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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

Couch Potato Tuesday: NBCSN Took NASCAR Anthem Story Head On

Chaps, the Round of 16 is now complete.  From here on, the playoff focus will likely intensify.  However, for this week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday, we’re focusing on three main topics.  One is the actual race coverage.  That’s obvious.  Another topic is conflicts of interest.  My readers are quite smart.  You already know where that’s going.  Finally, we must touch on the ongoing anthem protests since the story really didn’t break in NASCAR until after the ISM Connect 300 at Loudon.  As a result, Dover was going to be the first chance to see how NBCSN and FOX Sports 1 were going to handle it.

Before we start, IMSA announced on Monday that Jeff Gordon is going to be a part of Saturday’s broadcast of the Motul Petit Le Mans from Road Atlanta.  Will he be on site?  Definitely not during the race, but he might make an appearance earlier in the race weekend.  The broadcast booth for IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races has been in Charlotte since Sebring last year, something that more than likely is a detriment to the broadcast.

Gordon will be the fourth booth commentator for Saturday’s 10-hour race.  Regulars Greg Creamer and Calvin Fish will likely comprise the regular group.  They’ll start and finish the race.  Gordon will likely be teamed with Brian Till and work in the middle of the event.

For those who would like to watch Gordon’s IMSA broadcasting debut, the Motul Petit Le Mans shifts around a bit.  Coverage starts at 10:30 a.m. Saturday morning on FOX Sports 1, then moves to FOX Sports 2 for three hours starting at 11:30.  A 150-minute stretch from 2:30 to 5 p.m. will be exclusive to FOX Sports GO.  The remainder of the race will be live on FOX Sports 2.

Apache Warrior 400 presented by Lucas Oil

Sunday brought the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series back to Dover for 400 miles of action.  A different tire meant that the track rubbered in more than normal.  However, other stories surrounding the race swallowed up print as well.

Obviously, nearly the entire week leading up to Sunday’s race was spent dealing with the fallout from President Donald Trump more or less dragging NASCAR into the whole anthem protest issue against their will.  In the interest of not ticking too many of you off before we get into the meat of the discussion, we won’t go into too much detail.  Besides, if you’ve done your research by now, you know exactly what this whole mess is about, the reasoning for said protest and who said what.

In Dover, ESPN had a crew asking drivers pointed questions about the anthem protests and their thoughts.  The results were mixed as a couple of drivers refused to comment.  A quick, cursory look at ESPN.com’s NASCAR page shows no apparent story from those interviews.  There was a brief piece that Bob Pockrass posted on the activist Gene Stilp burning the Confederate flag (Note: Stilp did have a permit for his protest, so there were no arrests made).  It appears that that went down very quietly Saturday morning without incident.

Having said all that, there was still a need to cover the story prior to the race.  Yahoo (and former Frontstretch writer) Nick Bromberg noted that NASCAR drivers used to be strapped in their cars during the anthem.  That’s 100% true and I cannot recall anyone claiming that there was anything wrong with that.

Rick Allen explained (both Saturday and Sunday) that the change was made after 9/11.  Dover was the first race back after the attacks and NASCAR pitched having the drivers out of their cars for the anthem (sung by country singer Tanya Tucker) as a sign of togetherness and patriotism.  Back then, I was a Senior in high school and spent some weekends with my dad in New Jersey.  Since Sunday was a travel day to get back to the Albany area (which required a ride into Manhattan in order to catch a Greyhound bus at the Port Authority Bus Station), I missed the first half of the race.

Afterwards, I just never realized that it ended up being a permanent change.  Never really thought about it until the last couple of weeks.

NBCSN had writer Nate Ryan come on Countdown to Green to talk about the ongoing discussions about the protests.  Ryan basically recapped what had happened over the previous few days and summed up how NASCAR created the current anthem protocol.  Ultimately, nothing happened.  No one was placed on the proverbial Greyhound bus and sent home with a pink slip.

Am I shocked that nothing happened?  Heck no.  I would have been shocked if something did happen.

My main fear in this whole mess was that NASCAR was somehow going to completely put their feet down their throat.  Last week saw a group of people attempt to paint the entire sport and everyone in it as racist.  That is some serious stuff right there.

Is is true?  Is NASCAR racist?  Absolutely not.  Personally, I prefer not to write about race here at Frontstretch.  It distracts from everything else that we could be covering and can become quite emotional.  I wouldn’t be shocked that most of my readers didn’t realize that I’m actually African-American until after we instituted headshots here on the site.  By that point, I’d already been with Frontstretch for years.

While yes, NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity has resulted in minorities getting opportunities to be involved in the sport, it is likely still 90 percent white or more.  Every aspect of the sport is like that from the teams to the media to NASCAR itself.

Just for the record, I’ve covered 15 NASCAR weekends on credential for Frontstretch since 2009.  In addition, I’ve covered Grand-Am, IMSA, Pirelli World Challenge and INDYCAR races for the site.  In that time, I’ve never experienced any type of racial discrimination personally, nor have I witnessed anything that would even approach it.  That isn’t to say it doesn’t exist at all, but the likelihood of it occurring at a NASCAR race is quite low.  One would guess that NASCAR seriously cracked down on it after the Mauricia Grant lawsuit back in 2008, but it likely wasn’t even that prevalent of an issue before that.

That said, the life experiences of nearly everyone in power in NASCAR does not reflect the experiences of anyone who isn’t white.  That is why I was fearful that NASCAR was going to botch the response to this crisis.  So far, they’re doing ok.

During the race itself, viewers got a lot of coverage dedicated to those drivers around the cutoff.  Ricky Stenhouse Jr. objectively had a pretty terrible race.  Everyone knew that.  However, he got lucky when Jeffrey Earnhardt spun into the Fitch Barriers on lap 87.  Had the crash not happened, he probably would have finished in the mid-20s somewhere without those extra seven points.  Ultimately, he has the fewest number of points of any of the remaining playoff contenders by any way you measure it (and believe me, I’ve measured it in many ways).

That said, even with the heavy focus on the cutoff, viewers did get a good amount of coverage of racing all over the lead lap.  It was actually more than normal.  That was somewhat surprising.

However, there were some downsides to the coverage.  For instance, there was a heavy reliance on in-car cameras on Sunday.  Honestly, the reliance doesn’t make a lot of sense since they’ve really cut down on the number of cars with cameras over the past couple of years.  For instance, NBCSN missed a pass for the lead on lap 174 because they were too busy showing the restart from Stenhouse’s roof cam.  For future reference, please don’t do that.  You’re limited in what you can see from there.

Also, NBCSN had a 360 degree in-car camera in Austin Dillon’s car.  Sounds great and all, but there’s one problem.  It was mounted so high in the car that you really couldn’t see anything.  It reminded me of the rare times in the mid-1990s that Dale Earnhardt had an in-car camera.  He was known to be quite persnickety in the car and apparently could hear the camera moving.  As a result, you’d often get in-car views from his car like this one from the infamous 1995 Goody’s 500 at Bristol.  The mirror makes it so that you can’t see jack.

NBCSN did an ok job in showing how Kyle Busch was running down Chase Elliott late in the race.  Nothing special.  We knew that with 30 or so laps to go, Elliott had a four second lead.  We got some intervals, but no lap speeds or any idea as to how Busch was beating Elliott until he was there.  You could see that Elliott was more or less trapped at that point.  It really is hard to say whether Busch really was better than Elliott.

Post-race coverage was somewhat typical for a playoff race.  Viewers saw a number of interviews with playoff racers.  However, it was a very brief clip that brings us to our next topic.

Yes, we have the aforementioned Gordon ending up in an argument with Ryan Newman post-race.  The discussion seems to have started when Gordon asked Newman why he didn’t move over for Elliott.  Our own Dustin Albino (in the red polo shirt) was right there when it all went down on Sunday.

Now, Gordon is still involved with Hendrick Motorsports in something resembling a leadership role.  He also has partial ownership in the team.  This would technically be the equivalent of Rob Kauffman ranting about something.  However, Gordon is also a TV personality.  And not just for random IMSA races in which his input could be questionable at best.

Even though Gordon hasn’t been in the booth for three months, as far as I’m concerned, he is still a TV personality for FOX Sports in addition to his work with Hendrick Motorsports.  It is doubtful that FOX Sports is happy with him injecting himself into the situation.

We have yet another example of a conflict of interest here.  Cripes.  Over the years, we’ve covered conflicts of interest in this column more than we should have.  My preference would be for these situations to never occur.  My advice to Gordon would be to try to avoid these situations as much as possible.

Overall, Sunday’s broadcast was much better than it could have been.  Believe me, this could have been a race where only four or five drivers mattered.  Instead, we got a good amount of action for position and an exciting finish.  Having said that, the cutoff drivers (especially Stenhouse and Newman) got way too much coverage.  Yes, the situation that NASCAR has created more or less requires extra focus to those drivers, but it seemed like it was just too much.

Use Your Melon. Drive Sober. 200

Saturday brought the XFINITY Series to Dover for 200 miles of action.  Ryan Blaney was strong enough that the whole race was anticlimactic.  However, there’s still action to cover.

Due to a big Premier League game scheduled for 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, there was very little pre-race coverage.  The coverage started at 2:32 and the invocation was a minute or two later.  It looked like coverage of a race that had been postponed to Monday.

Naturally, much like Sunday, the coverage was centered upon the playoff contenders.  However, the early portions of the race were a slow go.

As you know, Brandon Jones crashed out of the race on lap 7 after he spun and was hit by Jeff Green.  That bites for Jones, who might have the worst luck of any XFINITY Series regular at the moment.  The fact that he was forced to DNF because his car was effectively pinned down low is bush league as heck, but that’s for another article.

In the crash, NBCSN noted that Matt Tifft (a playoff contender) was able to get through the crash unscathed.  Not the case.  Green ended up sliding into the back of the No. 19 before he hit Jones, bashing in the TV panel.  Tifft’s crew had to make a series of repairs to the Toyota before Tifft could continue.  He did well to finish sixth with his damaged car.

Unlike Sunday’s race, Saturday’s 200-miler was not nearly as competitive.  In that situation, NBCSN has to find the action in order to help make the race look more exciting.  Did we get that?  To a certain extent, yes.  But not that often.

The event just looked like a foregone conclusion for almost the entire second half of the race.  Dover XFINITY races haven’t always been that way.  They’ve been tossups in the past.

After stage No. 1, the race was very quiet.  As a result, the race ended ahead of schedule and viewers got a decent amount of post-race coverage.  The time was spent talking to a number of playoff drivers from all over the map.

Overall, there’s really not a whole lot to write home about when it comes to Saturday’s Use Your Melon. Drive Sober 200.  This was not a particularly exciting race to watch and NBCSN could only do so much.  Even without Cup veterans in the field, it really wasn’t all that exciting.

TV-wise, nothing spectacular stood out.  There was heavy usage of the in-car cameras again, including a helmet cam on Justin Allgaier.  Obviously, you can see a lot more with the helmet cam than the camera in Austin Dillon’s car on Sunday, but we’re getting into overuse territory here.

Las Vegas 350k

Saturday night saw the Camping World Truck Series return to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for what is one of the more questionable race weekends of the year.  Next year, it won’t be as questionable, but we did get a very interesting race with a first-time winner.

For Truck teams, Saturday night was the second race of their Round of 8.  Unlike Cup and XFINITY races at Las Vegas, this one had me nervous.

Naturally, the playoffs were basically the only thing discussed during NCWTS Setup.  Viewers got interviews with a number of the playoff contenders.

Saturday night also saw the return of Travis Pastrana to the series for the first time since 2015.  FOX Sports 1 touted an interview with Pastrana like it was going to be this big thing.  It turned out to be a regular pre-race interview with him.  The only difference was that Michael Waltrip was interviewing him.  It did not feel very satisfying.  Pastrana’s race itself was unsatisfying due to a mechanical problem putting him behind the wall early.

In regards to the anthem protests and whether anything was going to happen as a result, FOX Sports 1 did not pay it any attention at all.  As far as we can tell, nothing happened.  Realistically, it should have at least been addressed, but not necessarily dwelled on.

As for the nerves, I hadn’t felt as nervous watching a race at Las Vegas since the infamous aborted INDYCAR race there back in 2011.  We all remember what happened, so I won’t dwell on it.

That said, this was a very competitive race with passing left and right and a series of incredibly aggressive moves.  I don’t recall seeing four-wide in a truck race there before.

With action like that, the broadcast has to bring that action to the viewers.  On that end, FOX Sports 1 did a pretty good job at doing that.  Unlike a number of recent races, you were never far from some good action on Saturday night.

Admittedly, the wrecks whittled down the pack pretty quickly.  Johnny Sauter had no business earning a top 10 finish Saturday night, but he did.  In a truck that looked like it had been through a grinder.

With all the wrecking, the race ended up going long.  As a result, post-race coverage was quite brief.  Viewers got interviews with the top three finishers (Ben Rhodes, Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe), along with a quick check of the points before leaving for college football.

Overall, the enthusiasm was great on Saturday night and the action fast and furious.  There was a lot of good action and FOX Sports 1 did a pretty good job bringing it to viewers.  It is arguable that moving the start of the race up an hour benefited the race in general.  The start time Saturday night was likely a dry run for next season’s tripleheader weekend, so you’ll likely see more of this.

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series return to Charlotte for a “home game,” more or less.  Meanwhile, as noted previously, the IMSA season comes to an end at Road Atlanta.  Formula One will also travel to Suzuka Circuit for the Grand Prix of Japan.  TV listings can be found in the TV Schedule tab at the top of the page.

Critiques of the Cup and XFINITY races from Charlotte will be provided for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.

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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12 comments

  1. Just so you know why all these patriotic displays at Nascar races….

    The report expands on one that became public last May and resulted in changes to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2016, prohibiting the expenditures and calling on leagues and teams to donate the money to organizations that support the military, veterans and their families.

    “What we take issue with,” wrote Flake, who, like McCain, is a Republican from Arizona, “is the average fan thinking teams are doing this on behalf of the military.”

    NASCAR was the biggest recipient, getting $1,560,000 for fiscal year 2015. Included were personal appearances by Aric Almirola and Richard Petty, as well as 20 Richard Petty Driving Experience ride-alongs. The expenditures, according to the DOD

    So Nascar gets paid to put on the ‘patriotic’ displays? How patriotic is that?

    • I always wondered why there was all this pre-race patriotism. Who’s sponsoring the invocation? Thanks for the info.

    • the problem I have with all this is the people who wrap themselves up in the flag for people to see. But when their chance to have some skin the game, took the easy way out.

  2. I felt that the coverage of the playoff drivers on Sunday was extreme overkill. Being drubbed non stop with ‘what the points are now’ is just stupid. Nothing counts until the race is over. I finally gave up and turned it off.

  3. I didn’t realize that Trump solicited those opinions from Petty and Childress and “dragged” NASCAR into the debate. I thought they spoke on their own and Trump just repeated it. Thanks for setting me straight.

    • Phil Allaway

      Trump didn’t solicit jack in this situation from Petty or Childress. I personally believe that the whole thing might have blown over, or simply stayed within the confines of the sport and fanbase had Trump not chimed in. Once Trump gave his two cents on the situation in NASCAR, everything was fair game.

      • Going back even further it was trumps comments, first in Alabama and then by tweet that escalated the whole mess. Then others who should have known better got involved.

      • Personally, I’m glad Trump threw fuel on the fire to make the NFL pay for their lack of vision in not nipping this whole protest during the anthem thing when it first started. Most business’s have no politics/controversy policies just for the reason of what we are currently seeing in the NFL right now; it creates a workplace with contention between employees who have different views and it has the possibility of alienating half their customers. The easiest way to deal with it is to not allow any political commentary in the workplace.

        To take this a step away from the current protest and remove the 50 ton elephant with a big “R’ on it’s chest, what do you think would happen at most work places if an employee wore a pro or anti abortion pin on their chest? From the point of view of the owners and stock holders, would that be a good thing?

  4. These conflicts of interest are nothing new. The Hollywood Hotel was polluted…….er, populated by (at the time) the owner of Michael Waltrip Racing. Rusty Wallace was in the ESPN booth covering races that included Rusty Wallace Racing cars.
    Heck, the biggest conflict of interest is at the top level where NASCAR owns more half of the tracks where Cup races are held.

    • rg72 was absolutely right – alot of people never understood how M. Waltrip and R. Wallace could be talking heads in the booth without bias — certainly those two proved to be the most biased talking heads in NASCAR history. And the biggest conflict of interest is absolutely at the top with the France family owning more than half the tracks and sending down edicts from on top…it would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad…

      • Why not mention Jeff Gordon in the booth?

        • STEVE LETARTED…will never ever say anything against HMS, even if it is the truth. Steve owes his everything $$$$ to HMS, he is useless. Jeff Gordon too, no truth..just bias BS. Look at his actions this past weekend regarding the pampered NEXT COMING SON OF….CLYDE!