Watkins Glen International is always an interesting race to watch. Sometimes, you have a lot of action and shenanigans. Other times, you have a relatively calm strategy race. Sunday (Aug. 20) was the latter.
I’m not really surprised that the race ran in under two hours Sunday. I thought that it was possible for years. It’s also why I want the race to be lengthened. The EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas is 15 miles longer despite the track’s average speed being 30 mph slower. This race should be a minimum of 250 miles (102 laps) and maybe longer than that. Also, that move should have been made when the NASCAR Xfinity Series race was lengthened from 150 to 200 miles in 1995.
Going into the race, the playoff cutoff was a huge story that effectively governed all of Countdown to Green. The focus was on those drivers that could break into the field by winning, such as Daniel Suarez and especially Chase Elliott. Watkins Glen was viewed as an extremely critical race for Elliott, but things didn’t quite work out for him.
I’ve mentioned over the years how I’m not a fan of this approach to previewing a race. The race itself becomes secondary. It’s nothing more than a means to an end. It irritates me. Newer viewers watching this would have a good idea about the playoff picture, but next to nothing about the race. They wouldn’t know what to look out for other than ‘These dudes need to win.’
With the general lack of on-track time these days during race weekends, it’s really hard to build up to a race. NBC Sports probably doesn’t spend much time previewing the actual race because it really doesn’t know that much more than the general public and the teams themselves.
In regards to NBC Sports’ storylines, the biggest moment of the race happened on lap 55 when Elliott ran out of fuel on the backstretch, drawing the race’s one and only caution. What followed was a substantial breakdown of what happened.
The breakdown included radio from Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson, where he described the instance as “misinformation.” That was buttressed with a virtual cutaway piece on the fuel cell itself where viewers could see exactly what Gustafson was referencing when he mentioned the “reserve.” Ultimately, Steve Letarte concluded that Gustafson’s “misinformation” was simply that he had gone too aggressive on how far Elliott could go on the fuel in the reserve.
This was an excellent way to take what was a fairly abstract issue and explain it in fairly simple terms. Now, I understand what was going on here easily without the explanation, but a visual explanation as mentioned above would be critical for those people who aren’t quite as knowledgeable.
With NASCAR being at a road course Sunday, NBC Sports made use of its Radio Style broadcast once again. However, with the kind of race that we had Sunday, there wasn’t all that much of a difference between what we got and what it would have been like had it kept the booth commentators in the booth.
The exceptions are the Elliott situation and when Michael McDowell had his electrical issues. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to give his first-hand thoughts on McDowell’s situation from his perch outside of the Carousel.
As far as the on-track product, I think a lot of viewers might have had a different opinion on the race on TV had McDowell not had his pit penalty early on. The two drivers were pretty evenly matched and may have had a series of cool battles throughout the day. The penalty for driving through too many pit stalls ruined that. The second penalty compounded the issues, then the electrical system turned traitor.
Racing-wise, a number of drivers talked all weekend about the field being so close together. Two things can come out of that. One is that there can be a bunch of nice battles and it becomes a duel. The other is that everyone drives around at the same speed and can’t really do much with each other. Sunday saw a lot of the latter, unfortunately.
After the race, AJ Allmendinger described the difficulty to pass in the media bullpen.
Allmendinger also mentioned a lack of tire wear. The surface is still relatively new at Watkins Glen and has a lot of grip. That makes fuel the main factor when you pit instead of tires.
With that situation in play, NBC Sports didn’t get to have that much action for positions since the field got so spread out. There were multiple Through the Field segments to provide updates on teams. There was coverage of some battles, but not enough. The focus was squarely up front for much of the race and William Byron wasn’t exactly open to having someone take the battle to him.
As you’ve likely seen by now, Sunday’s Go Bowling at the Glen was the shortest race by time that went the full scheduled distance in the Modern Era. It’s also the only Modern Era full race to be completed in under two hours. However, the race was scheduled on USA Network to finish in a 150-minute timeslot. As a result, there was actually very little post-race during the regular USA Network slot. Only the winner’s interview with Byron aired there.
The NASCAR America Post-Race coverage showed additional replays of a last-lap incident involving Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon in the final turn. The replays indicated that the incident was retaliation by Larson for a bump in the previous corner. The two also had a conversation that could be best described as “tense.”
In addition to the incident coverage, viewers were treated to a variety of driver interviews with drivers such as Allmendinger, Christopher Bell, Ty Gibbs, etc. Effectively, everyone that came to the media bullpen got time on USA Network and Peacock Sunday.
Of course, I know that NBC Sports would have loved to talk to Elliott after the race, but he wasn’t talking to anybody. A number of media members tried to get quotes from him after the race, but either Elliott or his PR representative refused.
Overall, Sunday’s race was perfectly fine for NBC Sports, content-wise. I found the broadcast to be quite informative and the explanation of the Elliott mess was pretty much perfect.
However, this race as a whole didn’t bring all that much to the table. There is very little that happened that NBC Sports didn’t cover itself that I can bring to the table. I don’t have pictures of Aric Almirola’s spin or anything like that (I was there at the time, but my back was turned when he looped it because I was leaving to go back to the Media Center).
This was a situation in which NBC Sports tried to make the best out of a race that sadly wasn’t all that exciting. Knowing that there really wasn’t much going on up front, it should have widened its focus earlier in the broadcast, but it chose not to, hoping its grandmaster plan was going to work out. That didn’t work so well.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series regular season comes to an end at Daytona International Speedway. The NASCAR Xfinity Series will join as well. INDYCAR will be at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis. Formula 1 returns from its summer break at Zandvoort. TV listings can be found here.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races from Daytona in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex will cover Saturday’s Shriners Children’s 200 at The Glen, a significantly more controversial race.
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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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