Rainy weather is the bane of race fans’ existence during the racing season. For those of you that go to local tracks, it doesn’t really take all that much moisture to end the evening. At NASCAR races, it means you’re treated to the buzzing of the Air Titan track-drying equipment.
Sunday was another one of those long days, combined with a special booth for the occasion. Rick Allen spent his Sunday in the coach lot and on pit road, while Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte were in the booth.
Before we get to the booth experience, we have to cover how NBCSN treated the seemingly interminable rain delay. Due to the forecast, NASCAR moved up the start of the race to 1 p.m. Ultimately, that didn’t matter since it was raining when NBCSN went on the air at Noon.
There were four solid hours of rain fill coverage prior to the start of the race. Kyle Petty was supposed to be on pre-race coverage, but due to the forecast, he relocated to NBC Sports Group headquarters in Connecticut with the plan of appearing on NASCAR Victory Lap. That show never aired.
Given the sheer amount of time at NBCSN’s disposal, it could have literally done whatever it wanted. Two-thirds of the field got interviewed on-air, including StarCom Racing teammates Landon Cassill and Kyle Weatherman. There was a sit-down interview where Dale Jarrett talked to Jimmie Johnson at length. Topics here included Johnson’s drive to succeed (ever strong), his current run of futility and how he keeps himself grounded.
Other pieces that ran during the delay were ridiculous. A popular thing to do during New Hampshire weekend is to impersonate really bad New England accents. It’s like everyone read too many Bill Simmons articles from when he was still with ESPN and assumed that everyone was like his friend Sully.
During the broadcast, NBCSN sat down a bunch of drivers and asked them to assume New England accents. It was pretty rough. AJ Allmendinger seemed like he wanted to walk out the minute it was broached because it was so stupid. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he did. That stuff was played out years ago.
Some of the driver interviews even got pretty stupid as well. Once you get into the third hour of rain fill, you’re reaching for content. That’s when stuff gets dumb. You hear about kids standing out in the rain, Hungry Hungry Hippos (one of the quickest board games out there) and more inane things. It gets rough, simple as that.
After four hours of this silliness, we get to the race. Finally. Honestly, it struck me as disorganized. Perhaps, intentionally so. The three previous analyst-only setups (ESPN’s backseat drivers in 2009 and the two drivers only XFINITY broadcasts on FOX) more or less maintained the traditional roles. That wasn’t really the case on Sunday.
It was a bit of a free-for-all at times. If anyone was the closest to a play-by-play man, it was Letarte. Truthfully, it was hard to tell. I could just tell that Earnhardt was not that man.
The problem with having a free-for-all in the booth is that stuff can get missed. Chatting with your buddies watching a race is what people do when they watch the race at a bar or in someone’s rumpus room. If you’re calling the race, you have to provide a certain amount of information to the viewers at home. I felt lost at times.
An example of that was Clint Bowyer being penalized for pitting outside the box during the round of green-flag stops. It was not referenced on-air even graphically until the scoring bar indicated that Bowyer was given the black flag with the white cross.
I know that Bowyer was having a pretty terrible day on Sunday. The reason had to do with broken parts in the left rear of the No. 14. Despite the fact that he was running pretty far back, the penalty should have been noted far before it was. That goes double since it wasn’t a drive-through penalty. He was going to be held for a full lap. It’s unclear whether or not Bowyer was not scored for a lap before he served the penalty, though.
Brad Keselowski’s issues were covered fairly well. New Hampshire Motor Speedway is rather difficult on brakes and Keselowski’s were simply not up to the task. Viewers got updates on Keselowski’s situation and why he slipped back. The situation just got worse and worse.
Earnhardt picked up on certain things that you don’t necessarily hear about. For instance, he made note of Ross Chastain running 25th when he was lapped late in the race for the third time and mentioned that it was a good run.
The battle at the end of the race was likely the high point of the broadcast and the race itself. The booth knew that Kevin Harvick had a better car, especially on the exit of Turn 1. They noted that Harvick’s diamonding of the turn was way better than anything Kyle Busch could come up with. They were expecting the bump-and-run and got it. For what it’s worth, Busch took the bump n’ run at face value. He knew it was fair game because he did it to Larson in Joliet.
For Allen, Sunday was likely not one of his better days. We had inane rain delays interviews, then he admitted to “blacking out” while calling Kyle Larson’s pit stop during the first caution. It’s obvious that he’s not used to working in the pits. I cannot recall a time that he had ever done it previous to Sunday.
Also, the blatant reference to the slogan of Harvick’s sponsor in Victory Lane was rather ridiculous and unnecessary. Especially since a Busch commercial had just aired approximately two minutes prior to the interview. It seems like Allen will watch the DVD he gets of the broadcast later this week and realize that he’s got it good in the booth.
Post-race coverage was rather brief knowing that the race was hours over the sign-off time. Viewers got five post-race interviews (two with Harvick), plus a check of the points before NBCSN left for rugby coverage that was originally supposed to start at 5:30 p.m. Or, that’s what the updated schedule on my cable box said when I set my DVR.
The broadcast Sunday was just too disorganized for my taste. As someone who wants to know everything, I’ll likely never be satisfied, but, there is a bare minimum in some areas that, at times, NBCSN didn’t reach. Part of that was due to the disorganization of the broadcast. Even the drivers only FOX broadcasts were more organized than this one was. I have no doubt that NBC Sports is going to try something like this again. I suggest some changes to smooth it out.
Also, the clothing choices in the booth threw me at first. I’m a pretty casual person and it didn’t really bug me. Just took some getting used to.
Hot take: Don’t like the casual clothes in the NBC booth. Put on some formal wear, it’s a professional TV broadcast! (I voted for coat and tie in their poll and less than 10% agreed with me.)
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) July 22, 2018
Heck, I was almost expecting Earnhardt to show up in a Tim Richmond shirt bought off eBay from one of my best friends. The Trickle shirt was likely intentional since we’re coming up on the anniversary of his death.
Next weekend is a split weekend for NASCAR. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck series will both be in action at Pocono Raceway. The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards will serve as tertiary support. Meanwhile, the XFINITY Series will make its second visit of the season to Iowa Speedway. Formula 1 makes its yearly trek to the Hungaroring in Hungary before the mid-season break.
We’ll have critiques of the Cup and Truck races from Pocono at a bare minimum in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter Thursday will cover Saturday’s Lakes Region 200.
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