Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: NBCSN App Missing NASCAR’s Speed

Rain delays are brutal in NASCAR for a bunch of reasons.  It kills exposure for the race, for one.  For us at Frontstretch, it messes up our article schedule for days on end.  But for all the frustration she causes some good can always come out of Mother Nature’s wrath.  For example, certain drivers that might not normally get any exposure wind up with plenty of air time.  Prior to Monday’s Pennsylvania 400, NBCSN interviewed all 40 starters on-air.  That must have been a first.

Pennsylvania 400

On Sunday, all we could do was sit around, wait as the Air Titans did their thing and watch DeLana Harvick throw her hands up in the air at the antics of son Keelan.  It’s the perfect place for this clip to be used to represent DeLana’s thoughts because Kevin Harvick is apparently Frank Drebin.

That said, I loved being able to hear from everyone during NBCSN’s coverage of the rain delay.  It truly gave fans a look at all sides of the grid.  While it’s legitimately impossible to do every week, especially given that NBC Sports is short-staffed for the next three or so weeks because of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, I do want more interviews prior to the races.  Why?  Because it can help set storylines for the day, perhaps introduce viewers to more drivers and cuts down on the analysis.  Let’s face it.  I like Krista Voda, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett.  They actually work together really well.  Most fans tuning in for NASCAR America Sunday or Countdown to Green aren’t really there for them.  Give viewers more content with the drivers.

With the race postponed, thousands of fans Monday found themselves scrambling to watch live through their phones. I tried using the NBC Sports app for a different experience, trying to match what others were dong but I only wound up frustrated. Not only is it a significant downgrade from television but the feed kept freezing intermittently.  By the time the yellow flew on lap 67 for the Aric AlmirolaJeb Burton crash, for example I was four caution laps behind the actual telecast and three laps behind NASCAR.com’s live timing and scoring.  I closed out, reopened the feed and it suddenly jumped to lap 76.

My guess is that since the race ran on Monday, there was a lot more strain on NBC Sports’ servers that support their streaming.  As a result, the feed was choppy.  It would freeze for sometimes minutes at a time.  With that happening, it’s pretty easy to end up 15 miles or more behind the race.

NBC Sports is typically better streaming on an actual computer as compared to FOX Sports GO.  However, I find FOX Sports GO to be a better experience on an iPhone.  As a result, June’s delayed race was much easier to watch for me, despite the fact that it had its own problems.

If you were in my boat on Monday, I’d like to hear your thoughts on the streaming.  Please post in the comments section.

Outside of the streaming issues, I felt that viewers got a decent amount of content on Monday.  There was a good amount of action for position and we got to see that.  Pocono clearly gave NBCSN more to work with than Indianapolis.  We got actual battles for the lead as pending weather left the field as a whole far more aggressive.  Those who watched the race on NBCSN or were at the track were likely satisfied with the on-track product.  I personally thought the racing between Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon was a highlight of the day, regardless of the fact that the two eventually came together and gifted Joey Logano the lead.

As for the fog that (combined with a threat of thunderstorms) ultimately ended the race, I can understand the caution and the move to stop the event.  It reminded me of the 2013 Rolex 24 at Daytona, a race which had a 105-minute long caution due to fog.  Much like at Pocono with NASCAR, Grand-Am had a rule stating that at Daytona, they could not race under green if they could not see the backstretch from the Sprint Tower.  As you can see here, you can’t see jack.

(Credit: Phil Allaway)
Yeah, fog makes things just a little hard to see.  This fog during the 2013 Rolex 24 made it impossible to drive through, a similar cloud to what we saw at Pocono Monday afternoon. (Credit: Phil Allaway)

During the final red flag, NBCSN interviewed drivers first via their radios, then once they exited their cars in the pits.  Once the weather threat closed in, that was it for the interviews.  There were plans to air NASCAR America Post-Race, but those plans were scrapped a few minutes into the red flag.  Once the race was called, there was a rather lengthy winners’ interview with Chris Buescher, along with result and point checks before NBCSN left the air.

Due to the Olympics, this past weekend marked the unexpected (to me, at least) Sprint Cup race pit reporting debut of Parker Kligerman.  Compared to his XFINITY race debut a couple of weeks ago at Loudon, I thought he did a great job, not just during the race but in practice as well.  While I have no doubt that Kligerman would rather be racing in Cup, he does have a future in broadcasting if driving doesn’t work out for him.

Pocono Mountains 150

Saturday brought the Camping World Truck Series back to Pocono Raceway for 60 laps of action.  However, that action quickly turned into a wreckfest.

Before the race began, I found Kenny Wallace’s sit-down interview with Rico Abreu to be the best part of the broadcast.  It also helped make a couple of aspects of the broadcast at Eldora make a little more sense.  The two racers talked about how Abreu got involved in motorsports back in California, Abreu’s long-time friendship with Kyle Larson, and more.  The end of the piece saw Abreu compare his driving style to that of Jack Hewitt.  This explains the cutaway to Hewitt in the stands at Eldora prior to the Aspen Dental Eldora Dirt Derby.  It was supposed to immediately follow the feature.

Back on Jul. 21 in our Newsletter I talked about how Wallace was probably the best chap on FOX Sports 1’s coverage from Eldora.  The Abreu piece was just an extension of that.  It’s clear that Wallace has great praise for Abreu’s abilities as a racer.  Also, the piece was racing and background-based.  There was no attempt to try to make it all about Abreu overcoming his stature to succeed, which is what I think some outlets would have tried to do.  Yes, it’s the first thing that many people notice about Abreu, but Wallace chose not to go for the cop out.  That was a good move.

Honestly, all I can take away from Saturday’s race is that it’s like everyone lost their minds.  Ridiculous.  Everyone seemed to be surprised that NASCAR chose not to throw the caution when Austin Hill smacked the wall on the first lap in Turn 2.  However, had they thrown it there, we basically wouldn’t have had much in the way of racing.  They never had more than six laps of green-flag competition in a row all day.  By halfway, I was face palming repeatedly.

(Photo: Matthew Thacker / NKP)
FOX did a good job covering a difficult race Saturday. (Photo: Matthew Thacker / NKP)

The second half of the race basically turned into a quest to see if Christopher Bell could get back onto the lead lap via Lucky Dogs.  He did, becoming (as far as I know) the second driver ever to earn five Lucky Dogs to get back on the lead lap, then finish in the top 10 of a NASCAR race.  The other driver to pull that off was Kyle Busch at Watkins Glen in 2006.

Since the race lasted so long with 45 percent of the event under yellow, post-race coverage was light.  Viewers got interviews with the podium finishers (William Byron, Cameron Hayley and Brett Moffitt), along with a quick points check before FOX Sports 1 left the air.

Honestly, this race was not a great one to watch.  I feel like the whole series made itself look bad.  The action on-track for position was few and far between because of the wrecks, although FOX Sports 1 did a good job covering and explaining what caused them.

U.S. Cellular 250

Saturday night, the XFINITY Series traveled to Iowa Speedway for their second visit of the year.  Here, we got to see what NBCSN is bringing to the table for their XFINITY standalone races.  It appears to be a little different than what they did last year.

According to a source with direct knowledge of the situation NBC Sports provided only talent at Iowa. Beyond that, NASCAR Productions is taking care of all broadcasting elements.  In this case, that meant Dave Burns and Dale Jarrett in the booth, while Ralph Sheheen and Jim Noble were in the pits.

Speaking of the pits, the support staff was cut as well.  Instead of having three pit reporters, it was just Noble and Sheheen working down there.  Also, they were working without pit spotters to help out.  Needless to say, it was a bit of a hustle for the two men in the pits on Saturday night.  At least it was comfortable weather….

Much like the ESPN broadcasts from Iowa in past years, viewers got a bit of a toned-down broadcast.  There were no extra analysts on-site.  Burns hosted Countdown to Green from the broadcast booth.

Countdown to Green was mainly dedicated to driver interviews, a philosophy which plays into what I wrote earlier.  Viewers want to see and hear from drivers.  It technically doesn’t even matter if the drivers that get airtime are their favorites but I don’t think they want to see “talking heads” at a desk.

There was also a piece where Daniel Suarez introduces himself to viewers and talks about his transition to racing in the XFINITY Series and learning English.  The move from Monterrey, Mexico to the U.S. Border may not be all that far in distance (its about the distance between Albany and New York City) but it was a whole new world for Suarez.  He struggled a smidge with learning English, no easy feat if you’re not a native speaker. It’s really very different than most other languages in regards to word order and the fact that the same words can have radically different meanings.

Suarez comes off here as someone who spent some time learning the ropes of the XFINITY Series, but he’s ready now to have at it with anyone.  You don’t go up and snatch a win away on merit from Kyle Busch if you’re not good.  He will be heard from before the season is out.

During the race, there was a lot more emphasis on racing for position and a much wider focus than we’ve become accustomed to over the past few months.  It was a breath of fresh air.  With no Cup regulars other than Brad Keselowski ‘whacking the race, the regulars had to be the show and they managed to put on a good one.

That said, there were some things that should be looked at for future standalone broadcasts (the next of which will be Mid-Ohio).  There were some sound synchronization issues early in the broadcast, especially with Brendan Gaughan’s in-car cameras.  Luckily, that was nipped in the bud by the competition caution, but it is worth looking at.

I also have no idea what happened to put Darrell Wallace, Jr. in the wall to bring out the fourth caution.  The broadcast quickly cut to Wallace against the wall in turn 2 and no replays were ever shown of the incident.  That’s not good.

The pit reporters often had to compensate for stuff that the cameras didn’t catch. For example, Noble pointed out that after Ryan Preece had damaged his fender, he came into the pits and took the jack with him.  That is likely why Preece blew the right front tire because he dragged the jack for a few hundred feet.  Unfortunately, we didn’t quite see any footage of this mess occurring.  We did aftermath footage of the jack, which was clearly thrashed.

Post-race coverage was relatively short due to the time constraints.  Viewers only got interviews with Erik Jones and Ty Dillon prior to the broadcast coming to an end so NBCSN could get to the World Series of Fighting.

Overall, this race was an enjoyable one to watch, especially after seeing Wrecks ‘R Us in the afternoon.  Burns and Jarrett do have a decent rapport together.  Getting “regular reps” in the booth during K&N Pro Series races is definitely helping Burns.  Back when he was with ESPN, Burns would get to do maybe four races a year, tops.  Now, it’s more of a regular thing for him.  Just like for athletes, TV commentators get better with experience.  That is until the law of diminishing returns sets in.

That’s all for now.  Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series make the haul up to Watkins Glen for an all-out assault on the newly repaved 2.45-mile road course.  Note that with the Olympics on TV, racing coverage will be limited and on multiple  channels.  Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at the Glen will be the first Sprint Cup points race ever to air on USA.  Previously, the Twin 125s from Daytona aired on USA back in the early 1980s in collaboration with CBS.

The NHRA will be back in action at Pacific Raceways near Seattle while IMSA travels to Road America in Wisconsin.  We’ll have recaps of the Road America action here at Frontstretch later this week.  TV listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab above.

If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below.  Even though I can’t always respond, I do read your comments and I’m happy with the increased number of comments so far this year. 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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Had decent success with the stream, although the lag was bad, especially when also on Twitter or walking into an office with a TV. My biggest problem with streaming is how few commercials they have to air, over and over again.


Doug, I can sympathize with you about the commercials. The NASCAR TV broadcasts in Canada are handled by TSN, and they play the same commercials over and over and over! I think they only have four or five commercials. I know that, if I have to watch that Camry commercial with the guy chasing after an ice cream truck, I will heave my lunch. There is no originality at all.

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