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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Couch Potato Tuesday: NBCSN’s Kentucky NASCAR Broadcasts Earn Mixed Reviews, Ratings Decline

Kentucky Speedway, the spot of the latest NBCSN NASCAR telecast, has been an enigma for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.  The track was in heavy demand to be added to the Cup schedule for much of the first 10 years it was open.  Then, once they finally got a date, there was the traffic fiasco and a track so bumpy the groove really couldn’t expand much.

Next, we had a repave/reconfiguration.  Goodyear brings hard tires to the track and, as a result, the racing has suffered over the past few years.

Before we get started, next weekend at Loudon will be yet another experiment in the NBC booth.  It will be all analysts for the Foxwoods 301.  Rick Allen will do play-by-play of the NASCAR XFINITY Series Lakes Region 200. But then, he will then lay out for the MENCS race as Jeff Burton, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte take over.

While this move is not unprecedented, we’ll have to see how NBCSN handles the change.  It appears either Burton or Letarte will take on the play-by-play role at the moment.

Quaker State 400

One of the biggest stories to come out of Daytona was Ricky Stenhouse Jr. apparently going back on what he said to Jeff Gluck last month about contacting people after wrecks. Instead, he chose not to talk it out with Kyle Busch after their crash.  That meant the situation escalated at the track to the level of Kyle Busch “running his mouth” in a press conference and Stenhouse telling him during qualifying to cut the garbage.  Stenhouse then gave an honest interview where he explained his thoughts thoroughly.

Naturally, you’d expect some kind of confrontation to occur during the race.  Not this week.  Stenhouse had a very difficult night and finished 26th while Busch spent all night in the top five.  It wound up a bit of a dud story-wise despite taking up much of NBCSN’s pre-race coverage.

Ultimately, Saturday night’s race was not necessarily the most exciting one.  Martin Truex Jr. was very difficult to beat, dominating the proceedings.  The only driver that really seemed to have the pace to beat him at any time was Kyle Larson.  He was just about the only driver to pass Truex on merit all night.

Then, out of nowhere, Larson’s track bar turned traitor.  NBCSN did a pretty good job explaining just what happened and how the No. 42 team tried to compensate for the issue.  Sometimes, it seems like these driver-adjustable track bars are more trouble than they’re worth.  I don’t think they’ve really helped the racing at all.

Larson also got a decent share of the coverage early on, but that’s only because he goofed and showed up to driver introductions late.  Rule of thumb: Don’t do that.  You rarely see it unless someone’s already going to the back for some other reason.  Apparently, that never happened to Earnhardt Jr.  He did show up late to practice on at least one occasion early in his career, back when he liked to sleep in.

The story of the night was clearly the long runs.  Had drivers such as Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski not used pit strategy to get out front, Truex would have led way more than 174 laps.

On those long runs, much of NBCSN’s coverage tended to be centered toward the front of the field.  As a result, there really wasn’t all that much coverage of actual racing for position.  The decision made the race look more boring than it actually was.

NBC Sports has the “Through the Field” segment in their portfolio that helps inform viewers about how certain teams and drivers were doing when the field gets spread out.  For some reason, it was only used once toward the end of the race.  Production clearly could have done more to cover all competitors and not just a select few.

Post-race coverage was fairly substantial, but also curtailed early.  Viewers got the typical three interviews with the race winner along with eight other driver interviews.  There was plenty of post-race coverage from Victory Lane as well, including post-race analysis.

Post-race coverage was scheduled to run up to midnight on Saturday night. Instead, NBCSN chose to duck out at 11:30 to get to primetime coverage of Tour de France Stage No. 9, just in time to see Richie Porte abandon the Tour.

Given an extra half-hour, it’s somewhat unclear what more NBCSN could have covered.  They were invested in the Stenhouse-Kyle Busch storyline. But then, nothing happened because Stenhouse was out of contention for a decent finish by lap 25.  Looking back, NBCSN should have known that nothing was going to happen there.  If anything, contact between the duo is more likely to go down at Loudon.

The broadcast just did not make the race seem even the least bit appealing.  It was a real shame, especially after they did such a decent job with Friday night’s race (July 13).

ALSCO 300

Friday night saw the XFINITY Series take on Kentucky as well for 300 miles of action.  Unlike the Cup race, this one was a little more competitive.

Pre-race coverage was a little more comprehensive Friday night.  I felt like I learned more about the upcoming race than I did Saturday.  The fear was that Kyle Busch was going to take the lead early on and run away like Tyler Reddick did last fall.  Watching that race was quite anti-climatic back in September.  The fear was so high that the analysts were apparently not allowed to pick Kyle Busch to win the race.  Ultimately, that wasn’t an issue.

Kyle Busch did snatch the lead from pole sitter Cole Custer on lap 15 and won Stage No. 1 without much of an issue.  From then on, the race was much more equal.  John Hunter Nemechek, Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier and Daniel Hemric rose to the front and gave Kyle Busch a decent fight.  Busch’s No. 18 was also not bulletproof.  He dealt with handling woes later in the race that he recovered from to finish third.

The strategy for covering the ALSCO 300 appeared to be fairly similar to that of the Quaker State 400.  But the additional action at the front of the field made the XFINITY race much more enjoyable to watch.  It was good to see the regulars take it to Kyle Busch.  Much of the time, the battle is more along the lines of the 1999 syndicated athletic competition Battle Dome.  In this analogy, Kyle Busch is Bubba King in the Aerial Kickboxing event while the XFINITY regulars are the regular contenders.

There was very good action at the front and decent action further back.  Had the action at the front not been so hot, I and other viewers would want what else was cooking.

In regards to Nemechek, his chances to win ended when the battery apparently died on his No. 42 under caution.  Coverage of this problem was the main part of the night I did not like.  NBCSN never really got to the bottom of what was truly wrong with the car.  I found out after the race that it was just the battery but viewers were led to believe it was something worse.

Also of note, there was effectively no mention of Nemechek for the rest of the race.  The young driver, trapped a lap down, had to scratch and claw to get the Lucky Dog during the seventh and final caution of the night.  In the final 34 laps of the race, he moved up from 19th to finish seventh, salvaging a decent run.

Since the race ran a little long, there was not much in the way of post-race coverage.  Viewers got four post-race interviews and that was about it before NBCSN had to leave for Tour de France action.

There just seemed to be a lot more to talk about on Friday night for the viewers.  That’s what made the broadcast better.  Instead of “can anyone beat Truex?” you had Bell coming from the rear after spinning in qualifying, Hemric coming to the forefront late, Kyle Busch looking human, Nemechek flexing his muscle and more.

Storylines certainly helped the NBCSN broadcast here.  But they need to be better at adjusting when the action they expect doesn’t come their way up front.

That’s all for this week.  Tuesday (July 17) starts a couple of days’ worth of action for the Camping World Truck Series at Eldora Speedway.  39 trucks are going to attempt to make the 150-lap main.  Also, unlike last year, all of the coverage Wednesday will be in one place.  FOX Sports 1 will air everything from time trials at 4:30 p.m. all the way to the end of the feature.  That beats three channel changes any day, regardless of the fact that ratings weren’t significantly hurt by airing the race on FOX Business last year.

Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series will make their only visit of the season to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.  They’ll be accompanied by the Whelen Modified Tour and the K&N Pro Series East.  The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards will be at Berlin Raceway near Grand Rapids while Formula 1 returns to the Hockenheimring in Germany.  Finally, IMSA’s top series will be in action at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut.

Note that there will be a couple of practice broadcasts this weekend on CNBC.  It is the first time so far that the business network has been used.  In most cable systems, it is a basic cable channel.  Check your local listings for the channel number.

We’ll have critiques of the MENCS and XFINITY broadcasts from Loudon in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  Last Thursday night’s Buckle Up in Your Truck 225 will be covered in a special Wednesday edition of The Critic’s Annex.  The normal edition of the Critic’s Annex on Thursday will cover the Eldora Dirt Derby.

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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11 comments

  1. Why is it necessary to devote an entire column each week to critiquing the TV coverage? Is FS going to start a food column critiquing the selection of junk food available at each track as well? You are really scraping the bottom of the barrel. Ricky Stenhouse’s hissy fit was a non-story and yet the media, both TV and the basement bloggers like those who write for FS continue to try to make it into a matter of historical proportions.

    And next week, will you talk about how good it was that the NXS regulars “took it to Brad Keselowski?” I doubt it. This is a column without a purpose except to find more reasons for the FS “writers” to express their personal biases and animus.

    Of course, it used to be that sportswriters actually ATTENDED the events they covered to provide some background and context that was otherwise unavailable to the TV-viewing public. (Such as the fact that Kyle Busch only ran his mouth at a NASCAR-mandated news conference where he was repeatedly ASKED about the Stenhouse Demolition Derby.) Now the sportswriters no know more than the masses, so your worth really is questionable.

  2. My guess is that Rick Allen will be in a great contract bargaining position after next week. I predict that without him the coverage will be a train wreck that even Burton can’t save.

    Broadcasting is a profession and, as Jr. and Letart are showing us on a weekly basis, it isn’t as easy as it looks. It isn’t that their perspective isn’t interesting but you need a broadcaster in the booth to keep the timing and the flow correct. Burton’s saving grace is that he he just says what he thinks and he doesn’t try to filter himself

    The Fox coverage of the truck race was awkward, it was very obvious that they were all somewhere else and the commentary was noticeably behind the video. Will they show up in Eldora or just phone it in again?

    • Rick Allen is the worst broadcaster in NASCAR history. He cannot tell the viewing public what is happening without shouting as if a nuclear device had just detonated in the broadcast booth. And how we wish it would!

  3. Your headlines read ratings decline and you didn’t address them in your article. After three races it appears that Junior has not proven to be the shot in the arm the ratings desperately need.

  4. I thought the coverage was actually better than usual. Since Truex was dominating, they showed more “back in the pack” racing, which is what everyone wants to see!

  5. saw where earnhart, burton and letart will be at new hampshire this weekend covering the race.

    typically that’s a race where one car takes off and that’s all she wrote. guess the stage racing helps keep that from happening until last stage.

    have a feeling i’ll be doing something else on sunday besides watching the race.

  6. The coverage and commentary were definitely a step backward from last week. The announcers seemed to keep implying that it was going to get exciting very soon, but it never did. They would have been better off not making predictions about how exciting it was going to get and just talking about what was happening at the present.

    Well, maybe not, since not much was happening at the present.