Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: NBC Sports Racing Team Brings A Different Approach to Loudon

New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Loudon, N.H.) holds an interesting spot in NASCAR. A lot of fans don’t like the flat track, but it’s the only venue in all of New England that could realistically host a NASCAR Cup Series event. With the Next Gen car in action, no TrackBite was applied to the facility. Since it’s been three years or so since the last application, that leaves the oval more or less back to normal.

As a result, viewers didn’t see the most exciting race at the front of the field (only eight lead changes in 301 laps). That said, there’s still plenty to talk about with this week’s telecast.

NBC Sports declared that Sunday’s (July 17) Ambetter 301 would be a “Racing Team” broadcast. As a result, Dale Earnhardt Jr. called the race as the play-by-play commentator alongside Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte.

Earnhardt Jr. has made this adjustment before, but not in the NASCAR Cup Series. Those previous events had gone well.  Sunday’s was about the same, to be honest. Earnhardt Jr. in the booth is naturally excitable. In that regard, he would be able to easily bring attention to things going on that other play-by-play commentators who are more subdued might not be able to.

The other thing that the Racing Team wanted to do is to talk about everyone in the race on Sunday. You’d think that wouldn’t be all that difficult to do, but it is not common for everyone to be covered. I whole-heartedly believe that this idea is something Earnhardt Jr. pitched.

As you know, Earnhardt Jr. is a zealot for nostalgia. He likely has boxes of old race broadcasts at Dirty Mo Acres in North Carolina.  As a result, he likely watched many dozens of NASCAR events on ESPN in the 1980s and 1990s. They prided themselves on covering everyone. That mentality is how you get an in-race interview where Jack Arute asked Ronnie Thomas about apparently getting fined for “profanity” in the middle of the 1985 Valleydale 500.

Naturally, when this was pitched during Countdown to Green, I immediately wrote the number of every driver in the race down in my notebook and kept a running tally to see if everyone was covered. Were they? It depends on where that coverage was.

If you’re including Countdown to Green, then I guess so. If we’re only talking about the race broadcast, then likely no.  There were a couple of drivers that didn’t really get any coverage, like Cody Ware.

Note: Unfortunately, there was a brief section of the race that was unable to be viewed. This was not my fault. During Sunday’s race, this happened six miles from my house.  It actually made me a little concerned because one of my friends lives right next to the substation noted in the article.

The power at my house only flickered briefly, but it knocked my cable out and rendered me unable to watch for a brief amount of time. This occurred right after Todd Gilliland had his incident in turn 4 to bring out what turned out to be the final yellow. What a time for that to happen.

One of the major stories on Sunday is the ongoing beef much of the field has against Ross Chastain.  Nate Ryan voiced a feature on Chastain’s aggression and the field’s opinions of him during Countdown to Green. The primary idea of that piece seemed to be to compare Chastain to Ernie Irvan, a similarly talented racer who ticked off a bunch of people in the early 1990s.

For the sake of this discussion, I will admit that I was a card-carrying member of the Ernie Irvan Fan Club for a year. Given the near-fatal injuries Irvan suffered at Michigan in 1994, most of the time I was in the club was when he was recovering.

While there are likely some similarities between Chastain and Irvan, things are quite different now as compared to 1991. Drivers are way more aggressive than they were 30 years ago. In addition, the current format of the season, for better or worse (most likely worse) actively penalizes you at times for not wrecking dudes. I’d argue that what Chastain needs to do is not necessarily one-to-one compared to what Irvan did. If he cools it, it can only be a little, or other drivers could take advantage of him.

With only eight lead changes and Martin Truex, Jr. leading 172 of the first 206 laps with very little challenge, there really wasn’t going to be that much action at the front. USA was going to have to bring viewers more than that. I thought that they did a decent job under the circumstances. There were a number of drivers that ran quite well Sunday that haven’t always been up there this season (Ex: Bubba Wallace, Cole Custer before he had to stop). All of them received solid coverage.

There were multiple decent battles on track at times and USA did a good job bringing those battles to the viewers. Just goes to show that how you broadcast a race can make a difference in how it is perceived by the general public. Those who actually make the trip will probably come away with a more uniform opinion of the race than those watching on USA. If you looked at the results sheet, you might think this race was more boring than it was. Instead, there was enough to keep you satisfied.

Outside of the Chastain topic, the biggest story that came out of the race was the ridiculous Austin DillonBrad Keselowski contretemps under yellow following Kyle Busch’s second spin. The whole thing seemed strange to me watching at home and the booth seemed confused about it as well.  Heck, the crews were even confused about how the incident unfolded.

To be fair, USA did make use of their available wares to figure this out. Radio chatter indicated that Keselowski thought Dillon’s bump on the backstretch was intentional. Afterwards, it was like he just lost his mind for a moment. Wow. Haven’t seen anything like that from him in years.

After the race, viewers saw both sides of the story as Dillon and Keselowski explained the affair. Well presented from a production standpoint but still a weird turn of events.

The start of this race was delayed by approximately 15-20 minutes due to a small thunderstorm that passed near the track prior to the event.  While they were somewhat low-key about it during Countdown to Green, the storm actually required the grandstands to be cleared.  Luckily, the sun came out and dried everything to minimize the delay.  That said, it still meant that the race ended pretty late.

As a result, USA cancelled the first repeat of Austin Dillon’s Life In The Fast Lane in order to provide a full post-race show. In addition to both sides of the Dillon-Keselowski spat, viewers got a series of other interviews including with race winner Christopher Bell, point checks and analysis.

Given the circumstances, I have come to expect minimal post-race coverage when things run late. That wasn’t the case here and I was happy to see it.

Overall, New Hampshire was a pretty decent race to watch. Loudon races have gotten better since they stopped using the TrackBite to watch.  Perhaps, it is the approach used that helped the telecast. You can’t just focus on a couple of dudes for a race broadcast. Spread that out.

Do I think that the “Racing Team” should be the regular setup for the broadcast booth going forward? No. It’s a different setup, but that doesn’t mean that it should be every week. That said, they can take some ideas from it for the regular broadcasts.  Being able to properly cover every driver in the field is one of them.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is a very busy weekend. Pocono Raceway will host a quadruple-header of racing starting on Friday with 200 miles for the ARCA Menards Series. Saturday sees all three of NASCAR’s National Series on track with the regular season finale for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and 225 miles for the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Sunday has NASCAR Cup Series teams racing for 400 miles.

Outside of NASCAR, IndyCar has a doubleheader this weekend at Iowa Speedway. 550 laps of racing on the seven-eighths of a mile short track. Formula 1 returns to action at the Circuit Paul Ricard in France. Finally, SRO America will be at Watkins Glen International. It’ll be a busy weekend. See the complete schedule here.

We will have a critique of Sunday’s Cup race in Pocono for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex later this week in the Frontstretch Newsletter will cover the Crayon 200. There might be a second one covering the Honda Indy Toronto since that race was fully exclusive to Peacock and that’s worth looking at because the race was presented differently than the typical IndyCar event.

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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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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DoninAjax

The Busch event on Saturday at Pocono starts at FIVEPM. That means it gets the green around 5:25. I can’t see the full distance.

The telecast of theCup event on Sunday comes on at 3pm. Good luck with full distance if there is a red flag or rain delay.

The Spotters Stand

Considering it gets dark around 8:30 or so on the east coast in the summer, they’ll be fine. However, there is a threat of rain Sunday which may be interesting, but Xfinity will be done before dark easily.

TheBabe

The race coverage on NBC is horrible. You don’t hear the race cars. All you get is a faint hum in the background. It sounds like a talk show with a video only in the background. No “crank it up” on NBC,

Mr Yeppers

Totally agree. Its like the announcers are twice or more the volume as the background “noise”. And I’m watching on a higher end surround sound system.

Kurt Smith

They might not want you to hear the “Let’s Go Brandon” chants. :-)

Mike

The broadcast was just ok. Jeff Burton is terrible and annoying as heck. Dillon and Kez are just frustrated at this point in the season I would guess.

Jill P

Jeff Burton needs to leave his disdain for Ross Chastain at the door.

Christopher

I agree with Mr Allaway for the most part. NBC’s broadcasts to date have so far out shined FOX that the difference is quite stark. From technical analysis, to covering (and showing) more of the field, to trying different things (even if they don’t work) my hat is off to NBC. The downsides are Kim Coons in the pits, not because of her reporting, but only because she adds yet another high, sqeaky voice to a team full of high, squeaky voices. On that note, Junior seems to have consciously modulated his vocal pitch to be a tad lower for the most part, which is a good move.

johndawgchapman

As for taking advantage of Chastain, I think that’s already happening. If you noticed, Hamlin moved him to make the pass. Had it been the other way around, Burton would have screaming his head off. As it was there was hardly a peep out of anyone. I understand that’s typical short track practice. But unless I missed it, there was a lot of passing back in the pack, but they were all made cleanly.

I follow the race with NASCAR.Com’s live leaderboard feature so I was able to follow the passes that weren’t shown. So I wasn’t dependent on the booth. So I enjoyed the race. If all I was seeing was someone chasing Truex around, it would have been another story.

As for the dustup between Dillon & Brad, I guess Brad had heard the story about the bull & the horn. But it was pretty bizarre.

Brian

It’s interesting that you brought up Cody Ware as he did a heck of a job not slamming into the 18 car when it came right down in front of him. The two driver boys in the booth could have given him a shout out during one of the endless replays of the incident.

Kurt Smith

I actually thought the broadcast was good, and I don’t say that often. For starters, NBC’s pre-race show is LIGHT YEARS better than Fox’s…they actually talk about the race I’m about to see, as opposed to Bob Pockrass playing word games with Corey LaJoie and Michael Waltrip schmoozing with fans, because someone at Fox think that makes for compelling TV.

I didn’t mind the split screen, but I have a pretty large TV, so I wonder what it might have been like for people watching on a smaller set.

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