Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: NBCSN Chase Kickoff Too Focused On Championship

Welcome back to the Chase.  I’m not particularly happy that its here, but we’ll just have to deal with it.  As you all know, focus tightens ever more at this time of year, often to the point where drivers that are in the top 10 are ignored if they’re not in the Chase.  However, we must still cover the races and give dap and/or criticism where need be.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400

Sunday officially began the 13th Chase for the Sprint Cup.  About 13 too many in my opinion, but we must approach the action with an open mind.

Pre-race coverage was centered upon said Chasers.  I don’t believe anyone outside of the Chase was mentioned much prior to the race with the exception of Regan Smith.  By now, you probably know why Smith missed the race and Ty Dillon drove in his place.  Congrats.

Once again, everything was focused on the Chase and advancement to the Round of 12.  That’s nice and all, but that’s not all that’s going on.  There’s a 400-mile race to be run here.  How about some stories to watch for the race that don’t involve points?  Maybe something about the tire wear that we’re likely to see?  That’s been an ongoing thing recently with NBCSN.  They’re really terrible to relating to viewers the kind of drop-off that we’re likely to see over the course of a run.  We almost never get lap times/speeds, something that FOX actually does fairly well.  Without that, its harder to immerse yourself into the race.

Likely the biggest gamebreaker on Sunday was the caution on lap 50 due to Aric Almirola’s tire getting loose.  In general, this is a very irritating instance and I really don’t think that NASCAR should have thrown the yellow until after the round of stops was done.  This is different from last week in Richmond in which I stated that NASCAR should have never thrown the caution at all.

Getting the field properly aligned is key.  It took a number of laps for NASCAR to get everything.  While we waited for that, NBCSN showed the viewers what caused the yellow and explained the whole procedure as to what happens when yellows fly in the middle of pit stops.

After the stops, NBCSN broke out the video that showed Jimmie Johnson beating Martin Truex, Jr. to the start-finish line in order to save his lap (Remember, those pitted before the start-finish line have to beat the leader to the start-finish line. Those pitted beyond the start-finish line would have to beat the leader to the end of pit road).  Kevin Harvick just got beat to the line, despite taking two tires.  This was great work from NBCSN.

Also, NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell posted this picture to Twitter that shows it even more clearly.

Now, why didn’t Harvick get the Lucky Dog in that situation?  The answer is that he was still on the lead lap when the yellow flew.  Clint Bowyer, who ended up getting the Lucky Dog, was right behind Truex and got it.  Just because the yellow comes out doesn’t mean positions are locked.  Given the circumstances, this is one of those situations in which you need to keep a proper pace.  If you’re on pit road, you technically can’t do that legally.  My understanding is that intentionally speeding on pit road to save a lap under these circumstances will not save you a lap, even if you manage to beat the leaders out.  As a result, what Johnny Benson did in this clip back in 1996 will not keep you on the lead lap anymore (although he was sent to the end of the longest line as a result).

Benson’s move here kept him on the lead lap, but put him behind the infamous mess you’re seeing as the cover photo of the YouTube clip.  As a result, he avoided it and earned his first career top 10 finish.

Back to the topic of tires.  Truex had an unusual tire unraveling that occurred around lap 70 (I’m unclear of the exact lap because it occurred during a commercial break).  Naturally, Truex pitted and got that taken care.  We saw a good shot of the tire missing a good chunk of its tread.  The theory given by Dave Burns is that Truex hit something.  I suppose that’s possible.  I thought at the time that NBCSN did well to get viewers the shot of Truex’s stricken tire.

However, that’s all we got.  They never really followed up.  With the Chase being so got-darn important, you’d think that we would have gotten quotes from Cole Pearn about this failure caught in progress.  I find this lack of follow-up content frustrating at times.

Post-race coverage was completely Chase-based.  Viewers got interviews with nine of the Chasers over the 45 or so minutes of post-race coverage, including two interviews with Truex.  To be fair, you did get some interesting quotes.  Tony Stewart thought his day was garbage, but gave his team credit.  Truex continued to talk about how Harvick nearly ruined his day with contact on the backstretch, Kyle Larson looked dejected after his late flat, and more.

Of note, Furniture Row Racing took things one step further on Monday.  The team took to Twitter with a statement where they officially blamed Harvick for failing the laser inspection.

All I ask for in these Chase races is to cover the action like its any other race.  Meaning, show the action on-track, regardless of whether or not it involves Chasers.  I don’t think we’re going to see that out of NBC Sports.  They’d rather focus on the Chasers and if something else happens that doesn’t involve a Chaser, so be it.  I have no idea why this setup is considered healthy for the sport.  It’s not.  I feel like it has a negative drag on car count, for one thing.

The race itself really wasn’t all that exciting to watch.  There wasn’t all that much racing for position to watch.  Or, at least that’s what we saw on NBCSN.  I wasn’t in Joliet Sunday.  I was at home, taking my weekly notes.  I feel like the race was quite a bit more exciting than what we saw, but since it wasn’t all that exciting amongst the Chasers, that’s what we saw.  Ideally, I’d like NBCSN to focus on actual on-track battles regardless of Chase implications.

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Drive for Safety 300

Saturday afternoon brought the XFINITY Series back to action at Chicagoland Speedway.  Unlike the Sprint Cup Series race, the Drive for Safety 300 was the final pre-Chase race for the XFINITY Series.  As a result, there was a definite focus prior to the race on those that were contenders for the final two spots (in addition to the three regulars that won races, seven others had already clinched berths on points).

As a result, Blake Koch, Ryan Sieg, Dakoda Armstrong and Jeremy Clements got the lion’s share of attention before the race.  Once the race started, you didn’t see all that much of them.  Admittedly, the point margin was such that Sieg or Koch would have had to either break or wreck for anything that occurred on Saturday to make much of a difference.

(Photo: Russell LaBounty / NKP)
Daniel Suarez is one of just three XFINITY Series regulars to win this season. (Photo: Russell LaBounty / NKP)

As much as we shouldn’t have to admit this, giving lip service to XFINITY Series regulars prior to a race like Chicagoland can be a bit disingenuous.  When Cup drivers are in town, there’s really only a couple of full-timers that have a chance to win.  Three of them managed to do it this year (Elliott Sadler, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez).  Interestingly enough, all three of them won non-standalone races.

A pre-race show should appropriately preview the race, and that has been lacking in recent weeks.  What I got out of the show is “look out for these chaps trying to get into the Chase, and for good measure, here’s a couple of regulars that could rain on the Cup regulars’ party.”  In this case, the three guys referenced would be Erik Jones, Brendan Gaughan and Ty Dillon.  Jones ended up winning after Kyle Busch cut a tire and spun late.

Early on, we got some good racing out there.  Suarez wasn’t taking the Kyle Busch show sitting down.  He put it to the former series champion properly.  That doesn’t happen enough.

As far as on-track action is concerned, there was a decent amount of it.  Despite leading 154 laps, Busch never got that far away.  As a result, he was vulnerable to battles.  Say what you want about Busch, he’s not one to “stroke.”  If you get to him, he’ll give you the horns.

Outside of battles involving Busch, there was an ok amount of competition for position, but the series as a whole is nowhere near as competitive top to bottom as Sprint Cup or the Camping World Truck Series.  This is one of the reasons why so many people have been turned off by the XFINITY Series in recent years and probably why NASCAR instituted the Chase format.  What the series really needs is more than five standalone races a year (three of which are in August) on the schedule.

In regards to Busch’s spin, the spin occurred in the middle of a pit report, which was cut out of.  Afterwards, commentary from the pits indicated that Busch had hit the wall and screwed up his right rear corner about 15 laps earlier.  This was the first that most viewers who don’t use Twitter as a second screen had heard of this.  Where was NBCSN when that happened? I know it’s Kyle Busch, but I think it is important to report on when the leader has an incident.  Also, again with the tires.  Chicagoland was not a good weekend for NBCSN when it came to tire coverage.

Post-race coverage was nearly non-existent.  However, that was because the end of the race ran up against the six o’clock news.  As a result, viewers only got a post-race interview with Erik Jones and a check of the Chase Grid.  Weak, but understandable.  With INDYCAR qualifying from Sonoma airing live on NBCSN right after the XFINITY race was due to end, there was no extra post-race coverage planned.

Overall, I just found the broadcast rather boring at times.  True, there wasn’t much coverage during the race devoted to the Chase at great contrast to Sunday, but there was just wasn’t much of note outside of a couple of notable moments.  Next weekend should be interesting at Kentucky, though.  We’ll see what ends up happening down in Gallatin County.

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend is the final split weekend of the season. The Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series will be at New Hampshire Motor Speedway along with the Whelen Modified Tour and the ACT Tour.  Meanwhile, the XFINITY Series will be at Kentucky Speedway with the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards as support.  Listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab.

I will provide critiques of the action from Loudon at minimum for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  For this week’s edition of The Critic’s Annex, I’ll be covering the ARCA and Camping World Truck Series events from Chicagoland.  Let’s face it.  A quadruple-header is a bit tough at times.

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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Thanks Phil! THE CHEATERS are a shameless bunch. What sayeth them in the their version of “thou doth protest too much”? How all the other cars that made contact with this and that passed post race laser inspection this year is truly a conspiracy isn’t it…and that damn machine always nabs them. Pffftttt…


The lowlight for me was Rick Allen making the outrageous leap of equating a win at Chicagoland to a win at the Southern 500.
Yes I know Truex Jr. and his girlfriend have been through a lot but the Lifetime Movie treatment every time he wins or contends is getting to be a bit much.

Bill B

The constant focus on the chase and points is very annoying to the point of almost making it unwatchable.
I have gotten to the point where I can’t stand Latarte’s voice regardless of what he has to say.


I’m so glad to hear I’m not the only one that finds Letarte’s voice so aggravating. And he says the same thing over and over and over…it’s going to be a very long end of season.


The way NBC handles the Chase is a complete embarrassment of the sport. And the way they handled green flag pit stops at the end of the race, completely ignoring Blaney and Bowman when they were leading (for many laps I might add), instead showing their golden boy lap after lap all by himself, it tells you everything you need to know about how they are going to handle the last 10 races. How sad that they can’t give Blaney’s sponsors some tv time even when he is leading. You can also bet if Dale Jr was in the 88, they would not have ignored him like they did Bowman.


They need to get rid of Kyle Petty in the booth, he is constantly repeating himself and talks like no one has ever watched a race before.

junglebunny hotcakes

You mean Steve Letarte right?


One would think that the declining viewership numbers as they get close to the ‘playoff’ might wake NBC up to the fact that fans really aren’t enthused about the format as much as they think. I find myself resenting being beaten over the head with ‘chase, chase, chase’ from the second the green flag drops, nd can’t keep track of what is happening in the ‘big picture’. It is not enjoyable for me to try to watch a race any longer. Guess I’ll just give Harvick the ‘regular season’ title and ignore the rest.


When the booth lineup for NBC was announced, I was at first optimistic. I was expecting some sober, knowledgeable analysis and commentary on the action on the track, as opposed to the goofball antics from their FOX counterparts. Instead, I find them hard to listen to, as I believe that they are not so much calling the race as much as they are selling it. And further more, they’re not really selling the race as much as they are selling the Chase!!!

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