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(Photo: Barry Cantrell/NKP)

Couch Potato Tuesday: NASCAR On NBC MVP Coverage Hits and Misses at Watkins Glen

Races at Watkins Glen are interesting in their way.  Some races come down to nail-biters.  Others are blowouts.  Sunday’s I ♥ NY 355 at the Glen was a nail-biter and the fastest Cup race ever run at Watkins Glen.  But that was not the biggest TV story of the weekend.

I ♥ NY 355 at the Glen

The biggest story for Watkins Glen in regards to TV was announced on Wednesday.  At that time, NBC Sports announced what has become known as the MVP (or “Multiple Vantage Points”) broadcast.  The plan was to only do it for the XFINITY race at Saturday.  As you likely saw, that was not the case.

Rick Allen was sent to London on assignment to cover the IAAF World Track and Field Championships.  As a result, Leigh Diffey was given the call up to do play-by-play in Watkins Glen.  He was joined in the booth by Steve Letarte.

At the vantage points were MRN Radio’s Mike Bagley (Esses), Parker Kligerman (Turn 9) and Jeff Burton (Turn 10).  On paper, I figured that it was going to be a little like what ESPN used to do in the early 1990s for road races.  Commentary-wise, it would be relatively similar, but given the positioning, they could do sideline interviews and break their own news.

ESPN didn’t have a flashy name for their split coverage.  They just chose to do it. Their decision led to coverage that you wouldn’t have expected.  For instance, Benny Parsons was right on-site when Richard Petty had his huge wreck at Sonoma in 1991.

That was not what you got last weekend.  What you got was effectively a radio broadcast on television.  There was a significant increase in play-by-play content as compared to normal.  Unfortunately, I feel like that also led to a narrower focus than what we would have gotten with a regular broadcast.

If anything, I came away from the broadcast noting that there was a lot of enthusiasm.  Admittedly, by the recent standards of Watkins Glen races, Sunday’s event was not all that exciting.  The broadcast likely made it look better than it was.

I’ve been familiar with Diffey’s style in the booth for well over a decade.  For instance, this is how Diffey (along with Dorsey Schroder) handled the complete lunacy towards the end of the 2004 Grand Prix of Miami at Homestead-Miami Speedway:

To me, Diffey at work reflects a style more typical of race commentary that you see outside of the United States.  It is a style that he’s used for 20 years now.

Here, commentary is typically calmer and (especially in NASCAR) more analyst-driven.  That’s how you end up with Darrell Waltrip having so much clout in the broadcast booth.

Diffey does have his detractors among race fans.  There were a number of people that took to Twitter during Sunday’s race to voice their displeasure with him.  Some just find the man annoying.  I can understand that.  My own mother finds the Formula One on-air broadcast team on NBCSN (including Diffey) annoying and somewhat over the top.

A number of fans seemed to think that Diffey’s British.  He’s not.  He’s from Australia.  There’s a difference and its quite a bit more than just the distance involved.

This past weekend was Mike Bagley’s debut on television.  Bagley on TV was exactly like Bagley on radio.  In some cases, that can be bad.  Calling basketball like a radio broadcast leaves next to no time for analysis.  Last weekend, Bagley did a great job conveying the action on-track to the viewers.  He comes across as quite knowledgeable and very much game for some action.

I don’t know if he’ll get another chance at TV, but he’s gotten his foot in the door.  If NBC Sports chooses to go the route of bringing in a “B-Team” once again for XFINITY Series standalone races, he could very well be considered, along with his compatriot Alex Hayden, who shared a tower with Kligerman.

Kligerman and Burton did quite well in their perches as well, although I do admit that we got more content from Kligerman.  That’s not Burton’s fault.  Turn 10 didn’t really have much action on Saturday or Sunday.  The Inner Loop and Turn 9 was full of it.  Incidents, hard racing.  Good stuff.  Also, Kligerman was able to signal the production to trouble in his portion of the track as well.

Post-race coverage was a little more extensive than normal since the race was run at record pace (just over 104 mph for an average).  Viewers got a number of interviews and a prodigious amount of post-race analysis.

Having said that, there was one chap that didn’t get interviewed after the race that everyone thought should have been.  Kyle Busch.  At first, they made it sound like he declined.  In reality, NBC Sports didn’t have anyone there to interview him post-race.

Busch later referred to NBCSN’s original on-air statement that he had declined as “a cop out for not finding me and doing their job.”  Ouch.  That’s harsh.

This turned out to be a thing.  Later on, NBCSN’s Carolyn Manno stated the truth on NASCAR Victory Lap that they just weren’t there to interview him.  While I’m sure that Busch isn’t angry at NBC Sports in any way, I can state for sure that they missed out on some quotes.  I have no reason to believe that Busch would have actually declined an interview had he been asked by anyone at NBCSN.

Overall, the MVP broadcasts may have been used for the cleanest road races (especially Sunday) that have been run in quite a while.  I do think that the added viewpoints made the broadcast a little more exciting than it might have been.  However, I do believe that viewers might have been a little more in the dark in regards to some of the storylines.

Zippo 200

Saturday saw the XFINITY Series take on the 2.45-mile road course in Watkins Glen.  Like the Cup race, the “MVP” broadcast was in play.  But, that wasn’t the only change.

In addition to Allen being in London, Krista Voda was sent to Saratoga Springs to cover the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga Racecourse, then drive the 240 miles to the Glen from there. As a result of NBC Sports’ move, Rutledge Wood was tapped to host Countdown to Green.  I believe that is a first for him.  He actually did pretty good.  In addition, Wood drew the first post-race interview task on the frontstretch with Busch.

Also during the weekend, Wood did a lap around the original Watkins Glen circuit in a Chevrolet Camaro convertible with Boris Said.  Always a good time.  This is something I personally recommend checking out.  I did it myself a few years ago (2012, on race morning).  Approximately two-thirds of the course is on state-maintained roads (the pit straight is Franklin Street (Routes 14 and 414), the main drag through the village), along with routes 329 and 409.

I do agree that it is a rush, especially when you drive under the freight train line on Route 329 as seen in the piece.  Admittedly, my thoughts there were similar to what you saw from Wood and Said.  They raced on this road?  Crazy.  Of note, current speed limits on the original course range from 25-55 mph.  The dip under the freight train line is in a 55 mph zone.  The stone bridge is at the far western end of the circuit in the only section of the course that enters Watkins Glen State Park.  Also of note, the course runs directly past the infamous Seneca Lodge.

Another gripe I had with the MVP coverage was the fact that it was relatively difficult to follow drivers as they moved up through the field.  Its not a new gripe.  The broadcasts were designed to somewhat resemble radio broadcasts.  MRN Radio broadcasts are not immune to this issue.  In fact, it is probably one of my biggest gripes about their broadcasts.  They’re so laser focused that its quite difficult to get the full picture of what’s going on.  Doesn’t help that NBCSN really wasn’t making much use of the intervals on their scoring bar.

For instance, Busch charged up from 28th to fourth during the second stage.  You didn’t really see much of him during that time.  They didn’t even really talk much about him.  Then he shows up behind Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano right before Stephen Young blows his engine.  How did he move up the order so quickly? Mainly because he’s Kyle Busch and had the best car.  As much as I know you guys don’t like Cup guys in the XFINITY Series, you do still need to tell all the stories.

I know I’m meandering a bit because we’re going straight to the other extreme.  That’s right.  Directly from talking about not enough Kyle Busch to too much Cup focus.  Then again, the Zippo 200 has evolved into quite possibly the most Cup-centric XFINITY race of the year due to limited practice and inexperience.

XFINITY drivers got very little exposure on Saturday.  Sure, they weren’t running up front because the Cup guys were stomping them, but this is their race.  I would have liked to know how the heck Elliott Sadler got a lap down late in the race.  I could buy Ross Chastain getting a lap down that way (which actually happened because he had to stop with eight laps to go), but not Sadler.  Something was up.  It confounded me on TV and radio.

The race ended just about on time on Saturday.  Post-race coverage consisted of interviews with a number of drivers, a check of the points and some analysis.  Since the race was Cup-centric, so was post-race coverage with the exception of Justin Allgaier.

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend is another split weekend.  The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck Series will be at Michigan International Speedway.  Meanwhile, the month of road racing continues for the XFINITY Series as they travel to Mid-Ohio.  The Trans-Am Series presented by Pirelli will race on the undercard.  Finally, Pirelli World Challenge will hold their fourth Sprint-X weekend of the season at Utah Motorsports Campus (formerly Miller Motorsports Park).  TV listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab.

I will provide critiques of the Cup and XFINITY races at minimum in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  For the Critic’s Annex, I will cover the newest edition of Racing Roots.  A while back, Kyle Petty and Rutledge Wood traveled to Emporia, Kan. to learn a bit about Clint Bowyer.  Interesting things happened.

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 Phil Allaway

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 Tony Stewart's Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions.

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9 comments

  1. Total laps: 90
    Total ads: 192
    – Total traditional: 61
    – Total split-screen: 34
    – Total graphics & scripted: 97
    Just obscene! Why is there even a convo about anything else…

  2. 8 laps more for the Cup “product” over the Busch series? Doesn’t seem right to me. And an extra half hour in the TV slot. Lots more commercial time. 2 hours and 7 minutes (and 3 seconds) event time.

  3. Leigh Diffey is like listening to a cricket on crack. Sometimes you can just shut up and let the action speak for itself.

  4. Personally I like this style of broadcasting, made the race seem more interesting than it actually was. As for Leigh Diffey’s accent, I love it. I do not know where Allaway gets the idea that Kyle Busch would not decline an interview though, he has done it in the past when he has failed to win a race.

  5. Put Kligerman in the booth.

  6. I thought the coverage was the best I’ve seen in years. I want more play by play than analysis. If they’d show more of the battles going on around the track and not just the leaders, then maybe I wouldn’t need as much play by play to know what’s going on, but that’s not the case. Many times I’ve said that I wish they’d just use the MRN audio feed and ditch all the TV announcers so this was awesome in my opinion. I even took the time last night to google “NBC Sports feedback” so I could email them my approval of Sunday’s presentation (and I’ve never done that before regardless of whether the coverage was good or bad).

    As for Diffey, it was a nice change of pace but I don’t know if I’d want him there every week. That accent can get annoying after a while. I’ve always thought British/Australian accents sound kind of pompous (no offense to anyone from those countries, after all, American accents can be even goofier).

  7. One miss from the coverage was late in the race where a graphic was displaying the penalty for Keselowski driving through too many pit boxes for what was probably about two minutes until it was acknowledged by someone. In the meantime, they were still discussing Keselowski’s chances of winning while this graphic was displayed.