Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: Dale Earnhardt Jr. & NASCAR Championship Overkill On NBC

On Sunday, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season came to a conclusion at Homestead-Miami Speedway.  It’s pretty obvious what the main topics of discussion were on this day.

NBC brought Bob Costas down to Homestead to basically serve as the broadcast’s host.  However, his only real role of note was to interview Dale Earnhardt Jr. prior to the race.  Costas seemed out of place in Homestead.  He’s mainly a baseball guy these days and his knowledge of racing is unclear at best.  It seems like it was completely unnecessary to have him there.  Costas’ interview easily could have been conducted by Krista Voda.

It was a nice touch having a couple of sports legends giving dap to Earnhardt Jr.  Shaquille O’Neal in particular.  He’s an interesting guy in general, but not someone you’d think of in regards to NASCAR.

For a number of drivers, having a familiar face asking the questions actually does help quite a bit.  They’re more willing to open up.  Carl Edwards was apparently exactly like that.  Earnhardt Jr. is not necessary that guy.  He’ll give a decent interview to darn near anyone, even to his own detriment.

In addition to Costas-time, there was an “Appreciation” feature narrated by Justin Hartley of NBC’s This Is Us.  The piece, partially filmed in the race car graveyard at “Dirty Mo Acres,” talked about the qualities that Earnhardt Jr. brought to the table during his career.

The focus was not really on his on-track abilities at all.  Yes, he won a fair amount (26 races, not a bad total for anyone), but there was more to him than just winning.  Earnhardt Jr. seems to embody a number of character traits that many people should aspire to be.  Yes, he started his career in the shadow of his father and may have never actually escaped it.  However, he clearly set himself apart from his father.  His interviews on television are just one example of that.  Dale Earnhardt was really only substantial if he won the race.  You apparently had to earn his trust to get anything out of him.

Honestly, the piece (and his driver induction/procession afterwards) does an excellent job of showing just what Earnhardt Jr. means to NASCAR fans.  It’s why the sport may struggle a bit next season.  While there’s a good chance that many of Earnhardt Jr.’s fans might latch onto under drivers, others might just walk away.  No one resonates in NASCAR like Earnhardt Jr. does.  An unscientific poll we conducted Sunday in Homestead indicated that Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron and Chase Elliott could absorb some of his fans.

Granted, these were out and out Earnhardt Jr. fans at a race.  It remains to be seen if this sentiment holds throughout Junior Nation.  Earnhardt Jr. would more than likely support that move.

Even with Earnhardt Jr. retiring, the championship was the biggest story by far.  All four of the championship contenders got plenty of airtime prior to the race.

Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick got only a little airtime.  Given what they’ve meant to NASCAR over the years, it’s arguable that they deserved a little more.

During the race itself, there was a heavy emphasis on the championship.  No shock there.  The contenders fought each other for a fair amount of the race, which was good to see.  That meant that viewers got to see more racing for position than they would have otherwise.

There was a little too much focus on them.  The other big stories of the day were completely overshadowed.

Post-race coverage was quite detailed and not detailed at the same time.  That means that viewers got a bunch of coverage, but that coverage was heavily centered on champion Martin Truex Jr.  Obviously, he’s the champ.  He should get coverage.  However, it’s like the rest of the race didn’t matter.  Kenseth got next to no coverage and no post-race interview.  Heck, the dude was all but avoided by all the media in Homestead.  Our own Joseph Wolkin found Kenseth all by his lonesome after the race and got to briefly interview him.

Championship races are always difficult events to cover.  The first thought is to cover the championship and nothing else.  The production staff is basically running scared since the heads of sports production are usually in the house (Sunday was no different as NBC Sports’ Sam Flood was at Homestead and introduced during the Drivers’ Meeting).  They’re watching the staff’s every move.  Therefore, they can’t make the telecast theirs.

Even Earnhardt Jr. got ignored late in favor of the championship.  It was unclear just what the heck happened to drop him from 16th (on the final restart) to a 25th-place finish.  Apparently, it was a tire issue that cost him a couple of laps late.

With that, we’ve reached the end of the NASCAR season.  Hard to believe that this is my ninth year of TV criticism.  I currently plan to be back for a tenth year of keeping TV partners honest.  In the coming weeks, we’ll have a season recap of NASCAR’s TV partners (NBC and FOX).

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend, the Formula One World Championship comes to an end at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.  It will be the final race (for now) for Formula One on NBCSN since the series will move back to ESPN after a 20 year absence next season.  We’ll have a recap of the NBCSN Formula One farewell next week.  As usual, TV listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab.

This will not be the last time that we will have Homestead critiques.  An additional critique to cover the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series races will be on tap as well.

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

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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Other than very brief relief, it was All contenders all the time. If you were hoping to follow the actual race, or try to keep up with any other driver, you were SOL. For all the overkill, they didn’t even tell fans why Jr. suddenly dropped down in the running. Such limited coverage of a race does not keep me interested or involved.


There are two reasons Dale Jr. dropped in the running, pretty much the same as every other week.
1) Hendrick basically put all its focus on the 24 (soon to be 9) car so the other HMS cars were not good
2) He didn’t really care this year.

Bill B

Phil, thanks for another year of critiquing the race coverage. You often shed light on things I missed or didn’t realize were happening.

Sol Shine

Truly a disgrace the way Kenseth was treated this year, by Gibbs and Nascar. Considering his record in the sport he deserved better.

But Nascar and most of its fan base is more about hype than reality, that is amply clear with the slathering adoration of Jr and Patrick, both of whom consistently under-performed. Jr is a nice enough guy,but hardly a shadow of his old man in talent. Patrick was little more than an oddity, one that probably in the end cost the sport fans due to the idiot level of attention paid to her people just could not stand it and walked away. It is fitting that she left with little fanfare as that about describes her time in stock cars.

I miss Stevie Gaines

Costas seemed out of place in, you nailed that, throw in jeremy schapp and queff olberman too, how do those guys get jobs in sports they never played?


I didn’t know F1 was moving to ESPN. I guess I don’t follow close enough. I thought NBCSN did well with their coverage. I guess ESPN will be putting it on some obscure channel.
Thanks for your NASCAR coverage Phil. I always like your column. Not looking forward to FOX again.
See you next year.


Lets hope ESPN at least keeps the current announcing team. Matchett and Hobbs are excellent, the third guy is ok, although I did like the earlier group better. Regardless better than anybody covering the nascar races.

Al Torney

I’m sort off glad it was Junior’s final race. I like him. He’s genuine in a world of PC. But i’m Burned out of hearing he’s the most popular driver. All of these years of hearing it became a turn off. Good to see the wasted hype on Danica go away too. To say that her stock car career was anything more then a failure is ludicrous. I don’t care about being an inspiration to millions of young girls she was supposed to be a racer. I lost all respect for Gibbs with the way Matt’s deal came down. In the end I think Matt makes him look like a horse’s patut. In this case bullshit talked and money walked. Hamlin’s time is limited now because Bell will be ready to drive for less money. In fact all of those high priced vets should be looking over their shoulders these days.


Poor little Al…Danica finished the year with an average finish of 23, while Dale Jr. finished with 20. She finished higher than 17 other racers! Danica has been an awesome inspiration for millions of children and adults, which is truly a success in any endeavor one might undertake. She is a multi-millionaire with many lucrative projects set for the future. She raced with courage and had an amazing attitude, which allowed her to blow-off the haters and jealous “adults” who felt so threatened by her. Sounds like a true winner to me!

Ken Smith

Already sick of the “bromance” between the announcers and Chase Elliott! Fell asleep through part of Sunday’s race but was surprised to see that chase actually finished 5th and was barely mentioned throughout the race!


Poor little Kenny…upset by someone’s name, are we? You’d better get used to it, because Chase is going to set NASCAR on fire in the coming years!

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