All three of NASCAR’s national series visited Texas Motor Speedway last weekend, with two races run under the lights, which wouldn’t be out of the ordinary, except only one — the Camping World Truck Series event on Friday — was actually planned to be.
But rain threatened the running of the AAA Texas 500 in the Sprint Cup Series on Sunday, so much so that the race was pushed back to an evening start, even though coverage for the event began at its normal time.
How did NBC pivot and handle a severely delayed race broadcast? That’s often the question with rain-delayed events. All in all, NBC came out ahead in both delayed and actual race coverage, despite typical issues surrounding a too-strong focus on the Chase.
AAA Texas 500
Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway turned into an all-day-and-much-of-the-night affair for NASCAR fans. There were quite a few people who failed to get through the race. However, I watched all 11 hours of coverage from Texas on NBC and NBCSN. Jeepers, it seems crazy typing that, but it was literally 1 p.m. to midnight for me, not even counting NASCAR RaceDay on FOX Sports 1, which ran 90 minutes before Countdown to Green.
During the actual Countdown to Green portion of the show, it was almost all about Chasers, aside from the interview with pole-sitter Austin Dillon that took place on Countdown to Green after the national anthem. The problem, as always: there’s more stuff going on than just the Chase. I just want to watch a good race when I settle down on a Sunday afternoon (or in this case, Sunday night). The network’s focus on the Chase instead makes it very difficult to actually preview the race. Just preview the event as if it were its own thing. As far as I’m concerned, you can separate the Chase from the race itself. It does deserve some coverage since it’s here, but it cannot be the only thing.
Once the rains showed up, NBC brought viewers interviews with over half the field. This tends to result in some offbeat things going on and Sunday was no different. We had interview crashers, dogs showing up during Danica Patrick’s interview, the revelation that Richard Petty exited stage left as soon as it started raining, and more.
Outside of the interviews, the booth discussed concussion issues since Matt DiBenedetto was forced to sit out the race not because he was diagnosed with a concussion, but just because he was placed in the protocol (as of right now, there has been no announcement that DiBenedetto has been diagnosed with a concussion). This discussion was interesting, during which Dale Jarrett admitted that he struggles with memory loss from concussions. That fact is not really surprising to me because earlier this year, he acknowledged that he has next to no memory of the week following the inaugural Protection One 400 at Kansas Speedway in 2001.
Why? Because Jarrett had a nasty crash late in the race where he hit the concrete nearly drivers’ side first. He was briefly knocked unconscious in the crash.
Jarrett considers that crash to be one of the hardest of his career, and it took quite a while to get him out of the UPS Ford that day. Once out of the car, Jarrett walked very gingerly and with assistance from members of the safety crew to the ambulance. After a check in the Infield Care Center, Jarrett was sent to the hospital for additional treatment.
Almost any delay at all on Sunday could have potentially pushed the race to NBCSN. Sunday’s five-plus-hour wait for the start made it a guarantee after the race’s timeslot ended at 6 p.m. I wasn’t the least bit surprised with the move. I’m not happy with these later start times that NASCAR has granted NBC Sports, but we knew they were coming. NBC Sports is paying way too much money for these rights to just sit idly by and let NASCAR dictate start times. At least Daylight Savings Time didn’t end during the Martinsville Speedway weekend like last year. That race had no margin for error.
Finally, the race got started after 45 minutes of pace laps and yellow-green action. During the event, tire wear was a big issue, and NBC did very well covering it. We saw the telltale unwinding that caused a number of issues. Thankfully, no one wrecked because of those issues.
There was another very unusual incident in which a tire off of Paul Menard’s car blew after being removed from the car. I can’t recall hearing of such a thing happening before; I wouldn’t be surprised if rule changes came out of that. NBC did not have a replay of what happened, but it did have a shot of the offending tire after it blew. Of note, this is the second strange instance that’s struck the No. 27 team in the pits in the past few years. Back in 2013, Menard had a very unusual right rear tire failure at Homestead.
Racing for position during the race was more or less dependent on when you watched. Around the restarts, it wasn’t bad, but it stretched out pretty quickly, especially when Joey Logano was leading. Much of the coverage was centered on the Chasers, to the point that viewers likely missed out on a number of drivers making moves. For example, Kyle Larson was very strong after dropping back early. All of a sudden, he made great use of the outside line to move up to second.
There really wasn’t much action at the front of the field on Sunday night. Prior to Logano’s pit stop on lap 189, he’d led all but 11 laps to that point. As a viewer, the race was not great to watch. Had it never rained on Sunday and the race gone off as planned, could it have been different? I don’t know.
Another plus on the broadcast was the coverage of Kyle Busch’s issues caused by debris. The broadcast seemed to indicate that the debris came from Brian Scott’s car and based on the timing, it might have been on-track prior to the previous restart. It wouldn’t be the first time that NASCAR restarted a race with debris on-track; it did that the first time I went to Daytona International Speedway back in 2010. A piece of metal flew off of a car just past pit out, came to rest on the yellow line and NASCAR missed it under the yellow. They grabbed it later during another caution.
Post-race coverage was completely Chase-focused, despite the fact that two non-Chasers finished in the top 5. Everything was based around the Chase and the fact that the points were so close. We did get an interview with Kevin Harvick where he talked about the crash with Austin Dillon. Dillon’s interview (not part of post-race coverage) was quite interesting in that he referenced the angry interview Harvick gave to FOX Sports 1 at Martinsville back in 2013.
While Harvick was apologetic after the race, I would definitely keep an eye on those two in Phoenix. We all know how good Harvick is there, but Dillon could play a role if he truly feels aggrieved.
Overall, I found Sunday night’s race to be rather boring to watch; we really didn’t see a lot of action. Only once the rains started to approach the track did the action truly heat up. Outside of the on-track product, the actual broadcast was decent. NBC was pretty good at picking up things during the race, and its rain coverage was pretty good. However, you can only do so much about a race without a lot of action up front.
O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge
Saturday’s XFINITY Series coverage from Texas was a little weird at the start. NASCAR appeared to send pictures to the teams to post to advertise the race with a 3 p.m. coverage start time on NBC; however, coverage did not start at 3 p.m.
I went to set my DVR to record the race and noted a start time of 3:30 p.m. ET. Regardless, I tuned in at 3 p.m. just in case the plans changed. I got to see the end of a real barn-burner between Chelsea and Everton (Chelsea won 5-0). There were no arrangements made for pre-race coverage from what I could tell. Nothing on NBCSN, nothing exclusive to NBCSports.com or the NBC Sports app, nothing anywhere.
When the coverage began on NBC, the cars were already on-track for the pace laps. I think weather might have caused that move, but I would have liked at least something.
Much like Sunday night’s race, tire issues were definitely a thing on Saturday. Blake Koch had a tire start to unwind early on, forcing him to make an unscheduled pit stop.
When it comes to the XFINITY Series, some of the best analysis I’ve seen this season on NBC broadcasts pertains to Kyle Larson and how he effectively beats himself late in races. Saturday was no exception. Even though he actually won the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge, Larson gets really impatient and tries way too hard. That often comes back to haunt him with wall contact. It’s the kind of strategy you sometimes see from bosses in video games where they throw everything they have at you but glaringly leave themselves open for attacks.
Larson’s definitely cost himself at least one additional win in the XFINITY Series this year because of that strategy. You can just see how his driving style changes as the race goes on here. It’s arguable that his strategy in Sprint Cup is similar, but you don’t see it as much because he isn’t at the very front as often.
Speaking of the DiBenedetto crash that was noted above, it was mentioned on the broadcast that DiBenedetto had just left the pits prior to his crash. We got a replay of what happened, along with some conjecture as to what caused the failure. I’m unclear as to whether NBC sought out an interview with DiBenedetto after he left the Infield Care Center. What is known is that DiBenedetto did talk to media members after the crash. There are quotes where DiBenedetto described what went down in detail, but TV viewers never got that.
Since the race ended ahead of schedule, there was plenty of time for post-race coverage. That coverage was also Chase-based. The only non-Chaser interviewed was Larson in Victory Lane, despite the fact that no Chaser finished better than fourth. I know Cup drivers swept the podium, but they played a big role in the race. If you’re interested in showing the full story of an individual event, you have to interview them.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, all three of the national series travel to Arizona for their next-to-last race weekend of the season. Note that Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series race has been pushed back to 10 p.m. EST. Why? Traffic bites in the Phoenix area, and having a race start later than 6:45 p.m. local time is a benefit to the facility (Note: With Daylight Savings Time over for the year, Phoenix is currently in the Mountain Time Zone). TV Listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab at the top of the screen.
I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck series races from Phoenix in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch, in addition to other pertinent TV news.
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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.