Talladega Superspeedway brings some different aspects to race broadcasts. A lot of the typical things that we look out for don’t really apply since the vast majority of the field is together all day. That doesn’t mean covering a superspeedway race is easy.
The race ended quite a bit earlier than NBC thought it would. Despite being scheduled for 500 miles, the race only took 41 minutes longer than Saturday’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race did.
With the introduction of the Next Gen car last year, the way in which races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega are conducted is a lot different. While the speed in the draft is just about identical to what you had with the Gen 6 car before NASCAR cut the horsepower at the behest of Joey Logano, the racecars don’t suck up as well. As a result, lay-back strategies don’t work as well.
The result of that is an increased sense of urgency since one false move can put you a lap down and ruin your day. It can make the races more aggressive, but the drivers seem to be a bit smarter than in past years. That’s how you end up with 70 lead changes and a 98% increase in passes over last year’s race.
One of the focuses of Sunday’s (Oct. 1) broadcast is how the spotters handle the wild action. There were multiple instances in which the booth laid out and listened to the spotters. Coleman Pressley and Brian Keselowski are former racers in their own right (Keselowski has NASCAR Cup Series starts, while Pressley raced in the NASCAR Xfinity Series). Pressley is very active, while Keselowski isn’t quite as much, but they both have their own way of conveying the necessary information to their drivers. The result is ultimately the same. I found it quite interesting to listen to. I think that most fans would find it monotonous for the whole race, though.
Racing-wise, Sunday’s event was one of the best races at Talladega in quite a while. You had a lot of urgency and drivers were more than willing to be aggressive. NBC did a good job of explaining the various moves that were being made and why certain moves did or didn’t work.
The fact that it is harder to stay in the lead pack these days was an unsaid contributing cause to the wreck that put Ross Chastain out of the race. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., in a rush to not lose the pack, didn’t take enough fuel during his first pit stop. As a result, his car stumbled on the final lap of the stage and triggered the wreck. Why was that key? Drivers, such as BJ McLeod, got off pit road just a little bit too far back of the next car in front of them during the first round of stops and ended up getting lapped before the end of the stage.
In Stenhouse’s case, he was actually leading the pack when he stopped. The JTG-Daugherty Racing crew probably had enough time to put in just a little bit more fuel to not have to worry about it, but they didn’t want to chance it.
During the race, Dale Jarrett also chimed in from time to time from the Peacock Pit Box in addition to the quartet in the broadcast booth. He was able to bring in a slightly different perspective, having been one of the best superspeedway racers of the 1990s.
Likely the biggest gripe I had for the entire broadcast was the very end of the race. As you know, there was a big wreck at the finish that was sparked by Corey LaJoie and Riley Herbst having contact exiting the tri-oval.
NBC should be lucky that no one took a hard shot in this big wreck. Otherwise, you would have been left with inconclusive footage of who was involved and what kind of hits were taken. Despite 40 minutes of post-race coverage, you never really got a full idea of who was collected in the incident. I don’t particularly care that the race was over. You should still have a full accounting for this incident on-air, especially with that much time to spare.
As a result, there was plenty of time for post-race coverage. Viewers got a number of driver interviews, points analysis and more. My issue here is that everything was couched in the playoffs. Let’s face it: there were a lot of people outside of the playoffs that factored significantly in the finish of Sunday’s race.
The main subjects here are LaJoie and Herbst, and not just because they triggered the big wreck at the finish. I don’t think a lot of fans really thought much about Herbst entering the weekend, but he was right up there in the hunt most of the day. Perhaps NBC would have talked to him had he not gotten dumped. Frontstretch talked to Herbst afterward and asked him about his day.
We also talked to LaJoie after the race. It should be noted that LaJoie’s quotes didn’t even make it into Chevrolet’s post-race quote release.
Remember that Talladega is one of the most likely events that drivers outside of the playoffs can battle for the spoils. You cannot limit yourself to a specific group of drivers.
I know a lot of fans weren’t happy with NBC interviewing Bubba Wallace after he finished 23rd Sunday. That scenario comes as a result of the playoff emphasis. That, and the fact that he’s perceived as having a lot of success at Talladega. That doesn’t really seem to be the case. Prior to the race, there was a chyron on-air during Countdown to Green that shows that he has only one top-10 finish in 11 starts at Talladega. That, of course, was the triumph two years ago when I got drenched covering for Frontstretch on a Monday afternoon. Other than the win, his best Talladega finish is 14th in the spring race in 2020, delayed to June due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prior to the race, Jeff Burton went to RFK Racing to talk to Brad Keselowski. Here, the focus was on what Keselowski saw when he made the move to the team and what he put in place at the shop. While there were obviously financial expenses made to improve the team, there were also motivational moves put in place.
If you’ve seen specials like Refuse to Lose: Jeff Gordon and the 1997 Daytona 500 on TV, you’ve probably seen how the workforce at Hendrick Motorsports was extremely motivated to perform. Keselowski, upon arrival at RFK, didn’t see that. A decent chunk of the piece centered around how the team has improved that motivation to perform, set goals and achieve them.
The notion that there weren’t really any specific goals at RFK before Keselowski showed up could be just one of a number of reasons why the team went into a swoon. The other reasons are really too numerous to list in this column. The short explanation appears to be that the whole organization went into some kind of stasis that didn’t go away until Keselowski showed up and gave the team an outsider’s perspective.
Overall, the racing product was pretty decent Sunday and NBC did a good job bringing that action to the fans. There weren’t really any issues with the booth itself, as the announcers brought the necessary fury to the broadcast. I never got the idea that anyone was bored with what they were doing.
Despite that, NBC still needs to be more inclusive in what it covers. It cannot just do playoff stuff this time of year. Everyone matters. Cover the race in that fashion and you’ll be fine.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is pretty busy. The NASCAR Cup and NASCAR Xfinity Series will be at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, and the ARCA Menards Series wraps up its season at Toledo. Meanwhile, Formula One will be in Qatar, SRO America will wrap up its season with the Intercontinental GT Challenge in Indianapolis, while Super DIRT Week in Oswego is the biggest show on the loose surfaces. TV listings can be found here.
We will have a critique of the Bank of America ROVAL 400k here at Frontstretch next week. The Critic’s Annex will take an in-depth look at the Truck Series’ Love’s RV Stop 250 and where Jamie Little is as a play-by-play commentator at the end of her second year in the booth.
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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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