NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: NASCAR On NBC Returns With New Ideas

Welcome back, everyone.  This past weekend, NBC Sports began their portion of the NASCAR schedule with coverage from Daytona.  A number of new aspects to their telecasts were introduced that received mixed reviews from both fans and media alike.

Coke Zero 400

We’ll start with the new Bat Cam that was used on the backstretch last weekend.  It was the first cable cam used in NASCAR since the debacle at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2013.  You likely remember that incident.

There were a number of concerns about a cable camera being allowed back on a broadcast, but they were ultimately unfounded.  FOX’s setup was more akin to a Sky Cam setup similar to what you see during football games.  The Bat Cam is more along the lines of something that’s been used on top of the glass during hockey games.  It’s been battle tested and has been proven to hold up under the worst of conditions.  The only difference for Bat Cam is that someone programmed speed shoes from Sonic the Hedgehog into the device.

The one problem with rigging the Bat Cam to move at 100 mph is that it actually robs viewers of the sense of speed.  With the Bat Cam moving that quickly, it was like watching traffic drive past you on the interstate.  It has its place, but I didn’t get the sense of excitement the typical race cameras can show.  It’s never going to be like having a former XFINITY Series racer drive you around Watkins Glen at speeds up to 150 mph, for example.

Bottom line, I feel like NBC could have used it differently and found a better way to insert the Bat Cam into the broadcast.  I guess it was a fun experiment, and one that was safe since it wasn’t around any of the fans. But there’s room for improvement.

I must say that I came out of Saturday night’s race way more clear on NBC’s direction than I was with FOX earlier this year.  There’s also little extras they add to their broadcasts to help the viewer.  For example, they show how many points everyone earns at the end of the stage (and race) right after it ends.  That’s quite helpful.  Also, they are more descriptive when it comes to playoff points.

Part of the reason we include the playoff points at Frontstretch as much as possible (including our Newsletter) is the fact FOX never really stated how many playoff points anyone had all season.  I knew that Martin Truex Jr. had 21 coming into Daytona, leading all drivers but that’s only because I’ve in charge of keeping track. Does the average fan really know those totals?

One of the only true downsides to NBC’s Daytona coverage was interviews.  They seemed to be extremely frugal about them, peaking with only the Victory Lane post-race interview before moving Cup coverage over to NBCSN.  As a result, a number of drivers came out of Daytona rather disappointed with NBC.  The most notable of them was Kevin Harvick, who took to Twitter to voice his displeasure.

Harvick wasn’t alone.  After Josh Williams was eliminated from the Coca-Cola Firecracker 250, he figured NBCSN might have wanted his point of view oonf what happened.  He was right up in the hunt before getting wrecked.  He was wrong.

Let’s just be honest; that strategy isn’t going to work long-term.  There needs to be a “less is more” perspective developed over at NBC.  They need to get as many viewpoints as they can.  Interviews with drivers are key, not just to promoting their sponsors but for first-person accounts of everything.

The race ran long by approximately 25 minutes.  As a result, coverage on NBC itself was over pretty quickly after the checkers.  We did see the new frontstretch winners’ interview in action.  But honestly, I don’t get why there are two winner interviews now.  They might as well just kill Victory Lane and do it like Martinsville does.  I think that would be better and less cluttered.  Seriously.  What the deuce is Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (or any other driver, for that matter) going to talk about the second time around? As it stands, viewers got three Stenhouse post-race interviews between the race broadcast and the post-race show on NBCSN.

That said, the frontstretch interview is not a bad idea.  The fans in Daytona seemed to like it.  However, I think they needed to do the lugnut and spoiler checks beforehand.  That didn’t happen Saturday night.

Apparently, one change that NASCAR mulled for this season was the addition of a podium ceremony.  This frontstretch winners’ interview may be a precursor to that type of add next year.  If it happens, I think I’ll start the odds of a “Shoey” at 6-1.

Overall, I felt NBC provided a significantly different way to cover NASCAR as compared to FOX.  There are ways in which the peacock does a better job of relaying information than FOX.  However, their interviewing (and when to show said interviews could use a little work).  For instance, they interviewed Martin Truex Jr. after he got eliminated early in the race.  He’s second in points and kicking butt cheeks this year.  But his comments didn’t air until well into the post-race show on NBCSN.

The lack of… anything in post-race coverage on NBC during the Cup race is directly attributable to a drop dead time of 11:30 p.m.  That made me think back to the 30 for 30 documentary This Was the XFL that I watched on TV last week.  Lorne Michaels (Creator/Producer of Saturday Night Live) reportedly freaked out because an XFL game went into double overtime on NBC when Jennifer Lopez was their guest host/musical guest of the week back in 2001.  But it’s not like Saturday Night Live is still making new episodes this time of the year. This race was on Jul. 1.  The cast of SNL is at home relaxing and catching up on some long-overdue sleep (if they’re not working on other projects).

Recently, NBC Sports announced the addition of Ato Boldon, a former Olympic sprinter, to the broadcast team as a roving reporter/fish out of water type.  Here, Boldon more or less spent the weekend learning about NASCAR and racing in general.  I would argue that his segments were meant to show what the experience for a first-timer could be like.

Boldon was no moron; he’d clearly read up on some aspects of NASCAR.  But my experience covering a BMX jam in 2012 was similar in tone to what I felt Boldon accomplished.  My literal goal for that December weekend was to make sense out of what I was seeing; I didn’t want to sound like an expert when I clearly wasn’t.

I’m fine with Boldon being on the broadcast.  I just don’t want him to take away from the races themselves.  That didn’t really happen in Daytona.  For those of you who didn’t like him there, he won’t be at the races every week.  He’s got only three more events for the rest of 2017.

As for the on-track action, I thought that NBC did a decent job Saturday night.  I didn’t have any real problems trying to follow major storylines.  Having said that, we’re talking about a plate race.  They’re generally the easiest to cover as all drivers tend to float in or near the front of the pack.

We’ll see if the network can still stay on top of their game next weekend in Kentucky.

Coca-Cola Firecracker 250

The XFINITY Series Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 was supposed to run Friday night.  They basically started the race on time.  Then, it rained less than ten laps in.

Should have known that it was going to be trouble that the MMA card was moved up from 10:30 to 8:45.  Then, it was decagon this, decagon that.  I could have cared less about that decagon.  The ring’s only ten-sided to make themselves look better than the UFC.  Same thing that TNA tried in order to distinguish themselves from the WWE around 2004 with their six-sided ring.  If I were in Daytona, maybe I would have wandered over just to see what it like since I’ve never been to a professional fight before.  Watching on TV?  Not so much.  Am I shocked that some of the drivers were really into it?  No.

Once the race resumed on Saturday afternoon, the action was more or less focused on the racing.  The CNBC broadcast definitely showed off the new features, like the aforementioned Bat Cam.

The new running order graphic was also unveiled.  Now, you get the total laps in the race and the stage laps all the time in separate spaces.  My only thought about the new lap counter is that it is rather small.  I watched much of the XFINITY and Truck broadcasts on a decent-sized TV, much bigger than I normally have at my disposal.  My worry is that some of the graphics are too small for smaller sets.

Each page of the order is down from five drivers to four.  Given the speed in which the pages flip, I’m not particularly a fan of that because it goes too slow.

As you know, NASCAR was forced to stop the race again on lap 37 due to first lightning, then more rain.  Due to the lightning, regular red flag interviews could not be done.  Instead, they had interviews in the Media Center room used for the drivers’ meetings. There was also a piece on Toyota drivers training with Olympians in Park City.

Later on, we got more typical rain delay interviews when a shower interrupted plans to resume the race.  Good to see a number of the drivers getting airtime.

Overall, being back on NBC (or NBCSN or CNBC) is like a breath of fresh air at times.  I’m not trashing FOX’s approach to covering races, but NBC approaches NASCAR coverage in a different way.  At times, it is more informative, others not so much.  Yes, everyone has a style in the booth.  If YouTube is any indication, fans on there think Rick Allen says “Problems!” so much that it has descended into parody.  I’m fine with it.  It gets to the point.

On NBC, you have less of the whole conflict issue that seems to be never-ending on FOX.  Also, the networks seem to have differing philosophies.  While both are there to bring you a race, FOX seems to put a little more energy into entertaining while NBC is more about informing.  With my background, I’m more about informing fans than not.  However, there’s nothing wrong with having fun.

Post-race content was somewhat brief because the race was well past its expected end time.  In fact, it had bled over into NASCAR America Saturday’s timeslot on NBCSN.  Regardless, viewers still got interviews with the top four finishers (William Byron, Elliott Sadler, Dakoda Armstrong and Jeb Burton) before they left for Jay Leno’s Garage (which the race had been pre-empting).

 

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend, all three of NASCAR’s National Series will be in action at Kentucky Speedway.  IMSA will be in action at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, while INDYCAR will be at Iowa Speedway.  Finally, Formula One travels to Austria for an assault on the Red Bull Ring.  TV listings can be found here.

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.

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Bill H.

I hope the announcing crew is going to review their performance and use it to polish up a bit. They were very rusty and it showed. One said, for instance, that Chase Elliott was, “on the outside making the third lane work,” when Elliott was four car lengths behind the leaders and it was very clear was that the third lane was losing ground very quickly.

On a restart with 135 laps to go they talked at length about how, “seven of the top ten have never won a race,” and the possibility of a “first time winner.” I suspect they meant this year, but that is not what they said, and it sounded idiotic, because eight of the top ten were former winners. They needed to say, “seven of the top ten have not won a race this year.”

There were a great many similar failures of accuracy in communication.

Jim Walterhouse

I felt that the absence of any commentators named “Waltrip” was a plus.

Agree with your comments regarding the graphics. Hard to read. I also had difficulty reading the stage countdown with the yellow background.

Chase

What a breath of fresh air not having to hear the Waltrip Bros. — I was able to concentrate on the race and the coverage without any interruption from the Waltrip Bros. – what a treat, indeed!!!! It might be a good idea for FOX to take a good look at the contracts they have with the Waltrips – it is definitely a time for a change!!!

bob

agree FOX needs to replace both Waltrips. they think they are comedians. not funny. even Gordon is a disappointment. now with NBC my complaint is in the booth. we have Rick Allen with his “green flag in the air” toooooo much. get new writers. then we ahve those other two both boys-(pete and repeat) you would think they could do some independent thinking. with 3 people in the booth some one should be watching the track instead what is on the monitor in front of them. hope to seee some improvement. too bad we don’t have ned jarrett around the booth anymore and guys like we had in that era. funny how they seemed to know what was happening on track without all the technology of today. also plan on some extra time for driver interviews. but still better than FOX.

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