Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: NBC Sports Fails to Properly Cover Tire Woes in Kansas

Kansas Speedway is an interesting venue where drivers race side by side and right up by the wall. The race has moved around the playoffs to a fair degree over the years. Now, it’s the second race of the playoffs in early September.

As compared to Darlington Raceway last week, I immediately found that there was a significant increase in playoff focus. I suppose that is the result of having the individual rounds in the playoffs. As you can tell, I’ve never been a fan of the playoffs or the Chase that came before it.

See also
Stock Car Scoop: The NASCAR Playoffs Taketh Away From Denny Hamlin

Without the playoffs, what would have been the biggest story of Sunday’s (Sept. 10) race? Likely the tire issues that befell three different playoff contenders (Martin Truex Jr., Bubba Wallace and Chris Buescher). On the broadcast, yes, we got replays of the incidents, interviews (of Truex from the infield care center and Wallace after the race) and more.

However, we never got a good idea on the broadcast of what caused these failures. Truex’s crew chief James Small posted this picture after Truex’s failure.

That is a very small dimple for lack of better words. But that’s enough for air to leak out of a tire and end Truex’s day. Even an inner tire probably wouldn’t have helped him there. I guess that’s a cut tire, but I’m not sure where that would have come from knowing that it happened so early.

All three failures came at different points in the run. Truex’s came in the opening laps. Wallace’s tire had about 21 laps of green flag racing on it before it failed. Buescher had put closer to 50 laps on his tires before his failure. Just looking at that, you can’t really pinpoint a root cause.

In addition, viewers also didn’t really get any idea of what tire wear actually looked like during the race. There were the three aforementioned failures, but I don’t know what a good tire would have looked like at the end of a run. It is NBC Sports’ responsibility to bring those pictures to viewers. Otherwise, all you have to go by are lap times on the broadcast or whatever timing and scoring setup from NASCAR that you have access to. That doesn’t tell the whole story.

Racing-wise, much of the action was clustered around the restarts, which seems to be the norm these days. Once the restart scramble wrapped up, the field spread out significantly. You would see some battles from time to time, but the focus was clearly on the playoff contenders.

Then again, for much of the race, they were all running near the front of the field. At one point, the playoff drivers constituted 13 of the top 15 drivers. That changed as the race continued and more people ran into trouble.

This might give you a notion that Sunday’s race was rather boring. I don’t think it was. There were multiple decent battles shown on-air, sometimes with the double box setup. According to NASCAR’s loop data, passing was up by nearly four passes per green flag lap over last year. Otherwise, it was very similar to last year’s race that Wallace won.

Other than instances like when Kyle Larson’s team made its tire gamble and went to the back, most of the battles that you saw were toward the very front of the field. As a result, you only saw a small snippet of what was actually going on.

That’s the honest truth when it comes to coverage of NASCAR playoff races. Everyone gets so wrapped up in playoff fever that they become blind to everything else that is going on around them. As a result, the fanbase (that doesn’t make the haul to the track) thinks that the racing is boring because that’s all they see.

Pre-race coverage was very playoff-focused. I know we’re in the playoffs, but that stuff is simply not why I watch Countdown to Green. I want to be informed about what to look out for in the race itself. Questioning and analysis don’t need to be couched in playoff talk. The Hollywood Casino 400 is a race itself, not a means to an end.

Post-race coverage was fairly substantial. Viewers got nine different post-race interviews, including the top-five finishers.

Looking back, I’m actually surprised that Wallace consented to the TV interview knowing that he finished 32nd. What we got from Wallace here is somewhat typical. He was really bummed out, which shouldn’t have surprised anyone since he sincerely thought that he could have won the race. Pace-wise, Wallace was right there and probably was going to contend for at least a top-five finish.

Overall, this was a pretty average playoff race for NBC Sports. The Round of 16 is usually the time in which the playoffs don’t completely overtake the broadcast. The focus here was too heavy for my tastes. You had constant point reminders that covered up much of the scoring pylon, the booth going on about “playoff implications” and so on.

Admittedly, much of this was due to Truex going out so early with his tire failure. However, the playoffs are not the only story in Kansas. Chase Elliott darn near could have won this race Sunday. Erik Jones nearly upset the lot with his two-tire strategy.

See also
Erik Jones Earns Podium with Strong Run and Gutsy Strategy

In Jones’ case, he ran well all day and would have been right near the top 10 without the late caution. It actually ended up hurting Elliott. The booth did give Jones some dap during the broadcast for his recent improvement of form.

I know that this coming Saturday night is the first cutoff race in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. I’m not looking forward to that fact. However, NBC Sports needs to realize that the playoffs are not the end-all. People aren’t necessarily watching a 400-mile race for playoff coverage all day. All the stories need to be covered. By doing that, you’ll have a much more complete and exciting broadcast for viewers.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is a busy quadruple-header at Bristol Motor Speedway. Thursday is a doubleheader with the ARCA Menards Series (in conjunction with ARCA Menards Series East) and the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. The NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs start Friday night, while the NASCAR Cup Series races Saturday night.

In addition, Formula 1 returns to action on the streets of Singapore. IMSA will also be at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the TireRack.com Battle on the Bricks. TV listings can be found here.

I will be in Indianapolis for this weekend’s IMSA races. However, I will be able to get you a full critique of the Bass Pro Shops Night Race and the Food City 300 for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex will cover Friday night’s coverage of the Kansas Lottery 200.

Next week’s column will also fall on a couple of notable game show anniversaries. As a result, we’ll work something along those lines into the column if it can fit into the flow of the column.

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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Lynda

Seems there are favorites this year. Some of the guys that are in the hunt are not being followed. Give us info on ALL the drivers.

sb

I remember Jeff Burton discussing that the tire failures, other than Truex’s, were probably due to running low tire pressure, and that’s why the problem didn’t show up until deep in the run.

Shayne

I imagine the failure of some tires could be a manufacturing defect. NA$CAR and Goodyear typically blame the customer. Who knows. Tires aren’t the only parts failing. When there’s no competition or incentive to do better, most just rest on their laurels.

Ronald Thornton

Yes. I keep screaming it. Bring on another tire manufacturer and make Goodyear do better. Hell, let the best tire in test at a track be what runs on that track. Just wanna see the best putting on best possible show

DoninAjax

If 36 cars had tire problems that would be different. Why don’t teams that had problems tell us if they listened to Goodyear.

gbvette

The networks aren’t going to change. Before the Chase or Playoffs we had a Championship, and the networks spent the last 10-12 races of the year telling us “if the race ended now” X would be the points leader. At least with the current format there are a dozen drivers to talk about, instead of only 3 or 4 left in contention with 10 races to go back then.

I found Saturday’s coverage of the Xfinity race far more annoying then the Cup race. Even though he was never a factor, it seemed like the coverage was all about Riley Herbst, and his effort to reach the cut line. After 7 or 8 years in racing all he has is a couple ARCA wins, but from the broadcast you would have thought he was racing for his 10th championship.

Why is it that NASCAR’s premier series, Cup is on the USA cable network, but the Xfinity series is on broadcast NBC? Could it be because series sponsor Xfinity is part of NBC/Comcast, and the network gives more importance to the series they sponsor? If so, shame on the fools that run NASCAR for allowing this.