It’s Labor Day Weekend, folks. With NASCAR’s scheduling move for 2015, you know that means. 90-degree weather, humidity and Darlington. Yes, it was a throwback weekend at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval. From what I can tell, the response was quite positive. There were more butts in the seats Sunday night, and the new package created a different type of race that recalls events from before the most recent repave.
Before we get into the critique itself, NBC Sports unveiled a broadcast booth treat for next weekend. Carl Edwards will make his return Friday night, along with Leigh Diffey and Steve Letarte for the Xfinity Series Virginia 529 College Savings 250. I found last year that Edwards’s work on ESPN improved with time in the booth. He’s no longer completely clueless about how a race broadcast works. Being on NBCSN will be a different experience as compared to ESPN, but I think he should be able to adjust without too much of an issue. We’ll see how he works out.
Bojangles’ Southern 500
Sunday night saw the culmination of throwback weekend, 500 difficult miles at Darlington. With all the dang yellows, it was a throwback length as well. I thought I’d never seen a Southern 500 (without rain delays) that took that long and I was right. If you exclude the rain-shortened 1999 and 2000 races, this Southern 500 was the slowest since 1977. There was plenty to look at, so let’s dive in.
NASCAR America Sunday saw a couple of pieces of note. One simply asked drivers which legends that they would like to race with the most. As expected, there were a number of drivers Ex: Danica Patrick, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman (even though he did once) who wanted to race with Dale Earnhardt. Probably the most interesting choice was Denny Hamlin picking Tim Richmond. Richmond doesn’t have a large body of work in NASCAR due to HIV and AIDS ending his career in the middle of his prime, but the 1990s would have been quite a bit more interesting had Richmond been around, challenging Earnhardt, Rusty Wallace, Davey Allison, Mark Martin, Bill Elliott and more.
Another piece had Kyle Petty talking to Bill and Chase Elliott about a number of different topics. Chase, unlike other sons of racers, is more than willing to co-opt the signs of his father’s past and try to make it his own. Petty is not willing to do that. It appears that Chase has a more laid-back relationship with Bill as compared to Kyle’s relationship with Richard (who he often refers to as “King”).
Ken Squier narrated a piece on the history of Darlington Raceway, stretching all the way from Harold Brasington creating the track out of a peanut patch to the present. I thought that it did a pretty good job in capturing the evolution of the track over the past 65 years. I also liked NBCSN airing the legend introductions prior to the race that were part of driver introductions. NASCAR has done an OK job at preserving history in recent years (obviously helped by the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte).
The ‘70s dress-up in the booth and the NBC stage in the infield was kind of silly. I could have done without it, but it did help set the mood. Kyle Petty is probably thinking that he should have chosen different pants. Apparently, the suede pants he wore stuck to his legs so tightly that he couldn’t take them off. That can charitably be called a problem.
The NBC logo on the broadcast was clearly a throwback, but for the time period that Darlington was mainly throwing back to, it really wasn’t used that much. In the early 1970s, NBC used a logo that was two lines with N and B in the top line with C underneath. In 1975, they introduced the N logo that stuck around into the 1980s that was dissed on an early episode of Saturday Night Live. The ID graphics on-screen weren’t really from anything I could find from that time period. It seems like they were purpose designed for last weekend. I guess I was expecting more there.
I was also very happy to see the sponsors get involved in the throwback theme as well. Valvoline went all-in with Dale Earnhardt Jr., not only breaking out its 1981 scheme that Cale Yarborough raced for M.C. Anderson, but using its old logo as well. Coca-Cola used its classic 1979 commercial with Mean Joe Greene in the broadcast as well.
However, the biggest throwback moment in the race broadcast was when the regular booth stepped aside on lap 45 in favor of Squier, Ned Jarrett and Dale Jarrett for a booth of legends. OK, I’m not so sure I’d consider Dale Jarrett to be a broadcasting legend. Working for seven years does not make you a legend, despite generally being solid during that time. Dale’s performance was similar to what I was already used to from ESPN and the standalone Xfinity races this season (remember, he was in the booth at Road America, eight days prior).
Going in, I was interested in a couple of aspects of this. One, how long would they call the race. For instance, the last time Ned Jarrett was in the booth was around 2009 during an ESPN broadcast of an Xfinity Series race from Charlotte. He was clearly a booth guest back then and really didn’t get to say much. That wasn’t the case here. The legends booth called the race for roughly one-quarter of the distance. The regular booth just laid back and enjoyed themselves. From what I could tell, the reaction was very positive from almost everyone involved.
Dale Jarrett clearly enjoyed the experience. After his time on-air was up, he sent this tweet:
What a night. One of the highlights of my life, joining Ken Squier and dad in the booth. Thank you NBC. @NASCARonNBC @NBCSports
— Dale Jarrett (@DaleJarrett) September 7, 2015
Another was how Squier was going to do on play-by-play. My main fear here was that Squier was going to get up there and make a ton of mistakes due to being away from calling races for so long (Sunday was his first real booth work during a Cup race since 1997). He did make a couple of errors, but was otherwise clean and very enjoyable to listen to. It should be noted that he’s been doing quite a bit more NASCAR work recently with all his voiceover work. I also felt that viewers may have gotten more information than normal, which is a good thing. Most of all, it sounded like Squier was having an absolute ball in the booth.
Compared to all the other play-by-play commentators these days, Squier has a completely different cadence. After listening to Mike Joy, Rick Allen, Leigh Diffey or Bob Varsha for as long as I have, it does take some getting used to. Squier also tends to commentate with a bit more of a flourish. I believe that it comes from his experience in radio. In addition to his work with MRN Radio, Squier owns and operates WDEV, an independent radio station in Vermont that he has worked at off and on since World War II and has owned outright since his father’s death in 1979. For younger viewers, Squier’s style might take some getting used to. Granted, it’s something that only takes a YouTube session to familiarize themselves.
Overall, I enjoyed having the legends booth call part of Sunday’s race. It created a completely different feel for the broadcast, but one that was great to see. The portion of the race that they called was actually pretty exciting and the commentary made it that much better.
When the regular booth was in place, viewers saw a pretty good broadcast, much more inclusive than Saturday’s race was. Of course, when you have the sheer amount of chaos that Sunday night’s race had, a lot of drivers end up at the front at some point in the race, and you also have a lot of stories to tell. NBC did a good job of keeping track of those stories too.
Since the race took nearly 4.5 hours to run, there was very limited post-race coverage. Since NBC had to get to the local news (unless you live on the west coast), there was only a brief interview with winner Edwards after his backflip before NBC left the air. If you wanted more coverage, you had to switch over to NBCSN, where NASCAR Victory Lap became what amounted to the NASCAR America Post-Race show. I doubt that was the original plan.
For 2016, NBC should lobby NASCAR to move up the start of the race. Last year, the race started at something like 6:30 p.m. to guard against the very scenario we saw Sunday night. That might need to happen again. Imagine if it had actually rained, like what was predicted. Jeepers. It could have been like Daytona all over again. As much as I like racing, hanging around in the Media Center until 5:30 a.m. for a non-endurance race is not my cup of tea.
Overall, the broadcast was fairly inclusive and quite enjoyable to watch. Definitely my favorite of the two Darlington broadcasts. The throwback weekend at Darlington seems to have been nothing short of a success, despite the apparent increased presence (according to multiple media members) of the Confederate Battle Flag (which doesn’t really shock me). Darlington Raceway worked on this weekend for 18 months and by all means should repeat it next year, perhaps with a different time period to focus on.
By all means, NBC should join up again. Maybe leave the jackets straight out of Match Game ’74 and suede pants at home, though.
VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200
Saturday afternoon brought the Xfinity Series back to NBC for 200 miles of action. Fairly quickly, the race became a Joe Gibbs Racing show.
Admittedly, Saturday’s race didn’t have much to write home about. Much of the pre-race coverage was centered on the Xfinity Dash 4 Cash, which came to a close at the end of the race. Surprisingly, there was next to no mention as to why Kyle Busch had to start at the rear. The explanation of his lap in qualifying being overturned due to the blend line violation was given after the race. According to NASCAR’s result sheet, he had to start in the absolute back because he chose to skip driver introductions as well. That always goes over just swimmingly. Also, very little, if any reference to the competition caution for lap 25. I already knew about it a couple of hours before the race, but not everyone religiously checks Twitter in the hours leading up to the race.
During the race, the coverage was centered upon the JGR drivers (Busch, Hamlin and Daniel Suarez), in addition to Kevin Harvick and Chris Buescher. If your favorite driver wasn’t listed there, he had to do something to get himself noticed. That likely meant hitting the wall, which happened with a fair amount of regularity.
That said, there were a number of interesting stories in Saturday’s race. One was the fuel mileage story that nearly decided the race. I doubt the booth was expecting it. They likely figured that since it was 90-something degrees that no one would press their luck on such a strategy. Wrong. The only fuel story that was seemingly referenced was the fact that Hamlin’s team failed to get his car full of fuel under the final yellow. Ultimately, that didn’t even matter because he won anyway.
When NBC created the schedule, it booked the race into a three-hour block (half-hour for Countdown to Green, 2.5 hours for the race). No one expected the race to be done in 85 minutes. As a result of the race’s record pace, viewers saw roughly 50 minutes of post-race coverage. It was typical at first (regular interviews, point and result checks), then moved into the kind of content you would normally see on NASCAR America Post-Race after Sprint Cup races. We saw additional interviews, footage from the press conferences (although nothing from Hamlin’s – perhaps his quotes weren’t all that interesting). Finally, we got a bunch of post-race analysis from Krista Voda, Petty and Dale Jarrett. I generally liked what I saw here.
While the post-race coverage was quite nice – although given the amount of time they had, I think they could have fit in more interviews – the race itself was way too focused on just a few teams. It was frustrating watching this race. The first 50 something laps were quite competitive, then nothing but talk about Hamlin, Busch, Harvick and Suarez, with a slight detour to Buescher and one Through the Field. I felt like I just wasn’t getting a good shot of what was going on. It’s frustrating.
That’s all for this week. By this time next week, we’ll hopefully know who’s going to be in the Chase. Of course, that’s assuming that stupid stuff doesn’t go down. We all remember what happened in 2013 when MWR apparently panicked. We’ve got the Sprint Cup and Xfinity series back at Richmond for their second visits of the year. Here are your listings.
Tuesday, September 8
|2 a.m. - 3 a.m.||GP2 Series: Italy||NBC Sports Network*/ (from September 5-6)|
|6 a.m. - 7 a.m.||NASCAR America||NBC Sports Network*# (from September 7)|
|7 a.m. - 8 a.m.||NASCAR America||NBC Sports Network*# (from September 7)|
|11 a.m. - 1 p.m.||Blancpain Sprint Series: Algarve||CBS Sports Network*/# (from September 5-6)|
|1 p.m. - 3 p.m.||Pirelli World Challenge: Sonoma, GT/GTA/GT Cup Classes||CBS Sports Network*/# (from August 29-30)|
|4:30 p.m. - 5 p.m.||NASCAR Scan all 43||NBC Sports Network|
|5 p.m. - 6 p.m.||NASCAR America||NBC Sports Network|
|6 p.m. - 7 p.m.||NASCAR RaceHub||FOX Sports 1|
Wednesday, September 9
|6 a.m. - 7 a.m.||NASCAR America||NBC Sports Network*# (from September 8)|
|7 a.m. - 8 a.m.||NASCAR America||NBC Sports Network*# (from September 8)|
|4:30 p.m. - 5 p.m.||Global Rallycross Lites: Washington, DC||NBC Sports Network*/# (from August 15)|
|5 p.m - 6 p.m.||NASCAR America||NBC Sports Network|
|6 p.m. - 7 p.m.||NASCAR RaceHub||FOX Sports 1|
|8 p.m. - 9 p.m.||Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America: VIR||CBS Sports Network*/ (from August 22)|
|9 p.m. - 10 p.m.||Pirelli World Challenge: Sonoma, GTS Class||CBS Sports Network*/ (from August 29-30)|
|11 p.m. - 12 a.m.||Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America: VIR||CBS Sports Network*/# (from August 22)|
Thursday, September 10
|12 a.m. - 1 a.m.||Pirelli World Challenge: Sonoma, GTS Class||CBS Sports Network*/# (from August 29-30)|
|6 a.m. - 7 a.m.||NASCAR America||NBC Sports Network*# (from September 9)|
|7 a.m. - 8 a.m.||NASCAR America||NBC Sports Network*# (from September 9)|
|2:30 p.m. - 4 p.m.||XFINITY Series Practice No. 1||NBC Sports Network|
|4 p.m. - 5 p.m.||NASCAR America||NBC Sports Network|
|5 p.m. - 6 p.m.||XFINITY Series Happy Hour||NBC Sports Network|
|6 p.m. - 7 p.m.||NASCAR RaceHub||FOX Sports 1|
|7:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.||K&N Pro Series West NAPA Auto Parts Idaho 208||NBC Sports Network*/ (from September 5)|
|8:30 p.m. - 9 p.m.||NASCAR Scan all 43||NBC Sports Network#|
|9 p.m. - 10 p.m.||TORC Series: The Chicagoland Slam, Part No. 2||FOX Sports 2*/# (from June 19)|
|10 p.m. - 11 p.m.||TORC Series: Big House Brawl, Part No. 1||FOX Sports 2*/ (from June 27)|
Friday, September 11
|6 a.m. - 6:30 a.m.||The States of NASCAR||NBC Sports Network#|
|6:30 a.m. - 7 a.m.||The States of NASCAR||NBC Sports Network#|
|7 a.m. - 7:30 a.m.||NASCAR Scan all 43||NBC Sports Network#|
|7:30 a.m. - 8 a.m.||NASCAR Scan all 43||NBC Sports Network#|
|8 a.m. - 8:30 a.m.||NASCAR Scan all 43||NBC Sports Network#|
|8:30 a.m. - 9 a.m.||NASCAR Scan all 43||NBC Sports Network#|
|10 a.m. - 12 p.m.||Sprint Cup Series Practice No. 1||NBC Sports Network|
|12 p.m. - 1 p.m.||K&N Pro Series West NAPA Auto Parts Idaho 208||NBC Sports Network*/# (from September 5)|
|1 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.||Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour||NBC Sports Network|
|2:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.||Whelen Southern Modified Tour Hampton 150||NBC Sports Network*/ (from September 5)|
|3:30 p.m. - 5 p.m.||XFINITY Series Qualifying||NBC Sports Network|
|5 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.||NASCAR America||NBC Sports Network|
|5:30 p.m. - 7 p.m.||Sprint Cup Series Qualifying||NBC Sports Network|
|7 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.||Countdown to Green||NBC Sports Network|
|7:30 p.m. - 10 p.m.||XFINITY Series Virginia 529 College Savings 250||NBC Sports Network|
Saturday, September 12
|6 a.m. - 7 a.m.||Pirelli World Challenge: Sonoma, GTS Class||CBS Sports Network*/# (from August 29-30)|
|7 a.m. - 8 a.m.||Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America: VIR||CBS Sports Network*/# (from August 22)|
|10 a.m. - 11 a.m.||Trans-Am Series: Mid-Ohio Muscle Car Challenge||CBS Sports Network*/ (from August 15)|
|11 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.||Mobil 1's The Grid||CBS Sports Network|
|3:30 p.m. - 5 p.m.||Sprint Cup Series Qualifying||NBC Sports Network*# (from September 11)|
|4 p.m. - 5 p.m.||NASCAR RaceDay||FOX Sports 2|
|5 p.m. - 6 p.m.||TORC Series: Big House Brawl||FOX Sports 2*/# (from June 27)|
|5 p.m. - 7 p.m.||NASCAR America Saturday||NBC Sports Network|
|7 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.||Countdown to Green||NBC Sports Network|
|7:30 p.m. - 11 p.m.||Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400||NBC Sports Network|
|11 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.||NASCAR America Post-Race||NBC Sports Network|
Sunday, September 13
|3 a.m. - 3:30 a.m.||NASCAR Victory Lane||FOX Sports 1|
|5:30 a.m. - 6 a.m.||NASCAR Victory Lane||FOX Sports 1#|
|7 a.m. - 7:30 a.m.||NASCAR Victory Lane||FOX Sports 1#|
|7:30 a.m. - 9 a.m.||motoGP World Championship Grand Prix of San Marino & Riviera di Rimini||FOX Sports 1|
|2:30 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.||DTM: Oschersleben||CBS Sports Network*/ (from September 12-13)|
|4 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.||NASCAR Victory Lane||FOX Sports 1#|
|4 p.m. - 6 p.m.||Red Bull Global RallyCross: Los Angeles||NBC*/ (from September 12-13)|
|5 p.m. - 6 p.m.||Moto3: San Marino||FOX Sports 2*|
|6 p.m. - 7 p.m.||Moto2: San Marino||FOX Sports 2*|
|7 p.m. - 8 p.m.||motoGP World Championship Grand Prix of San Marino & Riviera di Rimini||FOX Sports 2*/#|
|11:30 p.m. - 12:30 a.m.||NASCAR Victory Lap||NBC Sports Network|
Monday, September 14
|6 a.m. - 7 a.m.||NASCAR Victory Lap||NBC Sports Network*# (from September 13)|
|7 a.m. - 8 a.m.||NASCAR Victory Lap||NBC Sports Network*# (from September 13)|
|8 a.m. - 9 a.m.||NASCAR Victory Lap||NBC Sports Network*# (from September 13)|
|12 p.m. - 2 p.m.||NASCAR 120: Federated Auto Parts 400||NBC Sports Network*/# (from September 12)|
|5:30 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.||NASCAR America||NBC Sports Network|
|6 p.m. - 7 p.m.||NASCAR RaceHub||FOX Sports 1|
* – Tape Delayed
/ – Highlighted Coverage
# – Repeat Coverage
I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Xfinity series races from Richmond for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch. For the Annex this week, I’m going to go back a couple of weeks and cover the Trans-Am Series Next Dimension 100 presented by FirstEnergy from Mid-Ohio, held as support to the Xfinity Series. Heck went down in that race and I intend to use the coverage to explain just how the deuce Tomy Drissi could possibly draw the penalties that he was recently assessed. The whole affair was ridiculous.
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.
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 think in a way it wasn’t a good idea to have Ken and Ned call the race. It just shows how bad SOME of the current announcers (not naming names) are and what it should be like.
haha – that’s true – it does show that simplicity and knowledge trump all the cackling and boogitys and hollywood hotels, etc. i hope MW is far far far away from broadcasting next year, he’s just awful. I’m also enjoying Burton and Letarte is figuring it out. Driver / Crew chief combos are great – just gotta find the right one. is Gordon going to Fox next year?
Yes, it was bad to remind us of what we’re missing. On occasion during the CBS era, I would tire of Squier’s sometimes more, um, literary delivery. But seeing that next to the currently prevalent “announcer as PR staff” model that we are saddled with makes me sorry I ever complained. They ought to be begging Squier and Jarrett to do a segment like that every so often. But they won’t, because it so sharply contrasts the modern-day “NASCAR is always right” driver-turned analyst with Ned Jarrett’s “I saw this happening before the replay camera did” booth work.
they had hof members there that raced at darlington. where was dw? does his contract with fox forbid him appearing on nbc? we all know that dw would have had something to say, but though that was odd.
I don’t believe Darrell’s FOX contract would forbid him from being at Darlington for the throwback weekend. However, it does appear that he wasn’t there. It’s a shame. He missed a good time.
Waltrip would not have been the only legend/hall-of-famer/etc present, therefore it wouldn’t have been all about him, therefore he was uninterested in participating.
I for one am glad he stayed home.
Loved hearing Squire and Ned Jarrett in the booth. It was like listening to a Dodgers game with Vin Scully. The old school announcers just have a simple quiet call that is missing today.
Amen, Did you notice that Squier and Jarrett were actually silent at times obviously not feeling the need to fill every moment with inane chatter. Possibly because it was a “throwback” weekend NBC gave us a break from the focus on Home Team Toyota and actually only covered Kryle Douche when merited. The coverage was actually better than the race.
That was probably my favorite part of the whole throwback bit. The return to the regular booth was a downer. Squier and the elder Jarrett are still quite capable despite being 80+, and it would be nice to see more of them while we still have them.
Well said Tim.
I loved the whole idea, including the retro clothing. What I did not like was the usual repeating things a thousand times as if you are stupid or just landed from another galaxy, fresh off the mother ship and you don’t have a clue.
…And Rutledge Woods if finally hit my last straw., go away Mr. Bobble Head.
Kb, I totally agree about Rutledge Wood. Couldn’t stand him in the American version of “Top Gear” and I can’t stand listening to him during NASCAR races.