The original plan for this week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday was to talk about how NBC covered Sunday’s (Aug. 5) Go Bowling at the Glen. We would have discussed the MVP (Multiple Vantage Point) coverage and how NBC treated Chase Elliott’s first win.
Unfortunately, two hours after Elliott took the checkers and roughly 45 minutes after Elliott was asked about his bus getting toiled paper’d (and pants-ed, for some reason), everything changed. As you all likely know by now, Brian France has taken an indefinite leave of absence from his role as Chairman and CEO of NASCAR in the aftermath of his arrest Sunday night.
How did NASCAR TV react? Multiple outlets responded quickly, including both of the daily NASCAR shows, a couple of shows on ESPN and over-the-air news.
NBCSN’s NASCAR America is the only outlet I could find that actually led with the story. Carolyn Manno reported on what happened in Sag Harbor, N.Y. and the statements that had been released to that point (5 p.m. ET).
Nate Ryan was then brought in to comment on how the situation would affect NASCAR. Ryan stated that on the surface, nothing much would change. He noted that the “executive suite” more or less runs the sport these days. You’re likely familiar with some of those people. We’re talking NASCAR Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell, Chief Operating Officer Steve Phelps and Vice Chairman Mike Helton. They’re the most visible NASCAR executives at the track and they will usher the sanctioning body through this mess as best they can.
With all the coverage on Monday I combed through, NBCSN had the only segment which took the time to really get into what this move could mean for NASCAR as a whole.
Ryan seems to believe that the situation here could resemble what NASCAR did when Bill France Jr. was battling cancer in the late 1990s. Bill Jr.’s health woes seemed to start with what was described as a “mild heart attack” during a trip to Japan for the 1997 Suzuka Thunder NASCAR Special 125, an exhibition race that featured drivers from a number of different series. Here’s Helton talking to TBS’ Allen Bestwick about Bill Jr.’s condition.
Later on, Bill Jr. was diagnosed with cancer. At that time, Jim France stepped in on an interim basis to run the sport while Bill Jr. sought treatment. From the outside looking in, nothing really changed all that much. But internally, people involved in the sport likely missed Bill Jr.’s presence since he went from always being around to gone for a couple of years.
The show seemed to start before official NASCAR statements were available to Manno. As a result, they returned to the story only a few minutes later with the news of Brian’s leave of absence and more reaction from Ryan.
NBCSN had by far the most complete coverage of the arrest and fallout on Monday. It wasn’t even close.
NASCAR RaceHub on FOX Sports 1 addressed the story 15 minutes into the show right before their second commercial break. It did not lead. Instead of starting with the France news, RaceHub chose to begin with Elliott’s victory at Watkins Glen and the pomp and circumstance that came with it.
While I don’t believe she was trying to speak for the network, this tweet from Kaitlyn Vincie accurately describes FOX Sports’ strategy in covering the story on NASCAR RaceHub.
In light of today’s headline I’m sure it will be easy for some to spout negativity, but I hope the focus will remain on the epic race we witnessed yesterday…and continued praise of a first-time Cup winner.
— Kaitlyn Vincie (@kaitlynvincie) August 6, 2018
When the time came to talk about the arrest, NASCAR RaceHub aired this segment.
NASCAR CEO Brian France will take an indefinite leave of absence after his arrest Sunday. pic.twitter.com/wybSU5enQn
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) August 6, 2018
There was no discussion on the issue and no one brought in to explain what this change will mean going forward for the sport. It’s as if FOX had to cover the news somehow but that they didn’t want to do it and rain on Elliott’s parade.
If you’re wondering why it was so dark when Alexander was covering the story, it had nothing to do with the story itself, despite the ambiance. Instead, the Charlotte area was being hit with nasty thunderstorms while the show was being shot. During RaceHub’s first segment, the lights dimmed due to a power failure of some sort. The problem was noted on air and resulted in an unscheduled commercial break.
It almost seemed like FOX Sports 1 pre-recorded Alexander’s segment on the France issues so as to not distract from the rest of the show. The segment was then repeated just before the end of the program.
Normally, NASCAR RaceHub is the better of the two daily NASCAR shows on cable. That clearly wasn’t the case on Monday. It’s great to be upbeat, talk about the siren (pronounced “si-reen”) at the Dawsonville Pool Room, but there are times when you have to step up and give a story the coverage it deserves. FOX Sports 1 did not do that Monday.
At ESPN.com, Bob Pockrass’ article on the arrest was the top headline on the website for most of the day. But on their studio shows, the story didn’t get all that much coverage.
The 6 p.m. edition of SportsCenter covered the story during their Right Now news update, which takes place 30 minutes into the show. Michael Eaves noted France’s leave of absence and that he could also face suspension under NASCAR’s own Substance Abuse Policy. They were the only outlet to note that possibility. If the sport’s CEO is going to enroll in NASCAR’s Road to Recovery, it appears that it will be done very quietly.
Finally, as per NASCAR’s statement, ESPN did note that Jim France would be taking over as interim Chairman and CEO. In this case, Jim was simply referenced as “his uncle Jim.”
Despite not airing a race since 2014, ESPN still has one of the deepest rosters of NASCAR experts out there. They have the aforementioned Pockrass, Ryan McGee, Marty Smith and Ricky Craven at their disposal. None of them were called upon for duty here. Even with that being the case, SportsCenter’s coverage was more or less on par with NASCAR RaceHub’s. Just typing that sounds strange given that highlights of Cup races don’t always make the show these days.
Pardon the Interruption only made a brief reference to France taking a leave of absence during their Big Finish segment. Michael Wilbon simply stated that it was the right course of action for France to take.
Much of the show was taken up with discussion of last weekend’s Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, the ongoing mess at Ohio State and Tiger Woods’ chances at this weekend’s PGA Championship.
Around the Horn never touched the topic. They discussed the Yankees-Red Sox series, Donald Trump going after Lebron James on Twitter after James unveiled his new school (and the support to James that followed), Ohio State, the Alabama quarterback controversy and more.
The story did make local newscasts all over the country. In my market, WRGB (known locally as CBS6 Albany) covered the story on their 5 p.m. newscast, complete with Brian’s mugshot. However, by the time the segment aired (5:15 p.m.) the information given was out of date.
They ran with NASCAR’s original statement that indicated the sanctioning body was aware of the arrest and were planning their strategy. At that time, we were in the process of writing up our article about France’s leave of absence from NASCAR.
Our own Joseph Wolkin made note of the fact that the local newscasts in New York City covered the arrest as well.
You know it's a strange day when #NASCAR is on the local news in NYC. For all the wrong reasons.
— Joseph Wolkin יוסף וולקין (@JoeWolkin) August 6, 2018
NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt covered the story in their second segment, 14 minutes into the show. Holt explained what led to France’s arrest, including the fact that France had Oxycodone on his person. That is a fact omitted from most of the other reports. Other outlets (with the exception of TMZ, who broke the story) referred to a “controlled substance” instead.
Like WRGB, NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt did use the mugshot of France on air. They also had more recent file footage of France at their disposal. WRGB’s footage was clearly quite dated as it referred to the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Looking back, there’s a clear winner here. If your goal was to truly get informed about the France situation, NASCAR America was the place to be on Monday. And even then, the news didn’t ruin the tone of the program. You could still have plenty of fun with the show even with the big story being about the arrest.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck Series will be at Michigan International Speedway. Meanwhile, the NASCAR XFINITY Series makes their sixth trip to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Rock n’ Roll Tequila 170. Finally, Pirelli World Challenge travels to the Intermountain West to wrap up the SprintX season at Utah Motorsports Campus. TV Listings can be found in our Television tab.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and Truck races from Michigan in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. Critiques of the Cup and XFINITY races from Watkins Glen will be covered in The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter (free to sign up!).
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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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