(Photo: John Harrelson / NKP)

Couch Potato Tuesday: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Shines in the Broadcast Booth

Talladega is always an interesting race weekend.  Where the camera focuses is less of an issue than normal because most of the field sticks together.  However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is perfect.

Hellmann’s 500

Sunday brought on another cutoff race for the Sprint Cup Series at Talladega.  Stomachs were churning, people dealt with headaches and eight drivers left Talladega happy to continue their championship dreams.

Pre-race coverage was full of Chase plugging and interviews with those involved, something that fails to recognize the rest of the field. It’s ridiculous, knowing that this race is a wild card that nearly anyone on the lead lap could have won.

Ken Squier narrated a montage about the history of Talladega throughout the years.  Talladega was a different beast prior to about 1984 when large packs rarely were the norm.  He compared and contrasted the Talladega of old with today’s Talladega races, however, other than high speeds, there’s really no comparison.

I like when Squier gets involved with the broadcasts, however, I believe he listed Dale Earnhardt as being a “conservative” driver much along the lines of David Pearson.  I only saw Earnhardt race in person three times and he didn’t run well in any of those races, but I’m pretty sure that he was far from conservative behind the wheel.  Maybe he wouldn’t have made the move that won the 1999 Daytona 500 for Jeff Gordon, but he wasn’t content to hang back.

Outside of the Chase, the biggest TV story of the day Sunday was the first of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s two visits to the broadcast booth.  While he only stayed in the booth for a little more than 70 laps, he still left his mark. While there, Earnhardt succinctly described his strategy for excellence at plate races, which typically involves staying near the front.

Another strategy is the stalling methods that result from side-drafting.  NBCSN supplemented the explanation by using a digital car to explain side-drafting and how it affects the air.  It was the most in-depth explanation that I can recall of side-drafting and just goes to show how knowledgeable Earnhardt is about it.  It’s a skill honed from decades of racing experience, both in actual race cars and on computer games.

While Earnhardt Jr. definitely wished that he was racing on Sunday, he was definitely happy to be in the booth and able to chime in.

https://twitter.com/MattCrossman_/status/790278222957215745

That enthusiasm was better Sunday than his guest appearance on FOX Sports 1 earlier this year. With Earnhardt, you get someone that doesn’t compromise who he is for anyone while still adding to the broadcast. I liked having Earnhardt in the booth, but I didn’t like how busy the booth was with four men in there.  Someone has to take a time out.  In this case, it was Steve Letarte.

Post-race coverage was once again Chase-centric.  Brian Scott did get some well-deserved airtime after finishing a career-best second, which was good to see.

The most discussed instance after the race was the intra-team strife at Stewart-Haas Racing between Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch.  Apparently, there was anger over letting Denny Hamlin in line late in the race and some contact coming to the checkers.  After the checkers, Busch hit Harvick in the side on the backstretch, which upset Harvick, who appeared to throw a punch at his own teammate before being led away.

What’s interesting here is that NBCSN did not catch any of the action live. In fact, it wasn’t even mentioned until at least 25 minutes after it happened.  I know that simply because I failed to set my DVR to record past 6 p.m. and it did not make the recording.

By the time the issue was covered, interview had already been aired with both drivers. That’s a huge miss in that NBCSN should have picked up on the incident earlier.  However, the coverage that followed was solid. I doubt that we’re going to see Harvick and Kurt Busch at each other’s throats next week, but that cannot be good for team morale.

Interestingly enough, three of Joe Gibbs Racing’s drivers (Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth) legitimately hung back the entire race and stayed out of the squabbles, finishing 28th-30th and advancing to the next round of the Chase.  The broadcast booth was understanding of the move given the lunacy that usually surrounds Talladega races.  However, the lack of a large crash resulted in unsatisfactory finishes for the trio that they basically said “oh well” to.

 

Overall, Sunday’s race saw a very good performance for the most part.  The Chase, despite being quite important, was not an end-all.  Viewers got a detailed explanation of side-drafting and how much of the field embracing it has changed the game of plate racing.  I feel like it will increase the understanding of what viewers see going forward.  NBCSN just needs to be more inclusive with its pre and post-race programming.  Also, I have no idea why it took so long to pick up on the Kurt Busch-Harvick spat.  With 60+ cameras on site, that really shouldn’t happen.

Fred’s Pharmacy 250

Saturday saw the Camping World Truck Series take center stage on FOX.  After spending more time going through TV listings than the race actually took, I determined that everyone with access to a FOX affiliate should have had access to the broadcast.

The Setup did focus a bit on the Chase since Talladega did mark the cut-off race for the Round of 8. Viewers got six pre-race interviews, but all of them were with Chasers.  In addition, there was a piece where Johnny Sauter talked about his successes and failures in restrictor plate races over the years.  The piece only covered his time in the trucks, but it could have been expanded to include his Sprint Cup and XFINITY series experiences as well.

During the race itself, the coverage was good. The vast majority of the field was able to stay together in the main pack, so seemingly everyone was able to get some airtime.  However, the Chase took precedence because of Talladega’s position as a cut-off race.

Looking back, my main gripe with the broadcast is not even with anything we saw, but what we didn’t see. First, there was a missed opportunity to interview Brandon Brown, who took a hard hit during a lap 59 crash. Interestingly enough, FOX also screwed up here when it listed Clay Greenfield as involved in the incident instead of Brown. There’s a rather obvious issue here since Greenfield DNQ’d for the race.  Qualifying wrapped up barely a half-hour before NCWTS Setup began.  That’s pretty bad, guys.

The crash on the last lap for Cameron Hayley was more of the same.  He took a nasty hit into the inside wall on the final lap on Saturday. Viewers never even so much as got a replay of this crash, though you could barely make out Hayley’s crash from the air. After Grant Enfinger took the win, viewers only saw a quick cutaway shot of what looked like Hayley unbuckling.  Due to the race running long, that’s all we got.  I wish that FOX could have stayed on the air long enough to get an update on Hayley, though I figured an interview might have been out since he needed to go get checked out at the Infield Care Center.

As noted, post-race coverage was rather short due to the race running long, despite NASCAR not throwing a red flag for the Big One, contrary to normal practice.  Viewers only got a couple of driver interviews (Enfinger and the last man out of the Chase, Daniel Hemric, who had a miserable day) and a quick check of the points before leaving for college football.

Saturday’s broadcast was a decent showcase for the series, however, the Chase should not get in the way of properly covering everything.  As far as I’m concerned, driver updates, especially on those involved in accidents at a track like Talladega, should always happen. I really wish there was more time to properly wrap things up.  However, I know that’s not always in the books.  The football beckoned.

Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series travel to Martinsville Speedway for 700 laps of racing.  Meanwhile, Formula One travels to Mexico City for the Grand Prix of Mexico.  TV listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab at the top of the screen.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck series races from Martinsville for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  In this week’s edition of the Critic’s Annex, I’m either going to take a look at Bonneville 71, which will air this week as part of Beyond the Wheel on NASCAR RaceHub, or NBC’s coverage of Sunday’s Grand Prix of the United States from Circuit of the Americas in Texas.

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 and I’m happy with the increased number of comments so far this year. 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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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 Tony Stewart's Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions.

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3 comments

  1. Avatar

    Earnhardt Jr. was EXCELLENT in the booth on Sunday (It didn’t hurt that it was for a style of racing he’s an expert at).

    My only serious gripe about the coverage was NBC continuing to pan back to the Gibbs guys at the back for a solid 5 or 6 laps. We get it…they’re running at the back. Give a quick 5 second shot and move on. Instead, we had several minutes either zoomed in on them, or quickly zooming in to them after switching cameras and showing the pack. Once is enough.

  2. Avatar

    Fans of real race cars will want to head to the Charlotte dirt track on Thursday, Friday and Saturday for the Outlaw Sprints, Outlaw Late Models and Big Block Modifieds. One of the greatest shows in racing. There will be more passes in three nights than a whole year using Brian’s abortions.

  3. Avatar

    Yes I agree that Junior was good in the booth – but I can’t believe it was his idea to put on that suit jacket over his flannel shirt! I just will never understand why the powers that be insist that the race announcers wear suits and ties in the booth! So ridiculous – and they look so nice on pre-race days when wearing the denim shirts.

    Also find it hard to believe that the 3 “tail ender” Gibbs cars were living up to NASCAR’s 100% rule! All 3 could have run near the front all day if competing at 100%! Don’t really care about dwards or Kenseth – but Kyle was a big disappointment, although I am sure he was just following team orders. And they wonder why NA$CRAP attendance and viewership is in the dumper!