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(Photo: Christian Koelle)

Couch Potato Tuesday: A Look Bump Coverage and Kurt Busch in the Booth

Martinsville is an interesting place.  By anyone’s standards, it is not the kind of place that would normally host a major event.  It’s a small independent city of less than 15,000 people (as of the last census) that is off the beaten path.  The track itself is technically inside of a neighborhood with people living just off the property.

First Data 500

Sunday saw the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series begin the Round of 8 at Martinsville Speedway.  As compared to the spring race, there was quite a bit more excitement.  No moment encapsulated the First Data 500 more than the final lap of the race.

NBCSN had excellent coverage of the duel for the win.  The side-by-side action was top notch.  The chopper shot was perhaps a bit too close to the battle, but showed the action well.

After the race, NBCSN seemed to try to recreate the feel of the Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott mess from last year.  Since Logano ended up winning, they did his on-track interview like normal with some boos raining down on the young racer.  As for Truex, his comments about the battle itself were relatively brief.  On the non-fighting anger scale with zero being overjoyed and 10 being Mike Stefanik, this was about an eight.  A big scowl from Truex would have increased that number to at least 8.8.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. claimed on-air that he’s told Truex in the past that he’s too nice.  I have no reason to doubt the veracity of that since they’ve known each other for 15+ years and Truex drove for him.  That said, he definitely liked Truex’s interview after the race.

Prior to the race, the big news of the day was Jimmie Johnson’s new sponsor announcement.  This is likely the first time that a primary sponsorship was announced on a pre-race show.  It’s happened multiple times on shows such as NASCAR RaceHub, NASCAR America and rpm2night in the past.  Heck, Hermie Sadler unveiled his Virginia Lottery Chevrolet that he raced Sunday on RaceHub just last week.

The notion of doing such an announcement within an hour of the start of a race is very unusual.  It says a lot that NBCSN was willing to give Hendrick Motorsports that time to make the announcement.  That’s clout right there.  Having said that, you’d think that Johnson would have wanted to get in the zone necessary for 500 laps of rock ‘em sock ‘em action.  Also, it seems that Hendrick Motorsports did a pretty good job keeping the news under wraps.  I didn’t hear a peep about anything until 10 minutes before the announcement.

Ally Financial’s involvement with NASCAR isn’t just going to ramp up next year.  It started Sunday.  There were Ally commercials during the race.  They sponsored NBCSN’s aforementioned aerial cam and had their logo on Johnson’s car (placed after the announcement).  You’re likely to see that continue for the rest of the season.

The only thing that was not noted on NBCSN was the fact that this is not Ally Financial’s first go around with Hendrick Motorsports.  The company only became Ally Financial in 2010 and went public in 2014.  Prior to 2010, it was GMAC Inc., originally General Motors’ in-house company that financed car loans.  As GMAC, the company sponsored Hendrick Motorsports for many years, either directly, or through their former subsidiary, ditech.com.  GM owned the company fully until 2006, when they sold majority control to Cerberus Capital Management, a private equity firm best known as the company that acquired Chrysler when the DaimlerChrysler merger broke off.  The company rebranded as Ally Financial in the wake of GM’s bankruptcy.

The race itself was chock full of racing for position.  It can be rather difficult to keep tabs of all of the on-track action at Martinsville, but it seemed that NBCSN did a decent job.  There also seemed to be more coverage given to non-playoff contenders than in any other race in the playoffs this year.  That was likely due to the fact that drivers like Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin put themselves into contention for the win.

A minor gripe that I had was the fact that they couldn’t quite figure out what happened to put William Byron in the wall.  That was simply because the cameras only caught the crash in progress.  That happens.  In the past, they probably could have caught the start of the incident before the current pit road was built, but there’s too much stuff in the way now.

In addition to bump n’ run coverage, there was a good amount of post-race coverage after the race.  Viewers got a decent amount of post-race analysis and a number of interviews.

Sunday’s race will undoubtedly be remembered for Logano’s bump on Truex on the last lap.  NBCSN covered that whole affair comprehensively.  There were plenty of other playoff stories that appeared to be covered well.

Outside of the playoffs, there were some good runs by non-playoff contenders in addition to Keselowski and Hamlin.  Ty Dillon put up one of his best runs of the season.  Yes, he finished 15th, but he was as high as 10th on merit during the race.

I would have liked to see a little bit more on the bead issues since a number of drivers suffered tire failures during the race.  That’s not even for myself.  I’m pretty sure what happened, but some other viewers might not have.

Building on that, Austin Dillon had such a failure during a commercial break just before halfway.  NBCSN showed a replay of his issue after the break, then noted that he was having suspension issues.  A pit report indicated that the team thought a sway bar arm or the sway bar itself had been ground away.  I’m not sure how long he putted around the track with his flat tire, to be honest.  The replays made it look like it went down entering Turn 1, then he made it into the pits that lap.  It seems like that might not have been the case.  If it was, then the parts didn’t last long.

Texas Roadhouse 200

Saturday brought the Camping World Truck Series back to Martinsville for their second visit of the year.  32 trucks descended upon the paperclip and Johnny Sauter took it upon himself to kick everyone’s butt cheeks.

TV-wise, Sauter’s butt-whooping was likely not the biggest story of the day, despite the fact that it gives him six wins this year.  That was the fact that FOX Sports 1 welcomed Kurt Busch into the broadcast booth for his first time as an analyst.  That resulted in some changes.

Often times when guest analysts go into the booth for Truck races, they take the place of Phil Parsons, who has served as an analyst on Truck broadcasts since the series was exclusive to ESPN 2.  The most recent example of this was when Kevin Harvick was in the booth at Talladega a couple of weeks ago.  That was not the case on Saturday.

Busch took the place of Michael Waltrip in the booth instead of Parsons.  Waltrip was still on-site Saturday, but he was used in more of a roving reporter role, similar to what Parker Kligerman’s been doing lately for NBC Sports.  In that role, he showed viewers a couple of interesting things about racing at Martinsville, and went up into the stands to talk to Cole Custer.  Custer was hosting a small group of fans in the stands Saturday

Having Parsons as the other analyst instead of Waltrip alongside Busch resulted in a different feel for the broadcast.  I feel that it was an environment that was more conducive for Kurt (and for that matter, any other newcomer to the broadcast booth) to learn the role a little easier.  While Waltrip would likely never admit it, he’s probably not the easiest analyst to work with for a newcomer since he can dominate broadcasts at times (even if he doesn’t realize it).  Likely the best example of that environment being detrimental to learning was when Danica Patrick made her booth debut back in 2015 at Michigan.  For lack of better words, she admitted defeat and sat back and let them run the show.  That did not happen with Busch.

That said, Saturday seemed like a good setting for Busch to get his feet wet.  The analysis we got from him was on point and seemingly decent.  It just took a while for him to get comfortable.  He seems to have enjoyed his time on Saturday and with some more reps could develop into a decent analyst.

Racing-wise, this race was competitive at times.  Just not at the front.  There was all but no racing for the lead on Saturday.  Of the five lead changes recorded, two came as a result of the leader pitting and someone staying out.  The other three occurred on restarts.  Once things got going, no one was catching Sauter.

In that scenario, FOX Sports 1 has to do a good job in bringing the available action to viewers.  They seemed to do OK at that.  There was some action for position shown, but the Cup race on Sunday had more racing for position shown.

There was not all that much progression through the field shown, other than Brett Moffitt.  In Moffitt’s case, it was a gradual rise from the 17th starting spot to put himself in contention for an excellent finish.  Aside from Moffitt, much of the coverage was centered upon the other five playoff contenders.  It made for a very constrained broadcast.  There’s more out there than just the playoff drivers.

Post-race coverage was a little more substantial than normal for a truck broadcast.  Viewers got five driver interviews, plus the winning crew chief (Joe Shear Jr.) and a check of the all-important points.

Next weekend, the NASCAR circus returns to Texas Motor Speedway for the first of three tripleheaders to finish out the season.  The Camping World Truck Series races Friday night, XFINITY teams on Saturday, then 500 miles for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday.  TV Listings are in the Television tab.

I will provide critiques of the Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck series race broadcasts for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch.  We’ll have an additional critique in the Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter later this week, but the topic is currently undecided.

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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3 comments

  1. Wow Phil, you sure are easy on Mikey-All Waltrip, All The Time. He is the primary reason I don’t watch the Trucks. He truly grates on me.

  2. I watched about half of the race and then could not tolerate the high pitched screaming any more. Shut it off and watched the entirety if the Formula One race. The race was no more competitive but the announcers are one whole hell of a lot easier to listen to.

  3. Any time Fox replaces a Waltrip in the booth is a win for fans and whomever is replacing him. Wish they would do it on a permanent basis.