Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: USA Network Battles Rain, Divergent Broadcasts in Michigan

I knew going into the weekend that the NASCAR Cup Series in Michigan International Speedway was going to be a toughie.

The forecast didn’t look good. Sure enough, it wasn’t. It took a couple of days, but everything got in.

Aside from the bad weather, one of the biggest stories of the weekend was Noah Gragson’s suspension. If you aren’t up on the specifics, you can read more here.

I wanted to see how NBC Sports was going to cover it Sunday (Aug. 6) for no other reason than that they could not skip it. Doing that would have made their actions a story in and of itself. The weather resulted in a shortened edition of Countdown to Green, but they explained what happened and ran the statements from Gragson, Legacy Motor Club and NASCAR.

See also
Noah Gragson's Big Opportunity

Afterward, Brad Daugherty was asked to give his opinion on the situation. He views Gragson’s actions as unacceptable. In addition, he views the situation as a learning opportunity for everyone. I tend to agree with this stance because you have to be so careful with social media these days, regardless of what it is about.

By all means, share things with others. That’s what social media was created for. That said, the days of doing whatever you want, whenever you want on there have been over for many years.

Pre-race was in hurry-up mode because NASCAR wanted to get things started, but the rain prevented that. They got the engines cranked, did a pace lap or two, then parked everyone for 90 minutes. During that time, viewers got more interviews. A lot of it would have been content that we could have gotten had they not been in hurry-up mode, but it was welcome.

When the red flag flew later in the day, it was more of the same, although there were some repeat interviews. The restart Monday afternoon (Aug. 7) was also delayed due to rain, which was filled with more interviews. Had it restarted on time, viewers would have gotten no pre-restart coverage. The broadcast would have started with the cars rolling off pit road.

Sunday’s portion of the race really failed to get into any kind of a rhythm. The rain that ultimately caused the race to be postponed to Monday was the sixth caution in 74 laps.

That said, there was a good amount of action to be had. NBC Sports did a decent job in bringing that action to viewers, and not just at the front of the field.

Monday’s portion of the race was much different. You had two completely different pit strategies in play, resulting in a race that was a lot more like Richmond Raceway than the first portion of the race.

Last week, we discussed how the NBC Sports team can handle strategy race broadcasts. Generally, they’re pretty good at it. Monday was no real exception to the rule.

See also
Couch Potato Tuesday: NBC Sports Is Presented with a Strategy Race

The caution at the end of stage 2 effectively set up the rest of the race. Drivers like Bubba Wallace were forced to pit because they didn’t stop when Ryan Preece cut his right-rear tire. Martin Truex Jr. made an optional stop for two tires and fuel despite racing to the stage win after stopping during the Preece caution. Drivers such as Chris Buescher stayed out because they stopped during the Preece caution and had enough fuel to one-stop the remainder of the race.

There was a third group out there as well, but they didn’t get a lot of coverage. This group stopped during the caution after Alex Bowman’s crash with Michael McDowell and Todd Gilliland. They were the drivers that were able to stretch out into the final 25 laps before stopping. None of them had the pace to contend though.

Given how close we are now to the playoffs, there was a fair amount of coverage given to those drivers around the cutoff. Wallace ran extremely well early on, led laps and eventually earned 17 stage points. However, he seemingly fell off significantly in the final stage. While he didn’t start the stage with great track position, it seemed like he could go nowhere. There was no reasoning given for this dropoff in form.

McDowell got some coverage, but not as much as you’d think. On Sunday, he ran into the back of Austin Cindric and bent his splitter. While his Front Row Motorsports crew made repairs to the splitter before the red flag, his car was never the same afterwards. As a result, he dropped out of the top 16 in points.

The booth seemed to be surprised about Buescher being able to hold off Truex in the closing laps. To be honest, that’s fair. After all, we’re talking about the same driver who came from outside of the top 15 in 13 laps to beat Daniel Suarez to win stage 2.

In the past couple of years, Buescher has really improved as a driver. To think that when then-Roush Fenway Racing recalled Buescher from JTG Daugherty Racing, it was considered to be a bad thing for him. He was able to not only use his much-improved equipment but also outfoxed Truex in the closing laps. The broadcast booth was convinced that Buescher, who was never really in the hunt for the lead prior to the final stage, truly earned his triumph.

There should have been a third wheel in Tyler Reddick in the hunt Monday. However, his crew screwed up what was supposed to be his final stop. Even with a mediocre final stop, he beat Buescher off pit road and would have had the lead.

Unfortunately, they failed to get the right-rear wheel on tight. As a result, the wheel came loose shortly after the stop and nearly caused Reddick to crash. He’s lucky that he got back to pit road before the wheel came off and rained suspensions down on the team.

What did rain down on Reddick’s team was a barrage of expletives from Reddick, who was angry that his pit crew dropped the ball. What could have been a victory ended up being a 30th-place finish.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief Monday. Viewers got only a couple of interviews with the battlers for the win, plus the winning car owner/fourth-place finisher Brad Keselowski. Shortly afterward, USA Network left Michigan for an episode of Chicago Fire.

Generally, this was a good race for the Cup teams at Michigan. There was significantly more passing than last year, and it was just a more exciting race in general. Just wish more people could have been there to watch. Can’t do much about Monday racing though.

NBC Sports’ broadcast was pretty decent. Viewers saw a lot of racing for position throughout the field. After the final restart, things narrowed up quite a bit, likely excessively so. The focus at that point was heavy on the strategy, so that more or less determined the direction of the production.

While that is important to a degree, viewers tune in for racing as well as strategy. You always need to keep that at your core. There must be a balance between the two.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Indianapolis area is hosting a quintuple-header of racing. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course has three races on tap. Saturday, Aug. 12, is a doubleheader for the NTT IndyCar Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series, while the NASCAR Cup Series races 200 miles on Sunday. Friday night, Aug. 11, at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park is a doubleheader for the ARCA Menards Series and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. TV listings can be found here.

We will have a look at the Cup and IndyCar broadcasts from Indianapolis in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. Saturday’s Cabo Wabo 250 will be covered in The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter.

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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Good article.

Johnny Cuda

Thank you Phil. Always a good recap.

Bill B

Great recap Phil and fair appraisal of the the coverage.

Was it me, or did Jr seem back to screaming this week?

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