Watkins Glen International is the longest-tenured road course on the NASCAR Cup Series calendar, having had a date on the schedule every year since 1986 (the track was scheduled to have one in 2020, but the race was cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions and NASCAR refusing to institute COVID-19 testing). This doesn’t even include the three pre-modern era races held on an older version of the track.
Sunday was a very different affair, as rain intruded on the pomp and circumstance. With rain tires, this wouldn’t have been so bad. However, it was accompanied by lightning. Hence, the race started 100 minutes late at 5 p.m. ET.
For the past couple of years, NBC Sports has used an alternate format for broadcasting this race. In the past, it has been referred to as “MVP” coverage, short for “Multiple Vantage Point” coverage. Now, it is known as “radio-style” coverage.
Whatever NBC Sports wants to call it, the result is the same. Rick Allen and Steve Letarte held down the fort in the broadcast booth, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton were dispatched around the track. Also, Mike Bagley was back with the broadcast from MRN Radio.
The result of a radio-style broadcast is two-fold. One, you’re going to have a more frantic style of commentary. This can be for a number of reasons. The easiest of those reasons being that it’s quite loud.
Burton, Earnhardt Jr. and Bagley were broadcasting outdoors on Sunday. NASCAR Cup Series cars are loud, and they were really close to the track (Bagley in the Esses, especially). It’s hard to make yourself heard. From what I saw on Twitter, that fact may have rankled some viewers. However, that is something that comes with the game. It is NASCAR, after all. Noise is part of the experience.
Now, the three remote broadcasters didn’t really have a chance to move around during the race Sunday. They were more or less tethered to their towers. I wouldn’t have expected them to move anywhere during the race. Back in the early 1990s, it wasn’t uncommon for Benny Parsons to move around while reporting. In 1990, he “got tired” of the view in turn 1 and wandered up the frontstretch to what is now turn 11 for another vantage point. Right around the time he got he got there, Hut Stricklin and Sarel van der Merwe crashed right in front of him.
Being in position, Parsons was able to go and get quotes from van der Merwe and Stricklin. Obviously, this is not possible today for multiple reasons, one of them being the fact that there is a tall catchfence there.
The second major difference with a Radio Style broadcast is that it’s like having multiple play-by-play guys. Instead of just Allen doing play-by-play, you effectively have four play-by-play commentators. So long as you take turns, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. If you don’t, then it’s trouble. Thankfully, that wasn’t an issue Sunday.
My main gripes with MRN Radio broadcasts is that with all the commentary, things can get lost. I think USA had that problem Sunday as well. For instance, I was somewhat confused how a number of drivers ended up multiple laps down during the race. Apparently, Chase Briscoe had some kind of mechanical issue that we never really found out about. That’s why he was never able to come back through the field after he won stage one.
Bubba Wallace apparently had some kind of suspension issue. Not sure what happened there, but he ended up stuck a lap down, got a lucky dog during the final yellow, then never took it before he retired.
At the same time, having Burton stationed in turn 10 (minus the flamingoes and palm trees on his scissor lift) meant that viewers got a quicker response from the broadcasters in regards to Loris Hezemans’ spin into the trap that caused the final yellow.
Outside of the layout of the broadcast itself, the biggest story of the day was Kimi Raikkonen coming in to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut as part of Trackhouse Racing Team’s PROJECT91. This was something that I wanted to watch in order to see whether the broadcast would be overwhelmed with Raikkonen talk.
This was not the case. I am surprised that there wasn’t an in-car camera in Raikkonen’s No. 91. Raikkonen ultimately acquitted himself quite well. Yes, Watkins Glen is a road course, but Raikkonen appeared to be more competitive Sunday before he crashed out than he was in either of the races he ran in Charlotte back in 2011.
The coverage Raikkonen got was decent, but not overwhelming. It was fair. I think there would have been some viewers, especially those who are primarily Formula 1 viewers, that would have complained that there wasn’t enough coverage of him. Maybe it would have increased in the second half of the race had he not crashed out. I was fine with what we got.
For what it’s worth, it appears that Raikkonen enjoyed himself and would be willing to come back for more. Other drivers appear to want in on it as well, like Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson.
Oh yeah! Looks like tons of fun! 🤩💯
— Marcus Ericsson (@Ericsson_Marcus) August 21, 2022
Justin Marks likely came out of Watkins Glen looking pretty good. Despite the result, it appears that PROJECT91 is a success so far.
Prior to the race, there were a good amount of pre-race interviews to help promote the race. Then, the lightning came in. Swell. As a result, there was a time spent showing the conclusion of Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Sunoco GO Rewards 200 at the Glen. There were also interviews that were done in NASCAR’s Club 1948 (this space is also known as the Great Room and is where NASCAR has traditionally held the drivers’ meetings). Club 1948 is also where they did the pre-race ceremonies.
Prior to the lightning, USA aired a feature on Brett Sanchelli, a tire carrier on Michael McDowell’s pit crew. Away from the track, Sanchelli spends his time taking care of his sister Courtney, who was paralyzed in a car accident in New Jersey back in 2000.
As you can imagine, this would have been a terrible situation for the Sanchelli family to go through (and still has to go through given Courtney’s medical needs). There are a lot of interesting stories in NASCAR, and NBC Sports (via Dustin Long, who narrated the piece) found one here.
Since the rain caused the race to run extremely long, there was not much post-race coverage. Viewers only got a couple of post-race interviews and a little bit of analysis before USA left to air Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. The problem is, most of that post-race coverage was based around the move on the final restart that ultimately gave Kyle Larson the win.
Larson was basically sorry for what he did afterwards. Meanwhile, Chase Elliott was so ticked off that he basically went out of his way to say nothing. As a result, post-race coverage was rather thin.
I think the wet track conditions early in the race did cause some unusual issues in drivers getting trapped a lap down and the broadcast didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. I believe that’s how Denny Hamlin ended up a lap down and spent much of the race trying to get it back.
Racing-wise, Sunday’s race was quite competitive. Even without all that many interruptions due to cautions, there was a lot of passing to be had. Even during the wet portions of the race, there were battles throughout the field. The earliest laps of the race were quite exciting. This was a great race to watch, but I think that the focus narrowed as the event continued on. Apparently, there were nearly 40 passes per green flag lap on Sunday. That’s a bunch and way more than last year (23.5). You didn’t really all that much later in the race because the broadcast was focusing on the Hendrick Motorsports teammates (Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson).
At road courses, you do get different drivers at the front. McDowell is somewhat expected, given his background. Todd Gilliland? Not so much. It was great to see him taking the fight to the top guys and getting his due on the broadcast until his car turned traitor on him. I would have liked to see what he could have done had the car been able to last 90 laps.
Overall, Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen is probably the best Cup race there since the stages were instituted. Still not a fan of them due to how they affect the races.
USA did a pretty good job bringing viewers the action Sunday, especially early on in the race. The tightening focus never really benefits a broadcast because you miss so many things. They need to be cognizant of that.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series regular season comes to an end in Daytona. Some stupid stuff will likely happen. Meanwhile, Formula 1 returns from their summer break to travel to Spa … where it might rain again. IMSA is at VIR for a GT-only weekend as well. TV listings can be found here.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity broadcasts from Daytona next week in Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter has two editions this week. Today’s newsletter has a look at the Xfinity race from Richmond. Last weekend’s Sunoco GO Rewards 200 at the Glen will be covered later this week.
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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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