Last weekend saw the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series take their final weekend off of the year. Cup drivers spent the time relaxing, vacationing, and finding plenty of other ways to spend their time. Meanwhile, NASCAR XFINITY Series teams traveled up to Road America in Wisconsin for 180 miles of action. Unfortunately, there were some aspects of NBC coverage that also chose to take the week off.
Pre-race coverage on NBC was about par for the course when it comes to standalone races. Dave Burns hosted Countdown to Green from the broadcast booth and interviews were the name of the game. The result was that viewers were reasonably informed of what was happening going into the event.
In addition, regular NBC Sports pit reporter Parker Kligerman was running the race driving for Rick Gdovic’s Precision Performance Motorsports (he finished a swell tenth after starting 39th). Kligerman gave a good breakdown of what to expect on the 4.048-mile road course.
Watching the race on Sunday, you might have noticed something missing. There were no in-car cameras at Road America at all. Nothing. Bupkis. Two weeks ago, we talked about how you cannot cheap out when it comes to road racing coverage just because the Cup Series isn’t there. Instead, NBC cheapened out even more. We cannot recall a broadcast of a race for one of NASCAR’s national series that went on without in-car cameras during the last 20 years.
This omission is ridiculous and a slap in the face of teams that run the XFINITY Series. NBC is obviously paying a ton of money in order to broadcast NASCAR races through 2024. I’m pretty sure the sanctioning body expected NBC to put their best foot forward when they signed that deal to cover the sport. This decision is more like shooting yourself in the foot, dumbing down the broadcast and depriving the viewer of what’s become a permanent part of every stock car telecast for decades.
Perhaps the threat of rain scared off BSI? That’s the only logical explanation one could think of. Meanwhile, contrast that decision with what MRN Radio chose to do. They went all out.
— Motor Racing Network (@MRNRadio) August 27, 2017
Having nine turn announcers would mean that there were well over a dozen on-air personalities on MRN Radio’s broadcast. Yes, that would mean that you would have a potential fight for airtime. But MRN was covered when all heck went down at any point.
I wouldn’t be shocked if NBC missed a bunch of action simply because they skimped on equipment and manpower. At bare minimum, there were on-track incidents that viewers did not get replays of. One example was Christopher Bell’s off-course excursion during Stage No. 2. Another was Brennan Poole’s crash entering Canada Corner on lap 27. Unlike Bell’s incident, Poole’s wreck was fairly significant.
Later on, Austin Cindric was in good position to win Sunday’s race before cutting his left-rear tire with eight laps to go. We have no idea how that happened. It was unclear if Cindric had contact with Cole Custer or if he ran over something. Whatever caused it, Cindric had to pit and finished 16th.
The lack of awareness of slow and/or stopped cars on course was really noticeable. It was as if NBC skimped on spotters for the broadcast. For a road race, you absolutely cannot do that. There’s only so much that your cameras can cover on a 4.048-mile road course, especially if you’re not bringing the full complement of personnel.
There were at least two instances of NASCAR letting things go with stalled cars in the groove. First up, Tim Cowen stopped in turn 14 on lap 19. Viewers didn’t know about it until the leaders approached the final turn and there Cowen was. Also, on the final lap, Dylan Lupton stalled right before turn 13. I wouldn’t be shocked if he ran out of fuel, but who knows? NBC provided no details.
In past years, NASCAR has been criticized for “not knowing how to use a local yellow.” Sunday’s race was the exception to the rule. Other than the stage yellows (another discussion all together), the only questionable caution was the one for Ryan Sieg’s tire casing coming off on lap 14. Everything else was understandable. It was surprising that Cowen’s crash into the tires with five laps to go in a fast section of the track didn’t draw one. It sounds like NASCAR had a very different drivers’ meeting Sunday morning and emphasized they weren’t playing around. Now, if we can only use waving yellow flags for local yellows instead of the blue flag….
In regards to pit strategy, NBC could have done a better job in keeping viewers informed on the strategies the frontrunners were planning on using. And while we have no doubt that NBC was cool with Kligerman racing on Sunday, I think viewers would have been better off if he were pit reporting. It would have given NBC more people on staff that could have provided crucial information.
As it was, Kligerman’s role as a “Driver Reporter” was somewhat limited. It felt like the role was little more than lots of hype. Viewers heard from Kligerman just once during the race. That occasion was pretty funny, as he described racing at Road America like meeting a celebrity crush but that’s not exactly making the most of this opportunity.
Having outright ranted about the nuts and bolts of the broadcast, we come to the booth. Burns and Dale Jarrett continue to work very well together. They bring the proper knowledge to the broadcast and are very enthusiastic about what they’re covering. However, they were let down by the rest of the production. It is a team effort to put together a race broadcast and you’re held back by the weakest members of the team. We know that NBC is going to bring their best efforts to Darlington this weekend. Unfortunately, Road America was treated as an afterthought despite being on over-the-air television.
Post-race coverage was actually a little thin for the sheer amount of time that NBC had at their disposal. Viewers got interviews with the top three finishers (Jeremy Clements, Michael Annett, Matt Tifft) along with racer/reporter Kligerman. Weirdly enough, Kligerman seemed to get more airtime during post-race than both Annett and Tifft combined.
In regards to Clements’ victory, it is quite the upset. But, not as much as you’d think. Clements’ performances on road courses, especially in qualifying in recent years, have been excellent. We’re talking about someone that has nearly been fast enough to make the final round of qualifying at Watkins Glen in the past, an XFINITY race Cup drivers tend to dominate thoroughly.
Among XFINITY Series regulars, Clements is likely one of the three or four best road racers in the series. Perhaps his background in dirt late models helps quite a bit. Car control is paramount on a road course and Clements’ experience should provide that in spades.
In closing, no one noted the fact that Clements darn near wheel-hopped while trying to make his move on Tifft in turn 8 with a lap and a half to go.
There is a sizable likelihood that Clements roasted his rear tires by doing that. He had much less grip when he made the move that ultimately spun both drivers out. Had Clements not wheel-hopped it, he probably would have won the race anyway, but done it more cleanly.
Traditionally, NASCAR teams don’t bring out the latest and greatest for road races. Even in Cup, teams have been known to bring out older cars. In the 1980s, you’d have teams bringing out previous generations (For example, 1988 saw a number of teams racing the Oldsmobile Delta 88, Buick LeSabre, and Pontiac Grand Prix 2+2 even though all three cars had been replaced for that year). Today, they likely trot out one of the older cars in the shop, although you wouldn’t be able to tell. Current NASCAR rules don’t really allow for older body styles anymore.
Having said that, teams using older chassis doesn’t shock me. I’d like to know where Jeremy Clements Racing got their supposed nine-year-old car. More than likely, it is a former Car of Tomorrow (now Gen5 car) from the Cup Series that got converted.
Hopefully, NBC Sports brings back their full complement of reporters for this weekend in Darlington. What should have been a showcase broadcast for the XFINITY Series turned out to be very disappointing.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is full of action. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series will be at Darlington Raceway for their throwback weekend. We’ll have a gallery of all those throwback schemes on Frontstretch at some point this week.
The Camping World Truck Series travels to Ontario, racing at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, while the Verizon IndyCar Series will be at Watkins Glen. Finally, sports cars’ Pirelli World Challenge will wrap up the Sprint-X portion of the schedule at the Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Tex.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and XFINITY series races from Darlington in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday. The Bommarito Automotive Group 500 from Gateway will be covered in the Critic’s Annex later this week in our Frontstretch Newsletter.
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