Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: NBC Gets Compromised by Bad Weather in Chicago

When the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule was announced, the first Cup Series race on a street course was going to be a marquee event for no other reason than it had never happened before, and the notion of it was intriguing.

However, the weather ended up being a complete nightmare for NASCAR. The Loop 121 for the NASCAR Xfinity Series had to be declared complete with full points awarded prior to reaching either of the requirements for a race to be official. I’ve only seen this twice before in motorsports. One was the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2017, a race plagued by crashes (and one red flag when the Fitch barriers were destroyed) that resulted in a race scheduled for 50 green laps ended with only 17 complete due to darkness.

The other was the 2009 Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta, which was stopped just after the halfway point due to heavy rains. The race was red-flagged for over three hours before it was eventually declared complete with 184 of the scheduled 394 laps completed. While the official time listed on Racing-Reference.info says eight hours and 44 minutes, in practice, it was more like five hours and eight minutes.

See also
Stat Sheet: NASCAR's Chicago Street Race Was One for the Record Books

Sunday’s Grant Park 220 was also shortened due to darkness to 75 laps (extended to 78 due to a Green-White-Checker restart). Honestly, NASCAR probably made a mistake shortening the race when it did. Making it the full 100 laps while starting in wet conditions before sunset was nearly impossible when the race started. Shenanigans were nearly guaranteed. The only way all 100 scheduled laps could have been completed would have been to postpone the race to Monday, when it would have run under sunny skies. I’m reasonably confident that this is exactly what Denny Hamlin wanted.

By the time Countdown to Green started at 5 p.m. ET Sunday afternoon, it was still raining in Chicago. Things weren’t anywhere near as bad as they were when they wanted to restart the Xfinity race earlier in the day.

Due to the messy conditions, there was a modified version of pre-race coverage, similar to what we saw at Watkins Glen International last year. Marty Snider was posted in the “drivers lounge” and conducted interviews with drivers like Tyler Reddick, Shane van Gisbergen and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who was clearly not ready to race when he was called to his car.

Like at many other road courses, NBC utilized their Radio Style broadcast for the Grant Park 220. That meant the re-introduction of Mike Bagley to the telecast. Given his radio experience, they assigned him likely the trickiest spot as he had turns 1 and 6 with cars coming at him from both directions.

I felt that he did well with it, but calling the action often meant that he had his back turned when things happened around him. For instance, his back was turned during one of Noah Gragson’s trips into the turn 6 tire wall.

Name pronunciation is something that seemingly everyone struggled with at NBC this past weekend. Viewers were treated to a variety of incorrect pronunciations of van Gisbergen’s last name, or partial forms of his last name. It’s on par with FOX Sports’ issues with Andy Jankowiak. I know that van Gisbergen’s name can be rather tricky to pronounce correctly, but that’s why you ask how to say it right. NBC already has such a policy with new drivers in INDYCAR. I’m reminded of Giorgio Pantano and Joao Paulo de Oliveira’s brief tenures in the series in 2011.

Heck, they couldn’t even get van Gisbergen’s initials right. They referred to him multiple times over the weekend as “SVJ” instead of “SVG.” Not sure what was going on there.

As you’re likely aware, there were quite a few wrecks on Sunday. Bagley especially had the target zone for incidents. His section had no fewer than 11 wrecks Sunday, including six of the nine cautions.

Unfortunately, the production just wasn’t quite quick enough to catch up to the incidents. You’d have Bagley or Dale Earnhardt Jr. exclaiming about whatever incident was happening, then there would be a delay before you’d be able to see what was being described. It makes for a rather strange look.

Bagley brings significant enthusiasm to race broadcasts, both on NBC and on MRN Radio. As a result, he fits in very well with the rest of the NBC team. Had this been a FOX race, I’m not so sure. I would have been very happy to have him there, but I think Clint Bowyer would have spent part of the broadcast riffing on him.

There are a couple of things that I thought weren’t particularly well explained on the broadcast. One is Martin Truex Jr.’s struggles. He was right up there in the hunt until the caution for Alex Bowman’s blown engine split the pit strategy.

It appeared that he developed some braking issues shortly afterward. That was the likely cause for the two wrecks that he was involved in. NBC should have made better use of the pit reporters to convey that information to viewers.

Another was the whole mess surrounding the lap 49 parking lot on Jackson Street. William Byron hit the tires in turn 11, then Kevin Harvick and Corey LaJoie had contact and spun. From there, it was on.

A number of drivers (Reddick, Ty Gibbs, Daniel Suarez, van Gisbergen, etc.) were able to get past before the hole closed and the whole road was blocked. However, NASCAR placed a number of drivers that got through behind drivers that were in the wreck (Ex: Byron ended up restarting ahead of van Gisbergen). The broadcast mentioned that NASCAR had figured out the restart order, but I have no clue how they did it. It made no sense to me. I’d want to hear from race director Jusan Hamilton as to how they came up with the order. As you know, NASCAR has a rule in which if you fail to maintain a “cautious pace,” you can lose positions under yellow.

Did the re-ordering for the lap 52 restart affect the finish of the race? Possibly. It cost van Gisbergen some positions, but we know now that it didn’t prevent him from doing anything. For others, maybe things were different. For Suarez, even though he actually made it through that mess, it ruined his race because he hit Harvick while trying to get through.

Racing-wise, Sunday’s event was quite a bit more interesting than the short stint of racing Saturday before the lightning showed up. There were multiple passing zones in play once the track dried. Heck, had Truex not wrecked on lap 67, van Gisbergen would have made the pass for the win in turn 7, a place that was not viewed as much of a passing zone due to the narrowness of Michigan Avenue. It was a competitive race with a decent amount of passing, and I think NBC did okay bringing that competition to viewers.

See also
The Underdog House: Heartbreak Strikes Justin Haley in Chicago

Unlike Nashville, where all post-race coverage aired on NBC, Sunday saw the Peacock-exclusive coverage come into play. The late start, combined with slow going in the wet meant that the race ran long. Viewers on NBC saw van Gisbergen’s celebration and victory interview along with a chat with Justin Haley.

If you wanted more than that, then you had to get onto Peacock. It was there that you got Chase Elliott’s quip about van Gisbergen possibly going back to Australia and slagging everyone he raced against (this is doubtful, by the way). You also got a bunch more interviews and analysis from the Peacock Pit Box next to Buckingham Fountain before everything ceased for the evening at nearly 10 p.m. ET.

Overall, the whole day was compromised due to the bad weather. NBC did make the best of it. There was good racing to be had along with shenanigans. I do have my issues, though. The pronunciation issues come off as unprofessional. You must fix that so that you don’t look like a moron.

Also, if NASCAR returns to Chicago next year (the series probably wants to, but I don’t know about the city), it needs to start the races earlier. The Grant Park 220 was originally supposed to start at 5:50 p.m. ET. Why? The circumstances Sunday precluded starting earlier, but in the future, there is no reason to start as late as it planned unless NASCAR wants to bring portable lighting into Grant Park to do this at night.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is a split weekend for NASCAR. Cup and Xfinity Series will make their second trip of the year to Atlanta Motor Speedway. Meanwhile, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will be at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with support from the ARCA Menards Series. Formula 1 will be at Silverstone, while IMSA will be at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park. Also, if anyone got an inkling to watch some Supercars after Sunday, they’re in Townsville, a city in Queensland, Australia, this weekend. TV listings can be found here.

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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Marc

I thought Bagley’s coverage was more of what had just happened rather than what was happening right then. I get used to it after a few laps. On the other hand, I found the delay between Bagley and Burton very annoying. Was there a blind spot between them on the track?

sb

I found myself becoming a bit annoyed on the booths insistence on naming each street for the first part of the race. I really don’t care, since I don’t live in Chidago. I will give the fans a standing Ovation for sticking around to have a decent crowd for the end of the race. Hardy souls!

wb

Just wait for this week’s F1 race at Silverstone. If you don’t know the corner names (e.g. Copse, Maggotts, Becketts) you’ll be lost following the coverage. No one will give a corner number.

SB

Why do I need to know corner names to watch a race on a road course?

DoninAjax

Why doesn’t anyone mention how the announcers never blamed Hamlin when he forgot to brake and used the car in front to slow down? To me it was ridiculous.

Bill B

I must have missed that or I’d have been all over it. You know how much I love Hamlin aka DB.

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