If you’ve read Couch Potato Tuesday in recent years, then you know that I’m not exactly a fan of this time of year when it comes to race broadcasts. The Chase focus drives me up the wall. The Chase completely takes precedence over the race. Everything is couched in the Chase. This year, its worse because NASCAR decided to add Chases to the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series, something that clearly did not need to happen. I’m just giving you ample warning; I’m likely to be a bit irritable for the rest of the season.
Also, before we get started, I have airdates for the final two ARCA races that will air on the American Sports Network (ASN). The General Tire Grabber 100 from DuQuoin that ran on Sep. 4 will air on Sep. 21 (a Wednesday) at 7 p.m. EDT. Check your local listings. If it doesn’t air locally, a livestream will be available at americansportsnet.com. For last week’s 100th ARCA race at Salem Speedway, that will air on Sep. 28 at 7 p.m. EDT. Same rules apply.
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Saturday night brought the Sprint Cup Series back out for 407 laps of action at Richmond. The Chase was clearly in play. How did NBCSN handle this race?
Prior to the race, the main story was Dale Earnhardt, Jr. once again, as he has been for more or less the entire summer. This week, Steve Letarte sat down with Earnhardt Jr. for a revealing conversation. Here, we learn a little about his progress, but what stood out to me is simply how the situation compares to other issues during his career. My first year writing this column was 2009. That year, Earnhardt Jr. finished 25th in points and wasn’t anywhere near winning. Says a lot that he was on the back side of the garage at Watkins Glen that year.
Why do I bring that up? Earnhardt Jr. mentioned that in the past, he would have descended into a cave of sorts. He would just spend his time by himself being morose. That’s more or less what Earnhardt Jr. was doing back then. He would just get bummed out in the car and retreat away. The man was a recluse. That reclusive behavior probably made his struggles back then worse than they had to be. The main difference today is that he has Amy Reimann. He’s a different dude today. Granted, a man who has to have entire rooms at his house dedicated to all the historical racing stuff he’s acquired over the years (magazines, pictures, t-shirts from random sources including one of my best friends, etc.), but a man in a very good place. He’ll be 42 next month and appears to be very happy off the track. Letarte did a great job in allowing viewers to see what amounts to “the real Dale Earnhardt, Jr.”
Another piece was centered upon Chris Buescher, who was looking for his and Front Row Motorsports’ first Chase berth. The piece here was relatively simple. Talk about what they’ve done to get here and whether they deserve to be in this position. Here, we learn that Buescher is perfectly cool with the “underdog” role. However, he knows they belong.
I still think that NBCSN could stand to interview more people. Yes, we had 12 driver interviews, but that was in 2.5 hours. Not a very good ratio.
After the race, Tony Stewart indicated that he and Ryan Newman made contact with each other at least three times. The final one caused the big wreck. Post-race coverage seemed to indicate that they didn’t catch the first contact. NBCSN actually did. It occurred only a couple of laps into the race. It’s as if everyone forgot about it.
I will say this about the Stewart-Newman wreck coverage. NBCSN nailed it. They knew what was going on and described it perfectly. I don’t think they were counting on Newman’s remarks going quite where they did, though. Of note, no comments were made regarding that statement.
Knowing what ultimately happened Saturday night, I’m actually surprised that Stewart was willing to talk at all. I suppose he was mandated to do so since he’s in the Chase, but we’re talking about someone that was angry and likely had been told about what happened in Eldora earlier that evening. Stewart had to be a mess in his head.
Unlike the XFINITY race on Friday (see below), there was a fairly substantial focus on the race to get into the Chase. Ultimately, there was absolutely no movement down near the cutoff (other than Kyle Larson gaining a spot despite already being locked in). I understand why they did it, but looking back at the race, it was unnecessary. It makes me think they planned out a good chunk of the coverage prior to the penalty announcement coming out on Wednesday, then didn’t deviate.
The race ended up running long by about 45 minutes because of all the wrecking in the second half of the event (the first half was actually rather clean). Despite that, NBCSN had scheduled a lot of post-race coverage. The broadcasts continued past 1:30 a.m. as they promoted the upcoming Chase. All the Chasers got interviewed. Most of those interviews were your basic type of conversation, but that’s also where Stewart admitted to intentionally wrecking Newman.
Overall, I found that the race itself definitely had its moments. The incident coverage, as noted above, was pretty good. There was some decent racing for position out there, but we only saw bits and pieces of it. I know that Richmond was the last race before the Chase, but there was very little action in that storyline all night. It was permanently done after Newman crashed.
The second half of the race was a complete wreckfest. The advantage of said wreckfest is that it keeps everyone focused on the race itself. Since everyone’s closer together, you also get more action for position.
I do agree with Letarte that it was surprising that more drivers didn’t pit for tires prior to the GWC. However, with so many dang cautions late, a number of people likely were out of tires, which was noted on the broadcast. We’ve seen situations like the end of Saturday’s race before at Richmond. Juan Pablo Montoya nearly won there in 2013. He had the race won before a yellow flew with five laps to go when Denny Hamlin spun. What happened? Darn near everyone pitted, Kevin Harvick took the win and Montoya finished fourth.
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On Friday night, the XFINITY Series returned to action at Richmond. So did Kyle Busch. Once he got the track position, he executed a booting on the field, much like the one that Bart Simpson was supposed to receive, but avoided. Despite the whoopin’, there’s still a race to look at here. How did NBCSN cover it?
Since Richmond was not the cutoff race, there wasn’t that much coverage given to the Chase. Then again, the race to get in is nothing like it is in Sprint Cup. Only three regulars have won this season (Erik Jones, Elliott Sadler and Daniel Suarez). A number of drivers had already clinched a spot prior to the race and everyone down through tenth was in for sure after the race. There was coverage given to those around the cutoff (Blake Koch, Dakoda Armstrong, Jeremy Clements, etc.), but not really all that much.
During Countdown to Green, the main piece that aired was technically nothing more than a preview of Steve Letarte’s sit-down interview with Earnhardt Jr., which I’ve already covered above. I will say this. Earnhardt Jr. is likely the best interview in NASCAR right now, regardless of the situation. Granted, the concussion and his recovery is the main topic of discussion with him for now. Because of what Earnhardt Jr. is like as an interview subject and his overall popularity, its no wonder why its so difficult to have the chance to talk to him
In the race, there really wasn’t all that much action for position. Much of the race saw Kyle Busch run away and hide from the field. There was some decent action to go around, especially in the first few laps after the restarts. Brennan Poole was ultimately a pretty big story on Friday night, charging up from 31st on the grid to challenge for a top 5 before finishing ninth. Pretty amazing when you think about it. Unless you have a tire advantage, like Kyle Larson did Saturday night, Richmond is probably the hardest place to pass in NASCAR right now.
The broadcast booth had a bit of a shake up Friday night with the addition of Leigh Diffey to the mix. Despite officially being one of NBCSN’s two primary racing play-by-play guys, he’s been all over the place. Brazil for the Olympics, doing rugby work, Formula One, only a little INDYCAR, and now an XFINITY Series race. Diffey brought his usual, excitable style to the broadcast booth. He really wasn’t given all that much action with Kyle Busch opening up the can, but I felt that he did just fine.
Something that did really stand out on the broadcast was the whole mess surrounding the second and final yellow during the race. Here, NASCAR chose to throw the yellow because Brandon Brown’s crew let a tire get away. They waited nine laps after it happened to “put it out.” I’m personally not a fan of this move. NASCAR gives crews the signal that allows a man to go over the wall after a stop to sweep up lugnuts and stuff like that. Richmond has an outside pit wall, unlike places like Atlanta. I think they could have waited until after the round of green-flag stops and allowed one of Brown’s crewmembers to dash across pit road to get the tire without having to neutralize the race. I say this knowing the fact that had that yellow not flown, Busch would have won by 15 seconds and lapped up to third or so.
Also of note, this yellow flew during a NonStop segment that had its own issues. By this, I mean scoring bar issues. If you looked up during that break, you noticed only 12 drivers in the scoring bar. They were almost all Sprint Cup regulars (Jeff Gordon is the exception here because of his sub role) with their Sprint Cup numbers. They were in the order that they had qualified for Saturday’s Cup race earlier that evening. That is a whoopsies. Be happy that this occurred during a caution and not under green.
Despite the race ending pretty quick (only two yellows, plus Kyle Busch having at it), the post-race coverage left a lot to be desired. I definitely wanted more than two drivers to get airtime after the race. Erik Jones was the only XFINITY regular to get that time. You need a wider focus than that driver-wise and way less post-race analysis. While I have no doubt that the chaps on the NASCAR America stage (in this case, Krista Voda, Kyle Petty and Jeff Burton) do a good job, I believe that the fans that stick around after the race want to hear from the drivers.
That’s it for this week. Next week is wildly busy. Chicagoland Speedway is hosting a quadruple-header with ARCA Thursday night, trucks on Friday, XFINITY Series Saturday and Cup on Sunday. Meanwhile, Formula One is in Singapore, the Verizon IndyCar Series (and Pirelli World Challenge) is in Sonoma, and both the WEC and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship are in Austin. That’s going to be a busy one. Listings can be found in the TV Listings tab.
I will, at bare minimum, provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and XFINITY races for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. My general goal is to do all three of the NASCAR National Series races for next week. For this week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter, I plan on checking out NASCAR Southern Speed: The Legend of Darlington, a special that recently aired on NBCSN. Next week’s Annex will cover the Scott 150 for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards at Chicagoland.
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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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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