Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Olympics Push NASCAR To The Background On NBC

Welcome back. Hope you guys enjoyed the off week for the Sprint Cup Series. It was not very relaxing for me, personally, but I enjoyed myself. Could have done without the thunderstorms, though.

Speaking of thunderstorms, that’s effectively what plagued Saturday’s Mid-Ohio Challenge from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the XFINITY Series. As I’ve told you many times, I do look forward to road races. I really do. Saturday’s 170-mile race that took over three hours to complete benefited only a few people. One is Justin Marks because he won the dang thing. That was well deserved. He whooped the field. Another is Alon Day, who impressed a lot of people in his XFINITY Series debut. It says a lot when one of the veterans of the series tweets this about you.

Remember that the No. 40 that Day was driving is the lowest-ranked in owners’ points of any of the teams that have attempted all 21 races.  They’re 42nd, behind two teams (JR Motorsports’ No. 5 and Team Penske’s No. 12) that have only attempted three races this year and GMS Racing’s No. 21 for Spencer Gallagher that has only attempted six.  As a result, team co-owner (and sometimes driver) Carl Long is also looking pretty good right now for making the move to start negotiations a few months ago with Day to race at Mid-Ohio and Road America a few months ago.

Also, and this has zero to do with the race, but I highly recommend checking out Carl Long’s Facebook page as opposed to MBM Motorsports’ page. Here, Long gives weekly updates on who will be driving the teams’ two entries (Nos. 13 and 40) and gives good insight on the MBM Motorsports organization.  Long has written on there about how he ended up getting Day to drive the No. 40.

With such a lean weekend in regards to racing on television (yes, the 5-Hour ENERGY Knoxville Nationals was Saturday night, but I couldn’t watch that), this week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday will be structured a bit more like The Critic’s Annex, our weekly additional critique that runs in the Frontstretch Newsletter.  In other words, I’m bringing the details this week.

Mid-Ohio Challenge

Sadly, the biggest thing that stood out TV-wise on Saturday was the fact that TV viewers missed the start of the race. Unlike some writers on Twitter, I’m not going to argue the whole importance issue of the game compared to the race here. I’d look like a moron if I tried.

For NBC, the Summer Olympics have been their baby ever since the Barcelona games in 1992. It is supremely important to them.  They pay through the roof and then some for the broadcast rights. These rights are much more than just the rights to air the games. In the case of the Golf event, they produce and shoot that for the IOC. NBC puts the Olympic rings below their logo for almost an entire year prior to the games.

As for the basketball game, it was a pretty good game. I watch more than my share of basketball, especially in the offseason. It was enjoyable to watch and NBA fans would have had a number of familiar faces to cheer for (Nené, Andres Nocioni, Emmanuel Ginobili, Leandro Barbosa, etc.).

For the sake of this column, the Brazilians blew the game late, leading to the overtime periods. Regardless, the game would have gone beyond 3 p.m. whether the Brazilians won in regulation or not. Had the Brazilians held their lead late, we probably would have still gotten a little pre-race coverage prior to opening ceremonies.

I tried to approach this mess from an informed perspective as opposed to shouting in anger. One Twitter user described the situation to me as “Charlotte 2014 all over again.” That instance was a perfect storm of Baylor-TCU going long by a full hour on ABC (given the style of play from those two teams, there was no way that game was finishing in 3.5 hours), plus a Preseason NBA game (in Rio, no less) going to overtime on ESPNEWS, plus additional college football on ESPN and ESPN2.  The Rio game wiped out ESPN’s alternate plan for the start of the race.

Saturday was not that situation. October 2014 was not preventable. This was preventable. NBC Sports could have fixed this situation weeks ago and made sure that it wasn’t going to be an issue.

How could that have been done?  The race was scheduled to air on USA because Olympic coverage was on NBC, NBCSN and MSNBC at the time the race was scheduled to start. The hope was that the Brazil-Argentina game would have finished in the two-hour slot.  Let’s face it, even with less timeouts than a typical 40-minute college basketball game, that’s not a guarantee.

(Credit: NASCAR)
The partnership between NASCAR and NBC takes a back seat during a more profitable deal for the television network, this year’s Summer Olympics in Rio. (Credit: NASCAR)

Another NBC network wasn’t showing any sports at all when the race started. That was CNBC. They were airing infomercials for random products. However, they had coverage from Rio starting at 5 p.m. What I believe should have been done was to combine that 5 p.m. coverage with basketball. In this hypothetical scenario, both the game and the 5 p.m. coverage could have aired on either USA or CNBC. The XFINITY race would air on the channel without the Olympic coverage. I know that NBC Sports really wants to spread out their coverage, but I believe that this approach would have been best in this situation.

Obviously, that’s not what went down. Given what went down, there should have been some kind of protocol to inform viewers of what the plan was. From what I could see, there was no protocol. Marv Albert was too busy calling the basketball game to care. This is where those bottom-of-the-screen scrolls come in handy.

Honestly, given the fact that CNBC was airing infomercials at the time Countdown to Green would have started, they should have pre-empted the infomercial and aired it and the start of the race there. It wouldn’t have been that hard for viewers to find since the Zippo 200 from Watkins Glen aired on CNBC and race fans are generally used to the channel being used as an alternate for Formula One and INDYCAR events. Then, once the game ended, move on to Mid-Ohio.

Instead, NBC Sports gave no updates to viewers at all.  Those savvy enough to use the NBC Sports app got to see the command to start engines and the start of the race as an internet exclusive. That’s not how this is supposed to work. I found the situation to be very frustrating and does not endear NBC Sports to NASCAR fans. There’s a lot of anger that came out of this and it really could have been avoided.

Did the situation ruin my day?  No, but it did cause me to make some adjustments to my schedule Saturday that I would have rather not done.

What would Countdown to Green have had on Saturday had it aired?  I’m not 100 percent sure. I do know for a fact that it would have been shortened due to NASCAR hurrying up the start of the race, even if the Brazil-Argentina game ended on time. I think it would have consisted of a couple of pre-race interviews and some pre-race analysis. It likely would have been very tightly planned, given the circumstances.

By the time USA finally got to the race, they were under caution due to rain on Lap three. NASCAR chose to declare a damp race as opposed to a wet race that would have triggered a red flag. In retrospect, maybe NASCAR should have pulled the trigger on the full wet race. I know that giving what amounts to a five-minute break to make adjustments is really not in the spirit of a road race in the rain, but perhaps some of the lunacy that we saw could have been prevented.

It says a lot about the conditions that Kenny Habul wiped out under caution at low speed. Habul’s from Australia and has plenty of experience racing down there. When it rains in Australia, it can come in a hurry. I have no doubt that Habul has raced in conditions like that in the past.

Speaking of incidents, they came in a hurry too. NASCAR rules did prevent the kind of carnage that came in the final hour of last month’s Total 24 Hours of Spa when a number of teams were caught out on slicks in heavy rain. Obviously, that’s a good thing.

There were multiple occasions during the race in that the broadcast had a hard time keeping up with all of the incidents. The rain packed the traps down, which allowed drivers to recover after spins that would normally beach drivers and force full course cautions.

There were a number of incidents that ultimately affected the race that weren’t properly covered because of the rapid-fire nature of the incidents. For instance, Jordan Anderson spun on lap 27 in turn eight and got himself in the trap. He then backed out of the trap directly in front of the leaders. This was a wildly dangerous move by Anderson and it got next to no attention, partly due to another spin that occurred at almost the same time.

The stretch of the race once the rain returned saw so many crazy things happen that if you were taking notes on it like I was, you would need to pause the race just to get everything. It was ludicrous.  You can argue that NBC Sports couldn’t help missing something. In this case, it was the contact that ultimately put Habul and Tim Cowen out of the race. It simply got lost in all the other incidents, including everyone going off the road after the yellow came out.

Needless to say, Saturday’s race was very difficult to cover with a full crew. Since this was a standalone race, NBC Sports went in with a smaller than normal crew, making it that much harder on themselves.

I felt that Dave Burns did a pretty good job trying to make sense out of the insanity and Dale Jarrett did a decent job as well. However, he seems to believe that he stinks on road courses. You don’t win a pole at Watkins Glen and stink to high heaven on the twisties.  Perhaps Jarrett gets flashbacks to the aforementioned 2001 Global Crossing at the Glen and his two trips to the sand trap in turn one every now and then in bed.

By the time the race finally finished, it was roughly 45 minutes past the sign-off time. Despite this fact, viewers still got a decent amount of post-race coverage. We got some good interviews and a check of the results before the coverage ended.

Ultimately, a broadcast like Saturday is really dependent on the personalities that you have at your disposal. Mike Massaro and Parker Kligerman did a great job in the pits. Kligerman was the only member of the on-air staff to have previously raced in the rain (this was back when he was racing open-wheeled cars years ago), so he could bring his knowledge to the broadcast. That type of content was crucial.

Also of note, the jumbled order led to a number of teams getting a lot more coverage than normal. Day’s performance in the No. 40 got MBM Motorsports by far the most coverage that they’ve gotten all season. Previous to Saturday, most of their coverage centered around team co-owner Derek White getting busted as part of a smuggling operation and Harrison Rhodes nearly wrecking Darrell Wallace, Jr. while trying to turn into the garage at Atlanta. Even if it had never rained, Day could have possibly earned a top 10 finish on Saturday.

Mario Gosselin‘s DGR Motorsports made a last-minute decision to bring in Andy Lally for the race, and that decision resulted in the team’s best-ever finish. Not to mention some comic relief with the mulleted Jordan Taylor on the car (for a good cause). If they would have had more time after the race, NBC Sports should have tried to get Lally on-air since his run to seventh was a real adventure. He drove the last 20 laps blind after his wiper and defogger stopped working.

The decreased amount of equipment for NBC Sports at Mid-Ohio hurt the actual broadcast more than anything. So much stuff was happening that it was simply impossible to cover it all. Unfortunately, cutting costs rarely helps a broadcast, especially when so much is going on, regardless of how good the staff on-hand is (and they’re good, believe me).

I do think that NBC Sports should have done a better job of showing viewers what the rain actually did to lap times. We knew that Sam Hornish, Jr. was in the 84-second bracket when he won the pole Friday and that Marks was turning in laps in the 116-second bracket at one point in the race. Not a whole lot of in-between.

That’s all for this week. Later this week, all three of NASCAR’s National Series return to Bristol Motor Speedway for rock ‘em sock ‘em action. We’ll have to see what this track polishing and tire dragon-ing has done to the concrete. Listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab at the top of the page.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and XFINITY races from Bristol in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. Those two races will tentatively be joined by the ARCA Racing Series race from the Springfield Mile in Illinois. That is assuming that I can watch the livestream. I think I’ll be able to.

Wednesday night’s Camping World Truck Series’ UNOH 200 will be covered in Thursday’s edition of The Critic’s Annex in the Newsletter. It’s easier for me to just put my thoughts to type immediately after the race.

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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Why couldn’t you watch the Knoxville Nationals? Can’t watch some actual racing?

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