Last weekend’s action in Charlotte was quite difficult, and not because of anything NASCAR did. The weather simply wreaked havoc on everything.
Before we even get started, we must talk about the timeslot change for Sunday’s Bank of America 500. That was only possible thanks to two factors. One was an agreeable TV partner in NBC. If they said no, it would have put the whole kibosh on that move. Had that happened, the race would have started at 2 p.m. and much of the closing laps would have had weather imposing.
The other factor was a rule change that NASCAR made in the offseason that allows the start of the race to be moved up by an hour if conditions warrant. Previously, they only allowed for slight adjustments forward. Sunday was the first time that NASCAR made use of this rule. It was obviously a good move, and while I’d prefer that it not have to be used, it is definitely good for NASCAR to have in its back pocket.
For NBC Sports, Charlotte was more or less an “emphasis” race. That meant a couple things. One was the return of Ato Boldon to the broadcast.
Another was the return of the Stockcar Smarts booth setup. In case you’ve forgotten, that’s where there are four booth commentators. In one booth is Rick Allen and Dale Jarrett (delayed slightly because he was leading the field in a No. 88 Ford from 1999). The other had Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton. Interestingly, this second aspect of the broadcast was not mentioned in their press release last Wednesday. Must have been a last-minute change. NBC Sports also touted Erik Jones driving their NBC car in the press release. We all know how that turned out.
Third, the Bat Cam made another appearance. Honestly, that thing is better suited to longer straights and probably works best at plate tracks.
For Boldon, his primary job for the weekend was to tail Jena Gatses, the director of Physical Therapy for Joe Gibbs Racing. The goal: Show how Gatses helps to prep Matt Kenseth’s pit crew for the arduous work that they do every week. That entails a substantial stretching regimen, workouts and therapy when those nagging injuries emerge. Gatses is also in charge of keeping the crews fed with the right foods during races. There’s a reason why they showed Gatses chopping up what looked like a delicious pineapple. That pineapple was destined to be devoured.
Overall, this was a pretty interesting look behind the curtains with pit crews. It is a lot more than five on, five off. Thanks to his background as world-class track athlete, Boldon has plenty of experience receiving this type of training and therapy. As a result, he is uniquely positioned to be able to add to the piece. Good job all around. I knew NBC Sports would eventually find a good use for Boldon on here.
Speaking on Jones, he spent some time in an Uber with Kyle Petty and Rutledge Wood. Naturally, there was chatter. Maybe a little too much about his ex-mullet. Yes, I know that he was quite proud of his “business in the front, party in the back” look, but a little more meat to the interview would have been desired. Even so, they could have still maintained the light-hearted, laid back style of the piece.
During the race, there was a heavy focus on the playoff contenders, to the point where other aspects of the race were forgotten. For instance, there was no mention of the Competition Caution that NASCAR had decreed for lap 35 until lap 33. That shouldn’t happen. Since that affects the race, NBC should have made more of an effort to inform viewers.
If you weren’t in the playoffs, you weren’t necessarily invisible to the cameras, but they just plain would not reference you unless something out of the ordinary happened (Ex: you wrecked, like what happened to David Ragan and Danica Patrick). It started with the starting lineup and continued on. While yes, NASCAR wants to promote these playoffs, you can’t discount everyone else that’s out there. If you go that route, you’re arguably hurting the series because prospective sponsors will see that they won’t get any exposure. Then, they’ll turn their backs on potentially putting their money into the sport.
Let’s face some facts. NASCAR needs to sell this series (and their other series) to prospective sponsors. Making it so that you get next to no exposure if you’re outside of the top 12 in points doesn’t help anyone. It just makes sponsors question their commitment. For the most part, the top 12 teams are full with primary sponsorship. It’s darn near everyone else that needs help.
As a result, NBC Sports shouldn’t really cover a playoff race too much differently than a typical race. Sure, these playoffs are going to guarantee a certain amount of coverage. However, NBC cannot allow them to completely dictate what gets covered and what doesn’t.
That said, there was still a good amount of racing for position that was covered on Sunday. While it might not look that way if you only look at the results, there was a lot of side-by-side racing, especially early on. Kevin Harvick noted that the PJ1 TrackBite started to go away (in reality, it was covered up by rubber) after halfway. That was when the on-track action started to slacken off. Of course, Martin Truex Jr. was kicking his usual quota of butt cheeks by then.
Also, Michael McDowell spun to cause the fourth caution, then ended up going behind the wall. NBC never seemed to explain to viewers that his issues were mechanical and that they caused the spin. With the crash clock in effect, viewers would be inclined to believe that McDowell was done. McDowell’s problems were yet another instance in that I had to go to Twitter to figure out what happened. That’s absolutely unacceptable.
Arguably, the biggest story on Sunday was Kyle Busch wrecking by himself on lap 136. Surprisingly, the response to Busch’s wreck was quite low-key for what it was. Busch was not only a playoff contender, but he was running second and had led laps. Realistically, he was one of the biggest contenders.
The booth did realize pretty quickly that Busch’s No. 18 was beat up and would be negatively affected for the rest of the race. A NASCAR Heat 2 animated piece showed how important the right rear fender is to the downforce and the grip on the car. Sure enough, the rest of the race was nothing short of a nightmare for Busch. NBC was easily able to show viewers footage of what happened when Busch lost that security. He darn near wiped out multiple times shortly after the initial repairs were made.
Speaking of those initial repairs, there was something that was actually pretty cool that made the broadcast. I’m unsure if it was official or not, but NBC actually showed the five-minute clock for Busch at one point. NASCAR stated at the beginning of the season it couldn’t provide the clock for the broadcasts, but said it was in the works. Does NASCAR have that ability now and Sunday was the debut? Or was NBC timing it?
However, the Busch incident did result in a back-and-forth between Rick Allen and Steve Letarte. Allen seemed to be confused about how the clock reset worked. Yes, the clock goes away once Busch ran a lap above the minimum speed. Allen seemed to think that Busch got five minutes total to make repairs. In reality, the clock permanently goes away and any other repairs can be made without a time limit. That’s assuming that Busch doesn’t wreck again, which he did later on. Letarte had to remind Allen of that rule. You know the rules are getting too complicated when the people paid the big bucks to know them cold space on them on live TV.
With NBCSN airing Breeder’s Cup coverage around the time the race ended, NBC made the decision to stay with coverage in Charlotte through 6 p.m. As a result, viewers got over an hour of post-race coverage. It was still too focused on the playoff contenders, though.
Sunday’s broadcast was still too centered on the playoff contenders for my taste. It is a continuous refrain, but that’s the truth. TV broadcasts are still the primary way in which most fans and advertisers experience NASCAR. In order to build this series, NBC (and FOX, for that matter) have to be as inclusive as possible in their coverage. They need to realize that everyone has fans.
Next weekend brings one of the more nerve-wracking experiences of the season. The fall race weekend at Talladega for Cup and Truck weekends. For the Camping World Truck Series, the Fred’s 250 counts as the cutoff race for the Round of 8. Expect some craziness. Hopefully, no more dumb rule changes come out of the weekend. As you probably remember, the 2015 weekend birthed the Overtime line, which thankfully no longer exists.
In addition, Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is hosting the inaugural California 8 Hours, a round of the International Grand Touring Championship (IGTC). On the undercard there are the final rounds for Pirelli World Challenge’s touring car classes.
We’ll have critiques of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck Series races from Talladega in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. In the Critic’s Annex, we’ll cover the marathon that was Saturday’s Drive For The Cure 300 for the XFINITY Series. A race scheduled as a day race ended at 11 at night. An adventure for anyone involved.
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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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