Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: NBC Sports Gets Excited but Misses Things in Atlanta

Ever since Atlanta Motor Speedway was reconfigured, the 1.54-mile quad-oval has provided a series of wreckfests. As a superspeedway, Atlanta is a tricky track to pass on and leads to a lot of risky moves. Sunday (July 7) night brought other problems to the table.

For what seems like the eighth time this year, the weather rained on the parade. Having any race in the Southeast this time of year can be complete guesswork in regard to the weather. This is why Daytona International Speedway had the Pepsi 400 as a 10 a.m. ET race for so many years in order to get ahead of bad weather in the evening. Unfortunately, that strategy wasn’t viable as TV became more important. Having it on July 4, regardless of the day of the week, made it worse.

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Racing in Atlanta in July is a bonkers idea to begin with. Last year’s race was a daytime race, run in front of a mediocre crowd with hot and humid weather. Normally, this would have been a Saturday night race. However, Saturday night races don’t draw a good TV audience these days. That’s why most of the night races have been either outright cut from the schedule or moved to Sunday afternoon.

NASCAR decided on a Sunday night race for Atlanta. Having such a setup on a non-holiday weekend is generally bad for almost everyone involved. But we had a competitive race…for about 272 miles before it rained.

I will give NBC Sports credit. It didn’t shy away from the weather being an issue Sunday night. It informed viewers of the situation early and often.

If this were a FOX broadcast, you might have seen it ignore the issue as long as possible unless lightning showed up. You’d also likely hear about the trash known as the “Vortex theory” in order to obfuscate the truth. Just last week on Frontstretch Happy Hour, we talked to FOX Sports’ Artie Kempner about the fraudulent theory that Darrell Waltrip often touted during his time with the network.

Why do they do that? At least part of it is the fact that even a rain delay without a postponement for the networks is something of a logistical nightmare. I learned a little about this the first time I covered a NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International back in 2009. Back then, it was explained to me by workers with ESPN that if you had a postponement, a lot of work had to be done behind the scenes. It’s not just rebooking flights and hotels for a couple of hundred people (although that definitely plays a role).

We’ll use this weekend’s schedule for Loudon as an example. See how NBC Sports’ crews get more than five hours for setup? That’s for running all the wiring needed for the cameras and everything. All of the equipment that will be set up is the same equipment that was used at Atlanta Sunday. It takes a long time to tear everything down after the race, get it loaded up, then haul it to New Hampshire, which is a minimum 19-hour drive. That takes a lot longer with an 18-wheeler than it would in my Honda Civic Si. As you can see, they don’t want delays.

They don’t want to think about it because to think about it seemingly wills it into existence. Sounds ridiculous, but I’ve been told this in the past.

As the race continued, the broadcast became quite focused on the on-track action. I don’t really blame the broadcasters since the action was fast and furious. But they were ignoring a lot of stuff.

For instance, Kyle Larson dropped out of the race. Exiting turn 4, Larson spun out and collected Austin Hill and Chase Briscoe.

The team then compounded the error by not replacing the right front tire immediately, resulting in a spectacular tire failure. Repairs were seemingly made on pit road so Larson could continue. He cleared the crash clock. Then, he retired on lap 111. What happened?

In a later interview, Larson explained: “Just had a little bit of a tire rub still and ultimately it just ended up giving out and I got into the wall.”

I have no idea where this happened on the track, or what it looked like. All viewers saw was Larson coming into the pits to retire.

Later, Noah Gragson effectively wrecked and ruined his night, seemingly collecting Kyle Busch in the process. It was unclear what happened here.

Gragson explained after the race to Chevrolet PR that “the car just came out from underneath me in turn 3 and bent the toe pretty good.”

There were no replays or any real explanation given, just a shot of Gragson’s car smoking out of context. Busch didn’t explain what happened from his point of view after the race.

You also had Kevin Harvick’s spin on lap 173 that ultimately saw him putt around on the apron at something like 25 mph to get back to the pits (he did pit, then came back out four laps down and likely never got back up to speed before the final yellow came out). Viewers only got a replay of that during the final yellow.

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NBC Sports has access to split-screen technology for replays. Sunday night would have been a good time to make use of it since there was so much that just didn’t make sense.

There are other examples of things that just struck me as confusing, but the final yellow might have been the most confusing of all. The final yellow came out due to an incident involving Bubba Wallace and Ryan Preece.

First, you have drivers like Martin Truex Jr. getting a piece of the final incident that NBC Sports never really mentioned other than showing him on pit road. No one made note of what happened until Truex posted on Facebook Monday.

Had a fast Auto-Owners Insurance Camry this weekend. We were able to avoid the chaos for awhile, but got hit from…

Posted by Martin Truex Jr. on Monday, July 10, 2023

That is why Truex finished 29th Sunday night. Had that not happened, he might still be the points leader.

Then, NASCAR purposefully never opened pit road for eight laps. The reason for this move was never explained on air. Had it never gotten to the point where it needed to stop the cars, it could have screwed over drivers like Michael McDowell that were on fumes.

On the broadcast, it talked about how NASCAR wanted to be cautious and prevent a travesty like what happened last year in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona. I get that. You could make the argument that if you had that situation at Atlanta, it’d be worse than at Daytona.

The post-race coverage Sunday night was pretty much non-existent. Once the race was called, NBC immediately aired the winner’s interview in the media center with William Byron, showed the points, then wrapped up and left. It’s as if there weren’t enough dry places available to talk to anyone at the track, so it threw its arms up in the air and said, “Aw, the heck with it!”

To be fair, our own Brad Harrison and Dalton Hopkins, who were at the race, indicated that everyone scattered almost as soon as the race was called. Despite that, we still got more post-race coverage for our YouTube channel than NBC Sports did on its broadcast.

A post-race show on Peacock was advertised before the race, but it was quickly called off with no notice. I only realized it wasn’t happening when the show on Peacock went from starting in 27 minutes to “event completed” with a yellow bar on the bottom of the icon to show it being complete.

FOX Sports had much better pre-race coverage Saturday in a driving rainstorm than that. It had Jamie Howe and Amanda Busick talking to drivers in the veritable sheds that Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course considers to be garage stalls (seriously, I’ve never really seen anything quite like them at a track).

Racing-wise, I think NBC Sports may have been overselling the on-track product a bit. It was definitely more frantic than last year (or this spring), but I think that was mainly due to the looming weather. Take that away and it would have been more sedate. Maybe not quite as frustrating as the ALSCO Uniforms 250, but a little similar.

The comparison of racing at Atlanta to a mid-1990s restrictor plate race at Daytona is a little more apt, but the leaders were more likely to drive away back then. You had single-file and double-file racing back then, but it was more spread out.

The booth was obviously into the on-track product and it showed in its commentary. It was exciting to watch, even if I’m still not really a fan of the current product at Atlanta (I think the reconfiguration was unnecessary, even though the repave was necessary).

My advice going forward is for NBC Sports to be as inclusive in its coverage as possible. Don’t ignore things when they’re right in front of you. Gragson’s issues are one example of that. Another is JJ Yeley driving up into the top five, which wasn’t acknowledged until after the race was called. I noticed him there and thought, “Oh snap, Yeley’s in the hunt!” You don’t see that very much, as Hopkins wrote Monday:

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Make use of the abundant technology at your disposal. Apparently, the free-to-view internet cameras are at NBC Sports’ disposal, so make use of them if you need to. The goal is to have the best possible broadcast in order to help build NASCAR’s audience.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series will make their annual trip to New Hampshire Motor Speedway. They’ll be joined by the always popular NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. The NTT IndyCar Series will be in Toronto for the Honda Indy Toronto. Note that Toronto is the only Peacock-exclusive IndyCar race of the year. The ARCA Menards Series will be at Iowa Speedway. TV listings can be found here.

We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races from Loudon in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex this week will need to cover the other three notable races this week in multiple editions (Xfinity, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and ARCA) since so much happened on those broadcasts.

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

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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janice

all i know is that at some point in stage 2, dale jr and jeff burton squealed so much that i didn’t know what they were saying and it literally hurt my ears.

as of monday morning i was still trying to figure out why truex finished a lap down.

peacock – to get nascar coverage is this premium peacock? i tried to watch post race coverage a few weeks ago and i was directed to premium peacock, for an additional monthly cost.

with the messy weather in the northeast, so far this week, be interesting to see if mother nature lets nascar race without any interference. she sure is not a fan of racing this year.

Last edited 2 months ago by janice
DoninAjax

Brian and his sycophants have REALLY angered the Rain Gods with their decisions.

Bill H

Cox no longer has non-premium Peacock. It’s Premium Peacock or nothing. I choose nothing, Miss a lot of Indycar and NASCAR that way, but I don’t really care. I barely watch either one of them when they’re on the channels that I do have.

Bill B

Earnhardt always sounds like he’s yelling/excited, even when nothing exciting his happening.

Walter

I agree with your assessment of the change to the Atlanta track. I used to like the racing there until they made it into a mini Talladega. I think their other big track screwup is dirt at Bristol where the racing is always great on the concrete.