports 1
10:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.BEING: Stewart-Haas RacingFOX Sports 1#
11 a.m. - 11:30 p.m.Mobil 1's The GridCBS Sports Network
11:30 a.m. - 12 p.m.Formula DRIFT: Monroe InsiderCBS Sports Network
11:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.Camping World Truck Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1
12 p.m. - 1 p.m.Trans-Am Series Next Dimension 100CBS Sports Network*/ (from August 15)
12:15 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.XFINITY Series QualifyingNBC Sports Network
1:30 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.Verizon IndyCar Series Happy HourNBC Sports Network
2:30 p.m. - 3 p.m.Countdown to GreenNBC Sports Network
3 p.m. - 6 p.m.XFINITY Series Road America 180 Fired Up by JohnsonvilleNBC Sports Network
5:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.Camping World Truck Series QualifyingFOX Sports 2
6:30 p.m. - 8 p.m.Verizon IndyCar Series QualifyingNBC Sports Network

Sunday, August 30

3 a.m. - 4:30 a.m.Camping World Truck Series Happy HourFOX Sports 1*# (from August 29)
4:30 a.m. - 6 a.m.Camping World Truck Series QualifyingFOX Sports 1*# (from August 29)
7 a.m. - 9 a.m.FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of the Nürburgring, Part No. 1FOX Sports 2
7:30 a.m. - 9 a.m.motoGP World Championship Grand Prix of Great BritainFOX Sports 1
9 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.Formula DRIFT: Monroe, Part No. 1CBS Sports Network*/# (from July 24)
9 a.m. - 1 p.m.FIA World Endurance Championship 6 Hours of the Nürburgring, Part No. 2FOX Sports 1
9:30 a.m. - 10 a.m.Formula DRIFT: Monroe, Part No. 2CBS Sports Network*/# (from July 25)
11 a.m. - 12 p.m.Bike Road Racing: Cookstown, Ireland, Part No. 2CBS Sports Network*/#
1 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.NCWTS SetupFOX Sports 1
1:30 p.m. - 4 p.m.Camping World Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250kFOX Sports 1
2 p.m. - 4 p.m.Pirelli World Challenge: Miller Motorsports Park, GT/GTA/GT Cup ClassesCBS Sports Network*/ (from August 22-23)
3 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.IndyCar Chronicles: Ryan Hunter-ReayNBC Sports Network#
3:30 p.m. - 4 p.m.IndyCar Chronicles: Scott DixonNBC Sports Network#
4 p.m. - 5 p.m.Moto3: Great BritainFOX Sports 2*
4 p.m. - 6 p.m.DTM: MoscowCBS Sports Network*/ (from August 29-30)
4 p.m. - 8 p.m.Verizon IndyCar Series GoPro Grand Prix of SonomaNBC Sports Network
5 p.m. - 6 p.m.Moto2: Great BritainFOX Sports 2*
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.motoGP World Championship Grand Prix of Great BritainFOX Sports 2*/#
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.Bike Road Racing: Northern Ireland, Part No. 1CBS Sports Network*/
11 p.m. - 12 a.m.K&N Pro Series West NAPA/Toyota 150NBC Sports Network*/# (from August 22)
11 p.m. - 1 a.m.Pirelli World Challenge: Miller Motorsports Park, GT/GTA/GT Cup ClassesCBS Sports Network*/# (from August 22-23)

Monday, August 31

1 a.m. - 3 a.m.DTM: MoscowCBS Sports Network*/# (from August 29-30)
3 a.m. - 4 a.m.Bike Road Racing: Northern Ireland, Part No. 1CBS Sports Network*/#
3 p.m. - 5 p.m.Camping World Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250kFOX Sports 1*/# (from August 30)
5 p.m. - 6 p.m.NASCAR AmericaNBC Sports Network
6 p.m. - 7 p.m.NASCAR RaceHubFOX Sports 1

* – Tape Delayed
/- Highlighted Coverage
# – Repeat Coverage

I will provide critiques of the Xfinity Series from Road America and the Camping World Truck Series race from Canadian Tire Motorsports Park for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex will cover Sunday’s SuperChevyStores.com/Allen Crowe 100 from the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below, or contact me through the email address provided on the website in my bio. Also, if you want to “like” me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, please click on the appropriate icons. If you would like to contact either of NASCAR’s media partners, click on either of the links below.

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As always, if you choose to contact a network by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.

About the author

Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.

Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.

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I had high hopes for NBC’s NASCAR coverage. Sorry to say that it appears to be the same fluffy NASCAR approved script coverage that Fox gave us. Home Team Toyota. Kyle Busch. Keep the camera out of the stands Sunday. GoodYear Sunoco shilling. Ignore the obvious problems in the truck and Xfinity series and talk about them like anyone still cares, let alone watches. Ignoring the fact that the only time the cars actually pass each other is in the pits and on the restarts following invisible debris cautions. Treating the fans with open contempt by acting as if the race is exciting while 43 cars follow each other single file around and around. Rick Allen’s phony game show host voice has worn thin. The best thing one can say about NBC’s coverage thus far is that there are no Waltrips or Larry MacRentme. Yet!

rufus leroy

500 LAPS not miles.
Proof reader must have been off today.

Half Fast


I think you were too harsh on the IndyCar coverage. There was no way to know, at the time it happened, the severity of the accident. it was only with hindsight that it turned out to be a fatal accident. it did not look that bad at the time, so the coverage was appropriate for what they knew then.

Afterwards when the race was over and the severity of the accident became apparent, the mood turned somber


I agree. I don’t think they realized the severity of the accident at the time and it did not look bad, so I don’t blame them for showing replays. I think NBC’s coverage was appropriate. This was a pretty freak accident. I don’t think anyone expected Justin to be seriously injured. Only until later did they realize the seriousness of it and the mood in the booth changed completely. I will give them a pass on this given the information they had at the time.

Bill W.

Several time during qualifying and during the race I thought I was watching Fox coverage and not NBC. The cameras spend entirely to much time on the in-car camera showing the #15 sponsor instead of the racing. Sometimes it would be better if the announcers would just sit back and not say anything.Just to much talking during the race.


You are a better person than I am, Bill W, to keep watching qualifying. I hate the group qualifying format so I just wait to see who qualifies where and don’t pay attention to it.

As I said, I didn’t stay home to watch the Bristol race. The Xfinity coverage was all about the Cup drivers – yes they mentioned CB’s name once in a while but not enough to ease the boredom for me.

NBC has apparently received their script from NASCAR so that they make sure they mention all of the “Official whatevers of NASCAR” in the proper order during the broadcast, including our old favorites “2 cans of Sunoco fuel” and “2 or 4 Goodyear tires). Nope, I didn’t hear it on the Bristol broadcast but the last few races have taken on a “Fox” aspect that has me tired. The only saving grace being – No Waltrips.


When I saw the shot of Michael Andretti, I got a uh oh not good feeling.

John C.

NBC has not impressed me at all this season. If I never see another “Last lap pit” scroll under the running order I’ll be happy as s**t. That scroll lasts WAY TOO LONG. Just show me the interval time, that’s all I need.
As for the Bristol race, for all anyone knew there were only 10 cars on the track. If your driver wasn’t in the top ten, you never saw them. You only saw other cars when they were being lapped. Pathetic coverage is all I can say.

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