Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: A Wrap-up Of NBC Sports’ NASCAR Coverage

The 2021 season is now complete.  We’ve had two weeks to reflect upon the NASCAR season and Thanksgiving is coming up.  Now, it’s time for us to reflect on NBC Sports’ NASCAR coverage.

Normally, this would have been done last week.  However, I spent the weekend after Phoenix in Georgia, covering the IMSA finale, which was a lot of fun.  We’ve got some content coming from there in the near future.

NBC had 20 Cup races, along with 19 races.  On the Cup side, probably the biggest change in personnel was the dropping of Krista Voda as Countdown to Green host.  Voda was not replaced, so Rick Allen, Marty Snider and Kelli Stavast split the hosting role in addition to their other roles.  Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett continued in their analyst roles and really do work well together.

NASCAR America is effectively exclusive to Peacock these days with the Motor Mouths shows.  However, watching those live has been an adventure for me.  Basically, it is the most difficult show for me to watch on Peacock.  Technical issues basically mean that it doesn’t work.  Sure, you can watch it on-demand (once they get it on the service), but this is a call-in show.  It’s just not the same.

In Xfinity, viewers saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. work in a play-by-play capacity from time to time.  It actually didn’t work out that badly.  Earnhardt Jr. is alone in that he doesn’t just have a contract with NBC Sports, but with NBC as a whole.  Having play-by-play abilities could eventually earn him additional work down the line outside of NASCAR if time permits.

Brad Daugherty got to spend some time in the broadcast booth as well and seemed to do well.  Jeff Burton went to the land of the giants.

Having interviewed Burton for Frontstretch twice previously, I can assure you that he is not that short.  He’s taller than I am, that’s for sure.

Sadly, one of the biggest standout moments (good or bad) for NBC Sports with their NASCAR coverage in 2021 was the Sparks 300 at Talladega in October.  You all know what happened after Brandon Brown won the race.

I would have written about this travashamockery back in October had I been at home.  It would have been a big part of a regular edition of Couch Potato Tuesday.  However, I was at the track, standing outside of the Infield Care Center and waiting to interview the last of the drivers involved in the crash that brought the caution out that ultimately ended the race.  I only found out about this mess afterwards.

Let’s state a couple of things first.  Do I think Kelli Stavast actually heard the inappropriate political chants?  No.  I’ve never tried on the headsets that NBC Sports’ pit reporters use, but Stavast has talked to Frontstretch about those headsets in the past.

See also
The Life of a Racing Pit Reporter: Kelli Stavast

I think she saw the chanting and thought they were chanting for Brandon.  For the record, the only time I heard definitive chants for Brown were in victory lane.  I believe that they were started by members of Brandonbilt Motorsports and not meant to be political in any way.

Was this instance the only time that there were anti-Joe Biden chants at Talladega that weekend?  Heck no.  Most of you reading this weren’t on Talladega Boulevard after the race.  There were anti-Biden chants all night, including at the Dustin Lynch concert.  I know because I was there.  There was also one dude driving a golf cart around with a large anti-Biden flag on it, at least one decent-sized confederate battle flag on the Boulevard (even though they’re banned on the property of NASCAR tracks).

You know who else was there?  Brandon, trying to hide in plain sight.  I ran into him and members of his team and he claimed that he was someone else.  He did point me in the direction of his father, Jerry, who as you would expect, was a very proud papa.

What’s been the result of this mess?  Stavast has effectively quit social media, but has not deactivated her feeds.  She was never the most active person on Twitter, but she hasn’t tweeted at all since any of this came about.  Apparently, some people have threatened her on social media.  I shouldn’t have to tell you how bad that is.

For Brown, you didn’t really hear much from him since the victory.  That should have been something that Brandon and Brandonbilt Motorsports could build on, but it might end up hurting the team.  They did get funding to get through the 2021 season, but I fear that the fallout from that will lead to Brandon and his team being an extremely tough sell to potential sponsors.

For most of the season, I felt that NBC Sports’ coverage was decent overall.  However, the playoff focus was just ridiculous at times.  Phoenix is the most obvious example, but not the only one.

Things were fine during the Round of 16.  Once the traveling circus got to Las Vegas to start the Round of 12, it got ridiculous.

See also
Couch Potato Tuesday: Round of 12 Brings Heavy Playoff Focus to Las Vegas

The focus then backed off.  It later returned in the Round of 8, making some of those races annoying to watch.

I cannot speak for everyone reading this column, but playoff focus does affect my enjoyment of race broadcasts.  Like it or not, everyone’s still out there.  Even in a playoff situation, you cannot simply ignore them.

For 2022, the biggest change will be the dissolution of NBCSN.  The network will sign off at the end of the year.  I still don’t agree with NBCUniversal’s decision making here, but NBC Sports’ NASCAR programming is pretty much all safe for next season (for that matter, so is INDYCAR, IMSA and Supercross/Motocross).  The sole exception at the moment would be the televised episodes of The Dale Jr. Download.  If that stays on actual television in 2022, expect it to move to DVR Theater.

The TV schedules for 2022 have already been released.  The vast majority of the programming that would have aired on NBCSN will air on USA.  We’re talking a basic cable channel here, although one that really hasn’t aired much in the way of racing over the years.  The last time USA aired NASCAR races was during the Rio Olympics in 2016 (Watkins Glen for Cup, Mid-Ohio for the Xfinity Series).

Prior to that, USA was a place to see races back in the 1980s.  Coverage of the Twin 125s aired on there during the early part of the decade, while a partnership with Motorweek Productions saw some broadcasts in the middle of the decade.  Examples include a Coors Tour event at Bryar Motorsports Park and the Busch Grand National Series Sandhills 200 at Rockingham in 1986.

Other than the loss of NBCSN, changes for NBC Sports seem minimal for 2022, though they haven’t announced what they’re going to do with the practice and qualifying sessions yet.  Overall, it should be one of the quieter years in regards to on-air changes.  As of this writing, no one has announced that they’re leaving.  My expectation is that 2022 will see more of the same from NBC Sports.  They’ll just have to get people used to watching races on USA.  That will be a thing with far more than just NASCAR, though.  NBCUniversal does have a plan out there to educate viewers on the upcoming changes.

That concludes my 13th year of TV criticism for Frontstretch.  Yikes.  We’ve come a long way from weekly rants about Digger.  I will be back for a 14th year of Couch Potato Tuesday.  The goal will remain the same.  Try to help make race broadcasts as good as they possibly can be.

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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