Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: A Look Back at NBC Sports’ 2023 Season

2023 is the ninth season of the current TV deal for NBC Sports in NASCAR. Much like previous years, NASCAR coverage on NBC’s networks aired in addition to NTT IndyCar Series and IMSA coverage.

As compared to previous years, things seemed to be a bit more nailed down for NBC in 2023. Previous years saw broadcasts fiddle around with various booth configurations. That was not so for NASCAR Cup Series races. You effectively had a four-man booth with Rick Allen, Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte. Given the designs of the broadcast booths, they might not all be in the same room (like Charlotte Motor Speedway, where the booth is quite tight and NBC has made use of two booths side-by-side in the past prior to the COVID-19 pandemic), but they’re trying to make a four-man booth go.

The exception to this rule was actually Charlotte in October, but that was not by choice. Earnhardt got sick and had to sit out the broadcast. The result was a different feel for the race broadcast — and not necessary a positive one.

See also
Couch Potato Tuesday: NBC Struggles Keeping Track at Charlotte

I’m still not a fan of having four in the booth since it tends to be so messy. You run the risk of the commentators talking over the top of each other. However, Earnhardt does bring a different energy to race broadcasts.

That said, when things are good, they are very good with NBC. When things need to be explained, viewers are in a good place. Christopher Bell’s brake rotor explosion at Phoenix Raceway is a good example of that.

See also
Couch Potato Tuesday: NBC Disrespected Ross Chastain at Phoenix

That said, NBC tends to be a big change after four months of FOX coverage. That was no different in 2023. An NBC NASCAR broadcast will clearly show the broadcast booth having fun. At the same time, they were clearly serious in what they were doing. You’re not going to see anyone winging it on there, like what Keelan Harvick suggested on NASCAR RaceHub: Kevin Harvick Happy Hour Sunday that his father do on FOX next season.

But you’re seeing a little bit of frustration in the booth. Allen is making more mistakes these days, which is not good.

However, his colleagues are calling him on his mistakes, something that Allen likely wants out of his boothmates. In 2018, Allen told Frontstretch that he wants “an enjoyable atmosphere” in the booth. To that degree, the four boothmates and their spouses went on a retreat together to learn about each other and forge a better relationship.

Why would Allen welcome something like that? He wants his colleagues to be close enough to him that they feel like they can point things like mistakes and no one would take offense. The idea is they could help each other improve.

Pronunciations proved to be an issue in 2023. The Chicago street course weekend was spent butchering names. I doubt Shane van Gisbergen heard how badly they screwed up his name that weekend, but I did. It was bad.

There was substantial focus on the playoffs for the majority of NBC’s portion of the season. However, that route really didn’t work out well for it. At times, like at Daytona International Speedway in August, a lack of excitement in the playoff battle resulted in NBC being lost at times because it planned to be all over that story all night. That’s never good.

I’m not a fan of the playoffs in the first place. It leads to broadcasts like Las Vegas Motor Speedway in October, when it was all playoffs all the time. That is incredibly frustrating. Imagine being a fan of anyone that was outside of the Round of 8. You got next to no coverage of your driver unless they found a way to wreck.

Then you have Phoenix, where Ross Chastain won the race and was ignored in favor of Ryan Blaney. I get it; Blaney won the title. Great. That doesn’t mean Chastain doesn’t deserve his time. The disrespect here was palpable. It’s not quite as bad as the time John Wes Townley won the ARCA Menards Series race at Daytona and got interviewed a half hour later during NASCAR RaceDay, but it’s pretty bad.

The NBC season started out rather tough, but that wasn’t its fault. Two of the first three weeks were ravaged by heavy rains. There’s only so much you can do there.

One of the more noticeable changes for 2023 appears to be a cut in pre-race coverage. Most Cup races had no more than 30 minutes of pre-race during NBC’s portion of the season. Exceptions included Talladega Superspeedway and the season finale in Phoenix, which had expanded coverage. Then you had Martinsville Speedwa, which had bupkis.

That day, NBC had tape-delayed coverage of the Rugby World Cup final at noon ET (the match had been played the night before) prior to the race. As a result, when NBC got to Martinsville, the engines had already been cranked and the cars were about to go out for their pace laps.

I know that there are a number of my readers that might actually like that. I didn’t. Especially since this was a cutoff race, you’d think NBC would like to hype the event more. Guess not.

This was just another example of me really missing NBC Sports Network. Really wish that NBCUniversal didn’t kill it off. That said, even with its existing capabilities, this didn’t need to be so.

NBC could have made use of NBCSports.com or the NBC Sports app to provide pre-race coverage in Martinsville, but it chose not to. A couple of my colleagues here at Frontstretch are not fans of NBC Sports’ website or the NBC Sports app for various reasons. I’ve used it for multiple years on my laptop (formerly via the Windows app), on my phone and on a Roku. It isn’t bad. It could be improved, but there are worse setups out there.

Peacock is seemingly another option, but NBC Sports might not have been allowed to go that route due to the current TV deal. The current deal predates the 2020 launch of Peacock, so Peacock’s involvement in the current deal could be limited in scope. This year, NBC simulcast three Cup races (Chicago, Daytona and Phoenix) and four NASCAR Xfinity Series races (Road America, Michigan International Speedway, Kansas Speedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL) on Peacock. There was also extended post-race coverage for Cup races under the NASCAR America Post-Race banner. If possible, I’d like to see that extended in 2024. By all means, give viewers more methods to watch.

For 2024, NBC Sports appears to have very little in the way of change coming. As of now, there are no on-air personalities that have announced any intentions of leaving. Of course, we’re only a couple of weeks into the offseason at this point, so that could change. For now, plan on next to no changes for 2024.

My suggestions for the upcoming season are as follows. Be more respectful of the teams, drivers and fans. Don’t ignore people because they’re not in the playoffs. Those people might bring you the best action all day. Do your homework so you don’t butcher names on live television. And finally, continue to bring the proper enthusiasm to race broadcasts.

That’s all for 2023. Next year, I plan to be back for a 16th year critiquing race broadcasts here at Frontstretch. My hope is that the coverage that viewers get next year is top notch.

During the offseason, I’ll be bringing you critiques of classic races. I’ll just fall down the rabbit hole that is the NASCAR Classics website and pick a race once every week or so and write about that. For instance, I watched about half of the 1993 Coca-Cola 600, a race that I had never watched before in full since I didn’t get TBS in 1993, on Monday prior to writing this column. There are some things I saw there worth noting, like the near instantaneous information about what happened with drivers that had mechanical issues. Granted, those just don’t happen as often now as they did in 1993, but it’s worth noting. The classic critiques will be seen in the weekly offseason editions of the Frontstretch Newsletter.

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

2021 Phil Allaway Headshot Phil Allaway

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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RCFX1

I know Jr is a personality and Burton drove (I guess that’s his qualification) but their accents and poor speaking ability doesn’t do anything to engage a non-southern demographic. Bob Jenkins, Alan Bestwick, Dave Despain, Andy Petree, all were great. Let’s get some people in there that can speak clearly, not repeat themselves, and not be a clown (DW).

michael hornung

So let’s have the same type of voices from yesteryear….got it…making fun of people’s qualifications and accents, just goes to show you how narrow minded you are.

Johnny Cuda

Thank you Phil for a great year. Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year to you, your family, and all the Frontstretch staff AND readers! getting cold up here in the Boston area! Stay safe, stay healthy.

Steve

One thing I would like to see next year is allowing the play-by-play guy to do his job. Too many times I heard Jr and others doing play by play when something was exciting on the track. This is probably a product of too many people in the booth, which 4 or 5 is too many in my opinion. I think 3 is too many to be honest.

There is a correlation between NBC’s hyper focus on playoff drivers and Nascars low ratings during the playoffs. If your favorite driver was not in the playoffs, would want to watch these races when they are never seen or spoken about. I would find something else to watch too.

Charlie

Thanks for the recap. I look forward to February!

wildcats2016

Thanks for the recap, Phil. Always enjoy your column. Have a wonderful holiday & off season.

I agree with Steve regarding the hyperfocus on the “playoff” drivers. It’s been this way ever since BZF the brainless instituted the system. It has not been an improvement and IMO has led to less fans watching.

gbvette

Thanks for the recap and an interesting take on NBC’s coverage of the previous season.

I know many don’t care for Jr. I’m sure in many cases it’s as much about their dislike for him as a driver, as it is for his time in the booth, but personally I think he does a pretty good job. Unlike just about everyone else on all the networks and covering every NASCAR series, Jr really seems to understand what’s going on on track, knows a lot about the drivers and is quite knowledgeable about the history of the sport. I’d love to see a three man booth without Burton. To me an ideal booth team would be Allen doing the basic play by play, LeTarte doing the technical stuff, Jr doing the history/driver background stuff and driving details, and Jr and LeTarte sharing the race/pit stop strategy.

Last edited 7 months ago by gbvette
CCcolorado

Agree totally On your recommendations, both Jr and Burton’s voices are too much alike, high shrill type, you’d think the NBC execs would notice . I vote Burton off the island, go with Alan ,Steve and Jr. Rick Allen… the king of overhype… does little for the broadcast.
Thanks Phil for your work this year. Looking forward to 2024

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