Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: NBCSN is Static in Pocono, Justin Haley is the Fall Guy

Pocono Raceway is an interesting track.  Three turns, different banking in each turns and different radii.  Seems like fun.  TV-wise, it presents a challenge.  The place is so huge that drivers can get spread out quickly.  However, the challenge of airing races isn’t always tied into the people working on the broadcast.

Overton’s 400

Sunday afternoon brought the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series back to Pocono Raceway for their second visit of the season.  Kyle Busch was the story of the day as the 32-year old exerted his will on the field.

Prior to the race, NBCSN aired a one-on-one interview with Felix Sabates (conducted by his former driver, Kyle Petty).  You haven’t seen much of Sabates over the past year.  There’s a reason for that.  Sabates spent most of last year fighting a serious illness.  What that illness was, I’m not really sure because no one came out and said what it was.  Regardless, what was said is more than enough to know that it was pretty serious.  You don’t spend 29 days in a coma for nothing.

In addition to talking about his illness, we learned a little about Sabates’ upbringing in Cuba.  Effectively, the Sabates family appears to have been everything that Castro and his followers were against.  They were successful, operating a number of businesses.  With Communism in place, that all went away.

Pocono was a little light on race action for NBCSN to cover. (Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

This is not the first time that fans have heard this story.  ESPN’s Outside the Lines interviewed Sabates back in 2014 and took him on a video tour of his hometown, Camagüey.  Today, U.S. citizens can fly direct to Camagüey from either Miami (via American Airlines or American Eagle) or from Fort Lauderdale on JetBlue.  Three years ago, that was not the case.

Overall, this was a great piece.  Other than a “foot-in-mouth” moment last year in regards to Charlotte losing the NBA All-Star Game due to the fallout from HB2, we really hadn’t heard anything about Sabates over the past 18 months.  Now, we have an idea of the fight that Sabates was dealing with privately.  Also, you can easily tell how close Petty and Sabates are.  It is definitely not because of the money Sabates paid Petty to drive for him (Petty thought he was paying him too much).  They’ve been friendly for nearly 30 years and will continue to be so.

Probably one of the biggest takeaways that I get from NBCSN broadcasts is that I seem more informed than during the FOX portion of the season.  There was good analysis of Jamie McMurray’s issues with smoke in the car, to give one example.

Sure, there’s still some off-beat stuff on the broadcast.  That’s more or less why Rutledge Wood is there.  No one would tell you that Wood is a hardcore journalist.  He’s there to have fun and capture some of the ambiance.

Sunday saw the debut of the Stock Car Smarts booth during a Cup race.  I still think that it breaks things up too much, but you can get more detailed analysis of issues.  That can go a long way towards increasing understanding of the mechanical aspects of racing.

Post-race coverage was about average.  You had the two Busch interviews, then interviews with the rest of the top five.  Since post-race coverage on NBCSN seems to be a little more laid back, stuff goes at a slower pace.  I personally would like to see as many stories covered as possible.  Let’s face it.  There’s only so much you can say about Kyle Busch’s performance.

Opinions of Sunday’s Overton’s 400 seem to be all over the place.  Rick Allen seemed to like it.

I thought it was a little light on action, but that happens when you get one dude that’s so much better than everyone else.  However, I did see enough to say nay to Denny Hamlin’s TrackBite suggestion.  Pocono doesn’t need that.  Besides, those first two years with the “Grip Strip” saw a single groove in turn 3 (the aforementioned “Grip Strip”).  It was only after it weathered a bit that it made the racing better.  On the other hand, the whole recent obsession with PJ1 TrackBite is a discussion for another time.

Overall, I thought that the broadcast was focused too closely on a couple of major stories.  Pit strategy was really big, to the point that its actually annoying.  It would have been 70 percent as much of a story without these dang stages, but with them, it creates an overkill scenario.

Watching the race, I really wanted to know more about a number of drivers, but I felt like I just couldn’t get that coverage.  After the restarts, you got a good amount of battles.  However, once you got more than about five laps post-restart, it was all strategy, all the time.  I felt a little frustrated.

Overton’s 150

Saturday saw the Camping World Truck Series back on network television for the first time in months.  Only 150 miles’ worth of racing on was tap.  Was it good?

Admittedly, I’ve been watching 30 for 30 specials once again.  In “This Was the XFL,” Matt Vasgersian talks about Vince McMahon chiming into his earpiece on opening night.  McMahon basically told Vasgersian, “Hit it hard. We gotta sell this.”  With a 150-mile race, that is more or less the mentality that you have to bring to such a short race.

I thought that FOX did fine with this.  We got some good action on-track.  I felt satisfied with the on-track product.  The racing late in the race between Christopher Bell and John Hunter Nemechek was excellent.  You could make the argument that the race ended up better without Busch.

My main issue was with my FOX affiliate.  Yes, the affiliate spoiled my race.  Rarely happens unless you live in Miami (they’re known to pre-empt races on the network despite being a FOX O&O (owned and operated) affiliate).

You see, there is guaranteed time for local commercials during race broadcasts.  Usually, it is one commercial break per hour.  Here, you cannot have side-by-side breaks at all since there’s no way in heck that you could reasonably expect FOX to be able to program local ads in for up to 194 affiliates.

Typically, these local breaks are not a problem at all because the affiliates likely get the break length ahead of time so that they can sell the ad space.  Something happened here on Saturday.

There were two separate times in which local breaks exceeded their length and actually cut into the race broadcast.  The first time was actually a local break time.  However, a local commercial break doesn’t run for 3:37 under normal circumstances.

The second was more egregious as they cut into a side-by-side break (meaning not theirs to barge in on) with local commercials.  That is not supposed to happen.

Why did this occur? I’m not really sure.  For all I know, it was the cable company’s fault.  Regardless, this should not happen.  However, that was only my experience.  I cannot vouch for whether this happened to any of you.  If it did, go right ahead and comment below and make note of what your affiliate is.  Remember, there’s 194 of them with dozens of different owners.

Since the race ran long (the whole race was supposed to run in a 90-minute slot), post-race coverage was relatively short.  Viewers got interviews with the top two finishers and Justin Haley, who finished 10th.  Why Haley?  Because he had contact with Busch and wrecked the chap that dominated the first two stages.

I would have much rather had an interview with Ryan Truex, who finished third.  I’m sure the ShopRite dudes would have liked that as well.  It just came off like they were trying to get Haley to admit fault for the wreck (which he did).  Didn’t like that.  So, he had contact with Busch.  That was basically a “racing deal.”  There was nothing intentional about it.  Haley wasn’t doing anything wrong.  Stuff happens quickly in the Tunnel Turn.

Also of note, FOX did not interview Busch post-crash.  Our own Joseph Wolkin (who was on-site at Pocono Saturday) indicated that FOX did not have a pit reporter at the media scrum outside the Infield Care Center when Busch came out (Note: The Infield Care Center and the Media Center are a couple of doors down from each other).  There was no interview with Busch on the broadcast post-visit either.  I’m unclear as to whether FOX approached Busch and he declined, if FOX didn’t attempt or what.  All I know for sure is that Busch did talk to the media in the scrum (including Wolkin) after exiting the Infield Care Center.  While I’m sure he wasn’t exactly pleased with the situation, he was courteous to those gathered.

This is another one of those situations where the decision to take FOXSports.com in an all-video direction clearly hurt FOX.  In the past, they likely would have had a writer posted there that could have gotten quotes from Busch and relayed those to the dudes on the broadcast if need be.  Instead, they fired them all, then the guy that spearheaded the move (Jamie Horowitz) was fired a couple of days later in a completely unrelated scandal.

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series travel to Watkins Glen for some road racing.  A pretty big crowd is expected to take in 420 miles of action.  Away from Watkins Glen, IMSA will be back in action at Road America in Wisconsin.

I will provide critiques of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY races from Watkins Glen for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday.  Saturday’s U.S. Cellular 250 from Iowa Speedway will be covered later this week in the Frontstretch Newsletter.

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. 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

2021 Phil Allaway Headshot Phil Allaway

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 definitely agree with you about the booth spending the majority of their time speculating on who was going to use what pit strategy, rather than concentrating on what was actually happening on the track. I would much prefer they wait until different strategies are used, then explain, is necessary.

Bill B

Nothing is more annoying then being taken away from green flag racing for an update with the pointless Rutledge Wood. How did this tick attach himself to NASCAR and why is he still employed. For that matter why is he even a celebrity and what is his claim to fame?

Steve Latarte is the king of “what if” scenarios. After a while it becomes quite annoying because all I really want to do is watch and be updated on what is actually happening and not what could happen. I find myself muting him as much as I mute Michael Waltrip.


We may not agree on much but, we agree 100% on Rut. What a complete waste of time he is. NBCs version of Michael Waltrip? Which one’s worse? I can’t decide.

Chris Lanko

All in all, I am much happier watching the races on NBCSN WAY MORE than on Fox. At least on NBC,you have a ex-crew chief who has only been out of racing a few years. He can give a much better view than someone who was a C.C. 25 years ago. Mike Joy is so-so as an announcer but Rick Allen gives his all in terms of excitement and bringing the fan into more of the race. And he doesn’t have to use an inane saying that most fans mute at the start of the race. As far as Rutledge Wood ,he is way more intense ,funnier ,and down to earth than that idiot Waltrip could ever try to come close to being. And you can understand what he’s saying ! All in all,watching racing is enjoyable again. I’ll have to record the race for later watching as we will be at The Glen this week end.

Bill W

Latarte and Waldrip both talk to much. Wood is useless. I did like moving Dale in to the booth with Rick.


Personally, I prefer FOX’s coverage over NBC. I think Jeff Gordon does great in the booth, and I like him over all the others. Also I love Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds. I can deal with the Waltrips, and I actually really like Michael with the trucks; he is enthusiastic and knowledgeable and clearly loves what he is doing. I would take him over Rutledge any day.

The one thing NBC has going for it is Parker Kligerman, he is great in the pits, and an all around great personality and thorough knowledge of the sport, always has something interesting to say, and he is still an active driver. I like Jeff Burton too. Letarte talks too much and says a lot of nothing, and everyone else is ho hum, IMHO. I sure do miss Danielle Trotta from FOX…..

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