Let’s just get this over with right now: playoff time is not the best time for NASCAR TV. Somehow, it produces the exact opposite scenario compared to most other sports. The focus of the broadcast narrows to the point where it drives viewers away, not toward the television.
Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400 was a prime example of that.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was at Chicagoland Speedway for their annual visit to start the playoffs. Viewers saw some dominant racing and even some green slime. (Despite the messiness, slime does not determine whether or not a broadcast is any good. However, for what it’s worth, Martin Truex Jr. took his sliming like a champ.)
Pre-race coverage was, as expected, playoff-focused. However, viewers never really got a true breakdown of what specific drivers needed to do in the first round. You could throw the argument out there NBCSN was doing that through some on-screen graphics instead during practice and qualifying. But that isn’t the same as overtly talking about it during a pre-race show. Most viewers weren’t watching those practice and qualifying shows a few days earlier.
Instead, what we got was something akin to a regular pre-race show that covered the playoffs and a couple of major stories. Danica Patrick did an interesting interview where she explained that she really wants to continue racing. It sounds really simple, but we really haven’t heard much recently on her options. Most of what we’ve heard in regards to Patrick’s future is a version of the Underpants Gnomes’ business model.
In this case, step No. 1 is what we already know. We just don’t know how she gets to step No. 3. For what it’s worth, it is extremely doubtful that Patrick will be collecting underpants as part of a business anytime soon.
Yes, Patrick wants a competitive car and that might be hard to come by now that she’s leaving Stewart-Haas Racing. However, you’ve never heard much about Patrick’s drive to succeed in NASCAR. It has always seemed like she was just there, or simply ordained to race in Cup. Having said that, is it likely Patrick can find a decent ride for 2018? We cannot say for sure right now.
During the race, NBCSN reported on NASCAR taking tires from specific teams and testing them inside of a blue tent. If this sport were the NFL, players would be undergoing concussion protocol in there. It is quite interesting in that this particular topic has never really been broached on a modern race broadcast. The idea apparently was to see if anyone was trying to cheat the system by being able to bleed air pressure.
To NASCAR, that is one of the rules you don’t mess with. The last time anyone got caught screwing around with tires or wheels, they threw the book at them. For those of you wondering, that was in 2010 at Pocono. Front Row Motorsports was busted with illegal valve stems on Travis Kvapil’s No. 38. Granted, that circumstance didn’t require blue tents or anything like that but Kvapil ended up with a flat tire after a rain delay prior to the race even starting. The team was hit with the equivalent of a high L1 penalty today (150 points).
Jeff Gluck tweeted from Sonoma he’d never seen that before. NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell rebutted that by stating they had tested, apparently five times this season. Seems like NASCAR’s been quiet about it, though.
Checking, sure. What about the dunking in a blue tent? Please, someone send me a pic of other times this has happened and I'll be quiet. https://t.co/NO2vO6bvzq
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) September 17, 2017
— Steve O'Donnell (@odsteve) September 18, 2017
As always, I generally come down on the side of transparency. If NASCAR’s checking tires in a tentagon on a regular basis, they need to tell everyone, including the broadcast crews, that they’re doing it. Dave Burns saw this phenomenon since he was assigned to cover Busch’s pit on Sunday and likely noticed NASCAR officials taking the tires.
With a “green flag feel” to the vast majority of Sunday’s race, coverage of action throughout the field is paramount. You need that, or else fans are going to think that the race is boring. Unfortunately, NBCSN didn’t do the best job at moving through the field on Sunday. In place of covering on-track battles, viewers got a lot of playoff talk. The current format clearly has some fans, both with the sanctioning body and in the stands. However, the playoffs are not everything.
Regardless of what is at stake, a race broadcast must cover the race as normal. Surprises happen from time to time. For example, Kyle Busch’s unscheduled pit stop and subsequent penalty is clearly a big story. Busch dominated the action early on. Even without a playoff tint to it, his dominant day falling apart would need to be covered.
By comparison, Erik Jones caused the final caution of the day when he spun in turn 4 with 58 laps to go. The broadcast made it sound like he just plain lost it and blew his right rear tire while sliding. I feel like something else was at play here.
Earlier in the race, Jones was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop after hitting the wall on lap 97. But even though Jones’ unscheduled stop happened right around the same time Busch made his, it was still given proper attention on the broadcast. Given the lack of yellows all day, the incident ruined his afternoon.
During that stop, Jones’ pit crew spent time pulling the fender off the right rear tire in order to prevent a tire rub. Looking back, it would not be shocking if Jones ended up with a tire rub that caused his cut and spin. But that idea was never broached on the broadcast. By that point, the focus was on final stops for the leaders.
Of the three races at Chicagoland Speedway last weekend, Sunday’s was likely the least action-packed. The event was simply dominated at times by Busch, Truex, and even Chase Elliott. Going on and on about the playoffs in lieu of actual racing for position doesn’t impress me.
Post-race coverage was much shorter than normal due to NBCSN’s racing tripleheader. Despite having only 30 minutes of post-race coverage instead of 90, there was still about the same number of interviews on air. Seems like there’s a lot of fat there. While analysis is good, viewers aren’t exactly sticking around after races for that. They want to hear from their favorite drivers. Kyle Petty does bring a good amount of knowledge to the table but he’s not the main attraction anymore.
Overall, Sunday’s broadcast was not really all that exciting to watch. Admittedly, you can’t do much about Truex spanking everyone, but there has to be more from production. The last couple of weeks have been way more competitive in Cup than Chicagoland. It would be hard to imagine that there was absolutely zero racing for position much of the event. Even this time of year, people aren’t going to just pull over like a bunch of patsies for playoff contenders. There has to be something out there. Find it.
That’s all for this week. Next week is a split race weekend. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck Series will be at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. They’ll also be joined by the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Meanwhile, the XFINITY Series will be at Kentucky Speedway with the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards serving as support. Neither of these race weekends will exist next year as NASCAR is creating a new tripleheader weekend in Las Vegas, for better or worse.
Outside of stock car racing, IMSA will be in action at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for their second-to-last race weekend of the season. This weekend will include the second four-hour enduro for the Continental SportsCar Challenge. Also, the European Le Mans Series will race this weekend at the Circuit de Spa-Francochamps in Belgium. TV listings are in the TV Schedule tab.
For the Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter, we’ll be covering the Truck and XFINITY races from Chicagoland. There is plenty more ranting about playoff coverage to come.
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.
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 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.