I’ve never been a fan of the season finale weekend for NASCAR, dating all the way back to the early 1990s for multiple reasons.
One reason is that the championship is the only real focus of the race. It’s like nothing else matters. I felt irritated about that long before there were playoffs or the Chase in NASCAR. With this Championship 4 setup, it’s doubly annoying. I hoped all of last week that someone outside of the Championship 4 would take the fight to the championship contenders for once since it seems like barely anyone’s been able to do that under this format. We got just that on Sunday (Nov. 5).
While William Byron dominated early, leading the first 94 laps of the race, from that point on, the non-championship drivers came to the forefront. You had Kevin Harvick trying to go out on top. Chris Buescher won stage two before a bad pit stop dropped him down the order.
Then, you had Ross Chastain, who led 157 of 312 laps and won the whole thing.
With Championship 4 drivers not leading the whole thing, you’d think that it could result in an adjustment in how the race was covered. In practice, that wasn’t really the case, or not as much as I thought there would be. There were times when non-championship drivers took the battle to the Championship 4 as Chastain did with Ryan Blaney. Blaney was apparently quite upset with how Chastain was racing him, claiming that Chastain blocked him 10 separate times.
This whole mess is one of the major reasons why I don’t like the playoffs and why I wish NASCAR ditched them. Why shouldn’t Chastain race Blaney for the lead? I’m sick of everyone all but moving over for the Championship 4. They’re not entitled to that kind of treatment and should never get it.
Having said that, there were times, especially early on, when non-championship drivers got a fair amount of focus. This race really wasn’t all that exciting during the first 100 laps, so NBC felt the need to compensate.
The blown brake rotor that ended Christopher Bell’s day occurred during a commercial break. When it came out of the break, this was how NBC handled the incident at first
In addition to the above clip, Steve Letarte made use of the virtual cutaway car to explain what happened to cause this failure. It seems like they’re using less air to cool the brakes these days on the Next Gen car. Compared to the issues we had at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, it doesn’t seem like it was the same root cause even though the result was the same.
The one thing that wasn’t covered here so much was how brake bias played a role here. Bell and his crew chief talked on the radio about needing more braking ability. What I don’t know is where Bell had his brake bias. My guess is that he might have had too much front bias, leading to the failure. Regardless, it’s another thing to look out for going forward.
It’s a terrible shame what happened to Bell, but he took the loss like a professional. Do I think it would gain him fans? I don’t know. Maybe.
As compared to Martinsville Speedway, there wasn’t that big of a difference between this year’s race and last year’s. In Martinsville, there was a 90% increase in passing over last year. At Phoenix, it was more like 10% percent, but that passing was generated differently. The track did not put down any PJ1 TrackBite, yet you still had multiple grooves. That was something that the booth did comment on during the race as being great to see. Hopefully, that means that we’ve seen the last of the TrackBite at Phoenix.
Pre-race coverage was also very much focused on the Championship 4. We also had a nice feature on Harvick and his memories of his career. I really liked the Harvick piece.
Post-race coverage was admittedly fairly typical for a championship race. We got interviews with the three championship contenders who finished along with race winner Chastain. We also had some time with Harvick since his career just concluded.
How did NBC handle Chastain’s victory Sunday? Not particularly all that well. I get that it’s the final race of the year, but I think that Chastain deserved more respect than he received.
This was Chastain’s post-race celebration on Sunday. You didn’t see this as the broadcast was solely focused on Blaney. In fact, it was roughly 15 minutes before you heard from Chastain in victory lane. To be fair, I think NBC was a little better here than the treatment that Christian Eckes got Friday night (Nov. 3) on FOX Sports 1 after the ugly Craftsman Truck Series title race. Both Eckes and teammate Jake Garcia all but got ignored on a historic night for McAnally-Hilgemann Racing.
Overall, I knew what to expect coming into Sunday’s race from Phoenix and I wasn’t particularly surprised. The Championship 4 got the lion’s share of the coverage. I would have been shocked if that didn’t happen.
However, that Championship 4 coverage often came at the expense of everything else that was going on. There are more than four drivers on the track. NBC should always realize that. Yes, there was coverage of on-track incidents, but that was fairly minimal outside of Bell’s trouble.
I don’t like how Chastain was treated after the race. He was an afterthought, even though he won the race and led more than half of it. That’s a travesty and I don’t want to see that going forward.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is a very quiet weekend in the world of racing. Of the series that we cover at Frontstretch, only Formula 1 is still going and it’s off. The only major outfit in action this weekend is MotoGP, which will be racing at Sepang Circuit in Malaysia. There will be additional programming available for your pleasure as well, such as the Fall Brawl at Hickory Motor Speedway. TV listings can be found here.
In next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch, we’re going to wrap up the 2023 season for NASCAR’s TV partners. In the Frontstretch Newsletter, we’re going to have separate articles on both the Craftsman 150 and the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship Race from Phoenix. The Truck Series race, in particular, was rather ridiculous.
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.
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.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.