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(Photo: Matthew T. Thacker/NKP)

Couch Potato Tuesday: NBC Goes All or Nothing on NASCAR Playoffs at Kansas

Cutoff weekends.  I’ve never been a big fan of them, and Kansas was no exception to the rule.  After Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, I was browsing my timeline on Twitter and found this completely random tweet from Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Obviously, when Earnhardt Jr. typed this tweet, he definitely wasn’t referring to television in any way.  He just likes to listen to “Blame It on The Rain” every now and then.

However, when I got to thinking later in the evening, I realized that it could actually relate.  Remember, back in 2014, we spent half a column using professional wrestling terms to describe a XFINITY Series race broadcast from Las Vegas.

Earlier this month, I purchased a copy of the infamous 1989 Milli Vanilli album Girl You Know It’s True at a Half Price Books in suburban Atlanta.  It has a track on it called “All or Nothing.”  The song itself (like darn near everything else on the album) is about a relationship between a man and a woman.  However, the song’s title does inform about how NBC Sports covered last weekend’s action in Kansas.

Hollywood Casino 400

Sunday brought the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series back to Kansas for their second visit of the year.  From the minute that NASCAR America Sunday began at 1 p.m. EDT, it was all playoff coverage.  It truly was All or Nothing.

Right from the intro, it was all playoffs, all the time.  Everything was couched in playoff discussion.  While yes, it is an important topic to cover, it isn’t the only one.

As you’re likely already aware, it poured like heck Saturday night at the track.  As a result, a competition caution was thrown at lap 30.  Blame it on the rain…  Going into the race, you would have figured that tire wear would have been a big story since all the rubber was washed off the track.  In practice, not so much.  While yes, there was a fair amount of tire drop-off on worn tires, that was not because of the rain.  That would have just happened regardless.  Given the amount of wear that some teams experience Saturday in the XFINITY race with rubber laid down, it seemed like it should have been more of a story.

Early on, a big story was the ruling that led to Martin Truex Jr. being black-flagged for going to the apron on a restart.  To be fair, it is not anything that I recall being emphasized prior to Sunday.  Bob Pockrass noted that as well.

We’ve discussed situations like this in the past.  This was another race-day emphasis announcement, much like the past crackdowns on bump drafting.  NASCAR is free to make such changes, despite the fact that it might come off as inappropriate.  This is why you pay attention in the driver meetings, even though they’ve become circus-like in recent years.

Steve Letarte did not forget an important phone number Sunday afternoon.  During the broadcast (on-air, but off-mic), he called Scott Miller (NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Competition) to get clarification on the issue.   Apparently, Truex failed to establish the proper restart lane above the white line.  However, it was ok for Kevin Harvick to follow Truex to the apron.  There are decent odds that such a ruling could be used to a trailing driver’s advantage at some point in the future.

The whole situation was rather confusing as no one had ever been black-flagged for this offense in the past.  Also, it leaves an unanswered question.  Not every track has an apron setup like Kansas.  None of the remaining tracks on the schedule have that setup.  Will it be in effect in Martinsville?  Who knows?

Throughout the race, drivers really had to do quite a bit to get themselves noticed.  If you were outside of the playoffs, even running in the top five wasn’t enough to get you airtime.  For even a mid-pack team, mid-October is probably the worst time of year.  You just can’t do anything to get noticed.  Unless you wreck.  Erik Jones found that out the hard way.  Despite that, just look how the video is labeled even though Jones clearly got the worst of it.

The big wreck once again knocked a number of drivers out of the race that shouldn’t have been forced to retire.  Matt Kenseth fell afoul of the Damaged Vehicle Policy when a seventh man went over the wall with a Sawzall.  That’s not going to work. I still find the whole idea of this policy to be stupid as heck.  It doesn’t save much in the way of money (remember, these teams still bring crash carts to each race that have 90 percent of what they had last year).

Here, NBC was put in a situation where they were forced to explain why Kenseth was parked and not Jimmie Johnson.  However, they didn’t do it quick enough.  They left it for post-race coverage.  That ground the gears of some fans.  That said, NBC did provide an explanation that Johnson’s team (meaning Chad Knaus) got dispensation for the seventh man to service the windshield.  It was unclear whether that was for everyone, though (I’d assume that it was, but it was not stated by NBC).

Speaking of Johnson, the crash clock returned once again to chronicle Johnson’s post-spin repairs.  While the sheer notion of this mess existing at all is dumb, it is still good for viewers to have the clock available.  If it continues into 2018 (and I sincerely hope it does not), I’d like the TV partners to find a way to incorporate it into a pylon setup.  Think something along the lines of the pylon NBC uses for their points check, but with the running clock.

Post-race coverage was again focused on the playoff contenders (and in Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s case, one that was eliminated). What was really ridiculous here is that Kurt Busch couldn’t get any airtime after the race.  That goes for the main broadcast and NASCAR America Post-Race, which ran all the way to 7:30 p.m.  If you wanted to hear from the dude who finished second on Sunday, you had to wait to NASCAR Victory Lap.  You know, the post-post-race show that started over an hour after the race ended.  That’s unacceptable.

It doesn’t matter how much you want to sell this playoff format, you still need to cover the race properly.  NASCAR technically determines how many drivers have to talk to the broadcast partners after each race.  Usually, it is the top three finishers at minimum.  It appears that NBC satisfied that requirement, but why did Busch’s time get pushed to Victory Lap?

This time of year, it seems that viewers simply have to take the coverage as it comes.  The coverage will not be balanced.  The 12 dudes in the playoffs last weekend got the lion’s share coverage and everyone else got scraps.  Even running up doesn’t help.  This type of race coverage cannot help the sport in any way.

Having said that, the coverage of the varying issues on Sunday was decent.  NBC did well to contact Miller and make good use of their notes to inform viewers of a strange situation.  With some luck, we won’t hear about it for the rest of this season.

Kansas Lottery 300

On Saturday, the XFINITY Series began the Round of 8 with 300 miles of action at Kansas Speedway.  Today, the most memorable aspect of the race was the finish, as it should be.  However, for about 194 laps of the race, it was all about the playoffs.

However, before the race, the talk was about William Byron and Matt Tifft having to start at the rear due to unapproved adjustments.  As a result, most of the first stage of the race was all about those two drivers and how they progressed up through the field.  It’s understandable why NBC took that route, but it was rather annoying to watch.  With Jones driving away from the field, there wasn’t much in the way of action towards the front.  So, viewers got a constant dose of Byron and Tifft.

As the race continued on, the coverage did open up a bit.  We started getting split-screens of battles on track and just more action in general.

Also of note, NBC had a special aspect to the coverage Saturday.  Instead of being in the broadcast booth, Letarte spent the Kansas Lottery 300 (and a large percentage of the on-track sessions prior to the race) on top of a pit box near the start-finish line.  NBC effectively rented the pit box for JTG-Daugherty Racing’s No. 47 Cup team and placed Letarte there with his engineer, Jimmy.

Here, Letarte got back into his former crew chief role when he was working with Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon.  The idea of the move was to give fans the crew chief’s outlook on the race itself.  In practice, it worked a little more like the MVP setup that NBC used at Watkins Glen.  Letarte was in position to comment on certain aspects of the race that Rick Allen and Jeff Burton didn’t have the best view of from the broadcast booth.  An example of this would be the pit fire that Elliott Sadler had after his spin during a commercial.

In addition, Letarte was not bound to pit stall No. 22 for the whole race.  He took time to exit his mount and look at tire wear for a couple of neighboring teams.  A report prior to Sadler’s spin indicated that Ty Dillon ran his tires in the first stage down to the cords.  That’s serious stuff.  Mind you, this was before the post-race deluge.  The track already had plenty of rubber down on it.

NBC appeared to overestimate the time that they needed for the race.  The start was admittedly pushed up due to potential rain, but that precipitation didn’t show up until well after the race ended.  Ultimately, the race was run at record pace, allowing for substantial post-race coverage.

That time was filled with a number of post-race interviews.  Six of them were with playoff contenders, while viewers got the skinny on the late race duel between Jones and Christopher Bell from both parties.

In addition, Rutledge Wood talked a little about the final preparations for Cup teams in the garage in the garage.  Finally, there was plenty of wrap-up analysis from the booth.

As compared to Sunday’s race, Saturday’s race was not as playoff-focused for a couple of reasons.  One was the fact that it wasn’t a cutoff race.  Another was that none of the playoff contenders were anywhere close to being in contention to win.

However, despite those facts, there was still more than enough playoff coverage to make a Smurf blush.  Ultimately, the finish with Bell running down Jones and emphatically taking the lead in the final laps redeemed an otherwise boring race.

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck Series travel to Martinsville Speedway for their second visit of the season.  Remember that the Cup race on Sunday should finish at night, which will give Martinsville the chance to show off their new LED lighting system.

In addition to the action in Martinsville, the Formula One World Championship travels to Mexico City for the Grand Prix of Mexico.  There is a good sporting chance that Lewis Hamilton will clinch the World Championship on Sunday.  Sebastian Vettel must gain 16 points to take the title chase to Brazil.

There will be critiques of the Cup and Truck races from Martinsville in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  For the Critic’s Annex on Thursday in the Frontstretch Newsletter, we’ll have a compare and contrast.

On Sunday night, NBCSN premiered their latest episode of Racing Roots, which profiled Daniel Suarez.  Previously, FOX Sports 1 aired Sueños de NASCAR about Suarez on NASCAR RaceHub as part of their Beyond the Wheel series.  Yes, we’ve already covered Sueños de NASCAR previously.  However, it’s a good time to take a look at both shows and see where each show was better.

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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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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20 comments

  1. Avatar

    Jeff Burton clearly addressed the 7th man over the wall for the 48 with 30 laps to go during the caution. I went back and checked the DVR. He gave a detailed explanation followed by LeTarte speaking to the 7th man only servicing the driver with the tearoff and not servicing the car. They even mentioned the furor on social media. Tons of issues with the coverage especially some of Rick’s mistakes, but they did a good job of addressing that concern during the race.

  2. Avatar

    If NBC really cared both NASCAR races would have been on broadcast tv. Obviously F1 has more stroke. And they wonder why no one is watching.

  3. Avatar

    well this article summarizes why I didn’t turn the race on at all on Sunday. A – not a big fan of races at Kansas and B – playoff, playoff, playoff focus every second. Sorry not interested. The weekend weather was way too nice to waste.

  4. Avatar

    I was super disappointed in the coverage of the big wreck. NBC literally said almost nothing, if not nothing, about Daniel Suarez, who was a huge victim of the wreck. I watched replays over and over again trying to figure out where he ended up and trying to identify his wrecked car on the track. I finally had to watch a clip from FOX Race Hub to get some information and confirm the full carnage of the wreck. Bad job NBC; you are way too caught up in the playoffs.

    • Avatar

      I also assume that Danica got caught up in that wreck and it was never mentioned (as far as I heard) which robbed me and my buddy of a high-five opportunity.

  5. Avatar

    Once again, sub-standard coverage by NBC. I’m to a point that the constant mistakes that Rick Allen makes has me turned off to watching. One blunder was when he said the Busch brothers racing for 2nd when Kyle was up front and Kurt was about 15th, and Letarte once again had to correct him. Not once have I heard RA mention that he was in the garage talking to drivers and/or crew chiefs, but Jeff and Steve do. I was tracking RA’s on-air blunders, and Jeff, Steve and that one race, DJ’s corrections for a while, but gave up figuring the NBC execs understand even less. I feel sorry for Dale Jr next year having to be part of this disgrace to the sport!

    • Avatar

      Rick Allen is one of the most useless announcers ever! He is incorrect much of the time, and when he screws up he later tries to explain what he “really” meant. His fake drama at the end of races (along with numerous comments regarding anything tragic relating to the winning team) is also embarrassing.

  6. Avatar

    After seeing the overnight ratings for the Kansas race were 1.6, it seems that this entire playoff thing hasn’t exactly bringing in drovers of interest. NBC needs to figure out that those few who bother to watch want to see the entire race covered, not just 12 drivers. If I wasn’t a big fan of the concept before, the way the races are NOT covered has made me truly hate the entire idea even more. They are already alienating fans…how much longer until sponsors feel the same way and start bailing for the end of the season?

  7. Avatar

    What was really ridiculous is that even after the 1, 17, 42 and 20 cars were out of the race, the idiots in the booth still kept trying to milk the points and championship eliminations for whatever faux drama they could. I just wanted to scream at them to let it go and just cover the damn race.

  8. Avatar

    Wait until the last event and the network believes there are only four cars in the event running in the top four positions. 36 cars might as well stay home and that wouldn’t bother me in the least. It might drive home the point to Brian and the network.

    • Avatar

      You are correct. Also, THAT STUPID HOMESTEAD race the others should stay home, a non playoff driver IS NOT GOING TO RACE the 4. We have seen it in the past, and if something happens, who the hell wants to be “that guy”. Might as well sign up right then and there for Witness Protection, the whole thing is just absurd.

    • Avatar

      No worries on that. Usually the other drivers are obedient and stay clear of the Final Four. Guessing maybe the 88 will be allowed (if able) to mingle with the Final Four, only because of the story line aspect.

      • Avatar

        There was one year when Johnson (not one of the farcical four) had the nerve to pass the fourth place car and immediately got a “penalty.”

        • Avatar

          Remember that one. Chad got called to the principal’s office mid-race. And don’t forget the year before when Jeff Gordon inexplicably pitted from the front row late in the race and then he and his crew chief had to put out the equivalent of hostage videos a couple of days later with some excuse about getting fresh tires.

          • Avatar

            I have seen “THIS YEARS DU JOUR/BESIDES YIMME”, due to his roommates medical issues and his lackluster over a decade in CUP and now he is “kiiling it”, last year literally complained that a driver “hit him” and he did not, he raced by him a took the “air” away from him, and HE LOST CONTROL OF HIS CAR. The new NASCAR darling and the NASTY CREW CHIEF went on a TWITTER TIRADE, and the hate rained. So I do not wish one person driving by these whiners, literally look up last year, get near or dare race them. Hateful, nasty, entitled bunch. but any criticisms, they promptly have the sick girlfriend show up, she tells you all about her troubles, and the drivers whining and lies, disappear suddenly. And the other poor driver, literally not touching the car or anywhere near it, but because the driver could not control his car. The smear campaign against Logano was in full swing from nasty COLE PEARNS and the SAINTED NASTY MARTY! HOW dare you call Marty out on anything…his roommate is sick. Not a word about his havoc with DR at Talladega, another driver…the name would have been humming in your brain.