The Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL is 2.32 miles of quirkiness. Over the past six seasons, fans have been treated to a lot of interesting things. Big wrecks, wild finishes, racing in the rain and other general shenanigans. On Sunday (Oct. 8), the ROVAL hosted the Round of 12 cutoff race, where AJ Allmendinger crashed the playoff party. Let’s put it this way, I was very happy that he crashed the party.
Last week, I talked about the playoff focus on the broadcast of the YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. That led NBC to conduct interviews that irritated viewers. Take the playoffs away and I don’t think it would have aired the interview it did with Bubba Wallace after the race if the playoffs hadn’t been in play. That said, it still would have conducted the interview, but it might have ended up as an online exclusive.
In Charlotte, the focus on the playoffs during Saturday’s Drive for the Cure 250 was so bad that it was literally difficult to figure out where everyone was running and it was like no one else mattered. I came away from watching that NASCAR Xfinity Series race very frustrated and irritable.
I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a point of discussion during the pre-race production meeting on Sunday morning in Charlotte. I say that because Sunday’s broadcast was not quite as playoff heavy.
Of course, there was still plenty of playoff content to go around. Countdown to Green was scheduled for a half hour but lasted less than half of that. Here, viewers only got a couple of pre-race interviews that were couched in the playoffs, even the one with Ryan Blaney, who won in Talladega. I’m still not a fan of the notion that the race itself is nothing more than a means to an end. That needs to change.
There was one very big change on Sunday’s broadcast. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was not on it.
Unfortunately, these things happen. Hopefully Earnhardt’s good to go for Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend.
Earnhardt’s absence meant that you had a more traditional booth setup on Sunday. In other words, you had the NBC booth from 2015-2017. Without Earnhardt there, you have a more sedate broadcast. I only say that because Earnhardt can be quite hyper. Then again, the more hyper Earnhardt is, the more into the race he is. In the case of the ROVAL, Earnhardt never raced there, but he could still bring you a decent analysis.
While you had a more traditional booth in play, it didn’t seem much like it was all that into the race. The announcers seemed bored. Not sure why.
There were some instances on Sunday where we were missing things. For example, early in the race, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was forced to pit due to a broken toe link. Not really sure how that happened. There were no replays to show this. Thanks to some free passes, Stenhouse eventually got back on the lead lap before his car caught fire.
Pizza roll reference aside, this is not swell. We’re not really sure what happened here. The broadcast made reference to the possibility of a rocker issue, like what we had last year, or a build up of balls of rubber. We just don’t have anything to go on. As you may remember, this was an issue last year that almost exclusively affected Ford drivers.
Stenhouse didn’t talk to the media after leaving the infield care center. For now, it’s just a mystery as to what happened. I don’t like that, especially knowing how bad it likely got inside of the car for Stenhouse. There are at least 36 other drivers who would really like to know what happened there.
Prior to the fire, Stenhouse apparently ran in the back of Andy Lally and bent a part on Lally’s No. 15 Ford. That ultimately pitched him into the wall exiting turn 1. We don’t have footage of that contact either.
The chicane penalties ultimately played a significant role Sunday, but I’m unsure whether it was enough to actually swing who advanced to the Round of 8. Wallace is unhappy about how NASCAR handled the situation.
To be fair, Wallace does have a point. NASCAR does get a fair amount of criticism in the world of road racing for its laissez-faire approach to track limits (Ex: Watkins Glen International). However, in this situation, it is stricter in its rules than IMSA, the FIA World Endurance Championship or Formula 1. If you get wiped out as Wallace did, you typically don’t have to serve a penalty afterward. The spin itself is the penalty.
To be fair, NASCAR is being consistent here. Sunday was far from the first time this rule has come into play at the ROVAL. Remember the finish of the first Cup race on the ROVAL in 2018? It came into play for Jimmie Johnson here as well.
This situation actually swung the cutoff. Johnson had to stop to serve that penalty, which cost him a spot in the Round of 12 that year. To a lesser extent, Brad Keselowski missing the second part of the frontstretch chicane Sunday ruined his race and knocked him out of a potential spot in the Round of 8.
Having Allmendinger at the front of the field and duking it out for the lead with Ty Gibbs forced NBC to expand its focus. Unfortunately, you’re not guaranteed to get that every week in the playoffs.
As compared to Saturday, the broadcast was quite a bit more watchable. However, there were still quite a few times that the focus on the playoffs was a little tough to take. It’s like NBC needs to take a step back and just let the race be the race.
Also, the current package rendered some of the strategy moves in the race catastrophic. Rick Allen was forced to make of drivers potentially hurting themselves by staying out at the end of the stages to earn stage points, or claiming that Tyler Reddick was hurting himself by winning the stage. On paper, that sounds ridiculous, even if there is a degree of truth there.
Post-race coverage was fairly substantial if you had access to Peacock. On NBC, viewers only got three relatively quick interviews before the broadcast left Charlotte to get to the local news. On Peacock, there were eight more interviews, along with post-race analysis of the race and predictions of who will make it to the Championship 4.
Overall, this broadcast had a different feel with Earnhardt being out sick. It was a calmer broadcast and it seemed like everyone wasn’t quite as much into it as normal. There was still a lot of passing and NBC brought viewers some of that action. Not quite as much as I would have liked.
Passing was up about 10% from last year, but there were four extra cautions. Those extra yellows meant restarts. Adjust to account for that and the action was equal to a little worse than last year.
NBC still has to cover the playoffs. After all, we’re through 32 races now. It cannot be the end-all. Ideally, you could cover the race like normal and everything would just come to you, but that doesn’t always work. I just wish the playoffs weren’t so intrusive.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Cup and Xfinity Series teams will be at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway will also have the ARCA Menards Series West. Meanwhile, IMSA’s season will come to an end at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta. TV listings can be found here.
Yes, I will be at Road Atlanta to bring you coverage of the Motul Petit Le Mans for the seventh time. I’m actually leaving today to fly down there. Despite that, I will be able to bring you critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races from Las Vegas for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Cup race is the day after the Motul Petit Le Mans and I’ll still be able to catch all the Xfinity action. The Annex will cover Saturday’s exasperating Xfinity race in Charlotte.
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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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