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Couch Potato Tuesday: Dover NBCSN NASCAR Coverage Brings Playoff Focus, Lack of Variety

Dover is an interesting race track to look at.  It’s a video game come to life… apparently, one I’m not particularly good at.  I only say that because the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte puts the next track on the calendar in their qualifying challenge computers that you can press your luck on.  Last Monday (Oct. 1), before I flew home from Charlotte, I tried it out when I visited the museum.  Let’s just say that I couldn’t control the car.  It was embarrassing.  At least I did better with the pit challenge.

Unlike me, the drivers last weekend at Dover International Speedway had a lot more success controlling their powerful vehicles.  How was NBCSN with their coverage?

Gander Outdoors 400

On Sunday, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series traveled to Delaware for 400 miles of action on the banks.  It seemed at first that someone was going to be able to take it to Stewart-Haas Racing, but it took a busted valve stem and late yellows to shake things up.

Admittedly, Sunday’s race was not the most exciting event out there.  Dover races in recent years have been much cleaner.  The concrete definitely helps in that regard.  I remember watching the last few Cup races on asphalt at Dover on TNN.  Those races were ridiculous.  Nothing quite like watching a race take nearly five hours in sunny weather.

Kevin Harvick was stomping everyone, especially early on.  It was rather crazy that in 40 laps or so, Harvick opened nearly half a lap on second-place.  It seemed that NBCSN really didn’t show just how quickly the lead exploded.  You had Harvick with a 1.5 second lead.  Then, a commercial.  Come out and the lead’s four seconds, then eight.  It was nuts.

Late in the race, you had the debris caution that ultimately shook up the race.  At first, it seemed like NASCAR had called it for a coiled-up piece of tire rubber on the backstretch.  Good sporting chance that came off this tire from Kyle Larson’s car since this forced him to pit road.

The official results indicate that it was in Turn 3.  However, there was also the axle out of Ross Chastain’s No. 15 on the apron near the entrance to pit road in Turn 4.  The axle actually hit Joey Logano’s No. 22 and ripped a gash in his passenger door, something that wasn’t noted until the caution.  I also think it may have hit Jamie McMurray‘s No. 1 because he was right near there when the axle came out to play.  He was also forced to make a stop under green.

There had been some talk on the broadcast of an axle on-track.  A number of drivers had mentioned it (especially Larson, who had seen it when he was forced to stop under green), but it had not been seen.  It should be noted that NBCSN did catch Chastain coming into the pits with smoke coming out of his No. 15 on Lap 328, 12 laps before the yellow came out.  There was no reference to Chastain’s issues on-air at the time.  I know Chastain was 12 or so laps down at the time of his issue, but there should have been some coverage of this issue, especially since there was visible smoke.

I say that because the booth seemed somewhat clueless about what actually happened.  The pit reporters can talk off-air to the booth commentators via their microphones, but I’m unclear of the level of emphasis that it would have gotten given all of the playoff contenders still being out there.

The talk at that time seemed to indicate that the booth was quite skeptical of Larson (and crew chief Chad Johnston’s claims).  The idea here is that someone further back in the order might be more willing to make up debris in order to get a cheap caution.  That is not quite as prevalent these days as it once was.

As noted above, tire wear was an issue at times.  Larson was just one driver that had issues.  Kyle Busch had an issue as well, although it was not as bad as Larson’s was.  He was able to catch it and bring his car to pit road before anything bad happened.  If anything, pitting earlier actually benefited him since he got a couple of laps on fresh tires before the other leaders pitted.  NBCSN showed viewers the tire off of Busch’s No. 18 and it was unwinding.  The unwinding was basically described as a safety measure for the teams.  Bit of an unusual way to think of it, but it works.  A driver would likely be able to hear and/or feel it in the car.  I’d imagine the sound would be horrible.

Later on in the race, Busch noted having issues with his adjustable track bar.  Apparently, he couldn’t tell whether the adjuster in the car was working and nothing was showing up on the dash.  Unfortunately, this is something that is relatively difficult to explain to viewers and it seems that NBCSN was a bit unprepared to do so.  Busch claimed after the race that he’s had the issue before back at Atlanta.  It would be worth the time for NBCSN to give a better explanation of that issue, if not at Talladega next weekend, then at Kansas.

Until late in the race, the broadcast was very much playoff-oriented.  That was mainly because the playoff drivers were dominating in every sense of the word.  At one point, they occupied the top 11 positions (the only exception to that rule was Alex Bowman, who was struggling to stay on the lead lap).  As a result, you did get a somewhat skewed representation of the race at times.  Only after the aforementioned tire winding/axle caution did non-playoff drivers make their presence known.

On the technical side, there were some viewers that had picture issues for most of the weekend.  I’ll fully admit that I did not experience this.  However, our own Christian Koelle brought it to my attention because he fought it all weekend.

Whenever he would go to watch the race, he would be greeted by a full screen of vertical bars in varying colors.  It was as if his cable had gone out in 1990.  We have contacted NBC Sports to see if this was an issue on their end, or something the providers were dealing with.  If we hear back, we’ll update this space.

Post-race coverage was fairly extensive.  Viewers got plenty of post-race interviews and analysis, both at the track and back in Connecticut.  They actually went an extra half-hour to get everything done.

Overall, Sunday’s broadcast was rather dry at times.  The first three-quarters of the race really wasn’t all that exciting and NBCSN really didn’t do much to try to help that out.  However, the action kicked it up a notch late.

There was one period of time in the race in which NBCSN took time to cover non-playoff contenders more closely, but otherwise, the first 300 laps were almost completely playoff-driven.  I don’t agree with this approach.  Reasoning is quite simple.  Broadcasts need to be more inclusive to help drive people towards the sport.  NBC Sports has a role to play here, as does FOX Sports.  We do our job here at Frontstretch to bring you as much coverage from throughout the field, but we can’t do it alone.

Bar Harbor 200 presented by SeaWatch International

Saturday saw the XFINITY Series take on Dover.  Here, the Round of 12 was coming to an end and advancement was on the table.

Because of the cutoff, those drivers hanging out in the danger zone got the lion’s share of pre-race coverage.  Viewers saw interviews with Chastain, Brandon Jones, Ryan Reed, Austin Cindric and others close to trouble.  In addition, there was plenty of pre-race analysis from the Peacock Pit Box.

The race was more of the same.  There was a heavy playoff focus on the broadcast that I found a little annoying at times.

Much like Sunday’s Cup race, the focus on the playoff drivers was overwhelming at times.  With this being a cutoff race, it was even worse than during the Cup race.  Chastain might have gotten more coverage Saturday than he did when he won at Las Vegas in the No. 42.

Also similar to Sunday, there wasn’t all that much action at the front of the field.  Christopher Bell established himself early in the race as the man to beat.  Daniel Hemric might have been able to take the fight to Bell, but he screwed it up again.  This time, he got busted for speeding on pit road.  He went from the lead to the rear of the field and never really challenged again.

Saturday’s broadcast also had Dillon Welch as part of the team, fulfilling the roving reporter role that Parker Kligerman had last week.  That said, Welch seemed to have more of a role in the pits Saturday than Kilgerman did.

The broadcast Saturday also did not have Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the booth.  Instead, Earnhardt Jr. spent the race at the Peacock Pit Box with Krista Voda.  He chimed in once or twice from there during the race, but got to sit back for the most part.  Rick Allen, Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte held down the fort in the broadcast booth.

Saturday’s race ended about 20 minutes ahead of schedule.  As a result, viewers got a full hour of post-race coverage.  Even this coverage was very much centered upon the playoff contenders.  The only one that didn’t get an interview on TV was Reed.

The playoff focus completely overshadowed drivers outside of the playoffs that had good runs, like Spencer Gallagher.  Gallagher legitimately had a great day on Saturday to finish fifth, but you never saw much of him.

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend, Talladega beckons.  750 miles of action on the 33-degree banks, inches apart.  Stomachs will churn and somebody’s probably to get wrecked.  In addition, the seasons for IMSA’s top series wrap up at Road Atlanta while the FIA World Endurance Championship races at Fuji Speedway in Japan.  TV Listings are in the Television tab.

We will provide critiques of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Camping World Truck Series races from Talladega in next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  The Critic’s Annex this week is currently undecided.  We’ll have something for you regardless.

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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8 comments

  1. Phil,
    Not related to this column, but since I didn’t know who to say something to about it, I chose the TV guy.
    Tonight I went to this Jayski post:

    http://www.espn.com/jayski/cup/2018/story/_/id/24973862/kurt-busch-leads-stewart-haas-sweep-talladega-qualifying

    in the 4th paragraph it says:
    “”Four Stewart-Haas Fords-I’m really happy that I got the fast one,” Busch quipped after winning the pole for Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 (2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)”

    The attribution at the end is:
    “— NASCAR Wire Service —”

    Don’t you think someone at NBC would be a bit ticked at this. I know it is a very small thing, but those add up and one would think that the NASCAR wire service would get their TV partner right.

  2. I had bars here in the DC area for about 4 or 5 min. Then it resumed. I don’t recalling it happening again. Wondering if you were going to mention that.
    Yeah I thought NBC did a poor job with the whole axle thing.
    I know it is mandated to cover the playoff drivers. Of course the 48 ball joint was but there was another Hendrick chassis car that had one too, but I didn’t know until the later that evening. I guess teams were freaking out.
    Good job as always Phil.

  3. To put it bluntly, nbc sucks. None of the announcers should return next year starting wit letarte who is worse than terrible

    • Amen, couldn’t have said it better

    • I agree. But I would even take it a step farther. Whoever is in charge of NBC’s entire broadcast should also be replaced. The yelling is a major problem, but not the only one. They just cannot wait to show a “Flashback” -many times even at the expense of the live racing. And does anyone besides the members of the broadcast team really give a damn about the “Peacock Piitbox”? I actually heard Krista and Kyle complain about the noise there. Hello! Why don’t you sit somewhere more quiet? Then maybe your papers wouldn’t blow away either!

  4. I don’t understand the purpose of having all 40 (or 390 teams on the track, when TV is going to only cover 10 cars. gives an entirely skewed vision of the race for anyone not there. I can only assume that there were drivers racing for position farther back in the field…even if a lap down…but never got to see or hear about them. this is a terrible outcome of having an artificial ‘playoff-that-isn’t-really.

    • It’s been like that since the chase started and has exacerbated since the elimination events started.

    • I had noticed Denny Hamlin in the top 10 most of the race but he wasn’t mentioned or shown on tv until late in the 3rd stage. I figured he must have had a special paint scheme and that why I didn’t see him, but that wasn’t the case.

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