Race Weekend Central

Couch Potato Tuesday: NASCAR Playoff Overload On NBC At Phoenix

The revamped ISM Raceway brought a number of new elements to the package.  For one, there is a Modern Margarita stand just outside of Victory Lane.  Also, the place was so full of locked gates that the Camping World Truck Series Championship 4 drivers couldn’t get to the Media Center for their press conference Friday night.

Yeah, that is clearly not going to work.  But you know what else needed work this weekend? All of TV’s three NASCAR broadcasts from Phoenix.

Can-Am 500k

Sunday afternoon saw the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series settle things in front of a sellout crowd at ISM Raceway.  Unlike the other two races, tire issues came into play.  Despite three nasty crashes caused by punctures, that wasn’t the biggest TV story of the day.

Naturally, the biggest story of the day was the playoff cutoff.  Then again, you probably knew that going in.  What I wasn’t expecting was the degree in which the playoffs usurped live racing.

For example, late in the race, it was a free-for-all at the front of the field.  Kyle Larson made a daring three-wide move to the inside entering Turn 1 to snag third place.  It was an excellent move.  Was it noticed on NBC?  Yes, it was caught on the cameras (barely), but the booth was all in on the various travails of Kevin Harvick and Aric Almirola.  Yes, we know that they were trying to get into the Championship 4.  That fact should not get in the way of good racing, wherever it is.  Earlier in the race, it was all Harvick and Chase Elliott and how the points would change depending on who was leading.

It is stuff like that that drives me nuts when it comes to playoff time.  You can’t just pretend non-playoff drivers don’t exist.  The split-screen setup is at your disposal.  By all means, make prodigious use of it.

That said, Sunday’s broadcast was not completely playoff-centered (thankfully).  Viewers got a good amount of racing for position during the race, be it between those in the playoffs, or out of the playoffs.

A repeated theme during the race was the idea of having to “Face your Morals.”  Essentially, the question here was “What would you do to get into the Championship 4?” I have no problem with how NBC presented the scenario (despite the fact that it seemed like overkill at times).  I just have a problem with the scenario itself.  It’s created a situation where you cannot win fair and square unless you’re significantly better than everyone else.  The scenario is clearly intentional on the part of NASCAR.  They want people to be pushed to the edge.  It’s arguable that that approach can lead to a bunch of other problems that have nothing to do with the racing.

Based on the calculations I’ve done this year (available in our Newsletter), there wouldn’t be too much excitement at Homestead if there weren’t a playoff.  Kyle Busch would be entering the race with a 55-point lead.  He could have clinched the title by finishing Stage No. 1 in fifth or better.  Having said that, had the penalty to Harvick not happened, it would be a different story (they were tied after Texas, pre-penalty).

Speaking of the tires, it was fairly unclear on Sunday what was causing the failures.  On the broadcast, Clint Bowyer noted (in his interview) that cutting the dogleg may be playing a role.  That’s possible.  Another possible cause that was broached was teams running low air pressure, which is a weekly thing.  Let’s just say that the only time the recommended air pressures from Goodyear come into play is when real shenanigans start going down.  I know that many of you can think of examples of those situations in your head.

Another role that really wasn’t mentioned is the fact that NASCAR has really cut down on debris cautions over the past couple of years unless it was blatantly obvious.  That appears to be a reaction to fans decrying “mystery cautions.”  It’s a similar argument to what caused the Damaged Vehicle Policy to be enacted.  I’ve never had a problem with debris cautions.  I just want proof as to what the debris is.  That said, a cut in the number of debris cautions can lead to an increase in actual factual debris being on the track.  What I do think caused the issues?  My guess is that the cutting across on low air pressure probably did for the left rear failures.  For Harvick, I’m not sure.  Probably a basic puncture.  None of those issues were the fault of Goodyear.

The situation surrounding Kurt Busch’s one-lap penalty was covered decently.  Yes, you are allowed to pass the pace car on pit road, but only after you have entered pit road and dropped down to pit road speed.  You can’t pass entering the pit, which is what Kurt Busch did.  NBC showed a replay that clearly showed that the No. 41 accelerated in order to get a gap on those cars behind.  In the process, Kurt passed the pace car, which is a no-no.

Post-race coverage was about average for playoff time, but those who only watched on NBC did not get much.  Due to the late red flags, coverage shifted to NBCSN after Kyle Busch’s start-finish line interview with Rutledge Wood.  Given the schedule, anything after 6 p.m. EDT would have simulcast on NBCSN.

Once on NBCSN, viewers got a decent amount of post-race coverage featuring playoff contenders and non-playoff contenders.  It was ultimately quite comprehensive.

Overall, Sunday’s coverage was clearly influenced by the cutoff nature of the race.  There were times where the playoffs overshadowed the race itself.  Other points of the event, it was not so bad.  These races have more meaning than just the playoffs.

Whelen Trusted to Perform 200

Saturday saw the XFINITY Series take on the one-mile tri-oval for 200 miles of action.  Recent races have struggled to get going due to issues at the start.  That wasn’t quite as bad this week, unless your name is Akinori Ogata.

The big story this week was the ongoing issues with Christopher Bell.  Coming into Phoenix, he had crashed the previous two weeks in a row and had fallen way out of position to advance to the Championship 4.  Then, he flunked pre-qualifying inspection thrice and lost his car chief for the day.  That put him back in 38th starting spot.

The main story of Saturday’s broadcast appeared to be what Bell could do with his spot.  That isn’t to say that NBC gave Bell all the coverage at the expense of the rest of the action, but there was a significant focus on Bell’s activity.  Had Bell made it through inspection and actually set a lap in qualifying, the race itself likely would have been different.  Would it have been exciting?  I’m unsure.

Early on, there was a nice duel going on between Justin Allgaier and John Hunter Nemechek while Bell charged up from the rear.  There was decent racing to be had on-track, but not much at the front.  Once Allgaier got past Nemechek, it was pretty staid at the front.

Likely the most exciting part of Saturday’s race was the Lap 145 near-wreck involving Allgaier, Nemechek and Tyler Reddick.  Yes, the caution was just about to come out for Ty Majeski’s spin, but the contact between Reddick and Allgaier was ultimately more significant to the race.  This was definitely a place for a split-screen.  Heck, Nemechek and Allgaier were lucky that they didn’t outright wreck right there themselves.

Regardless, that contact ended any chance of Allgaier advancing, despite having either the best car out there, or the second-best.  The coverage showed that the JR Motorsports crew made repairs to the car, but I’m not 100 percent sure how the tape ultimately covered up the brake ducts so that the brakes burst into flames.  I’m pretty sure that was not the team’s intention.  My guess is that Allgaier had additional contact that further damaged the car that we did not see.

Regardless, with just over 20 laps to go, the brakes took a permanent vacation.  Watching that action, I’m not only surprised that a caution wasn’t thrown.  I’m surprised NASCAR didn’t give Allgaier the black flag once the car caught on fire due to being a safety hazard.

Post-race coverage was actually quite thin since the race ended right up against the end of the scheduled time slot.  Viewers got two interviews with Bell (start-finish line and Victory Lane), along with one with Daniel Hemric.  Aside from a quick check of who else qualified for the Championship 4 (Reddick and Cole Custer), that was pretty much it from Phoenix.

Effectively, Bell was the show on Saturday.  Once he got the lead on Lap 108, it was all but over.  Honestly, this was likely the most boring of the three races last weekend.  I felt that NBC did ok broadcasting the race, but the race itself really didn’t provide all that much to whet viewers’ appetites.  That happens sometimes.  Heck, by recent standards, the race was slightly more competitive than normal since a number of those races see one driver (often Kyle Busch) dominate.

Lucas Oil 150

Friday night saw the Camping World Truck Series return to ISM Raceway for their 24th consecutive year.  From the series’ inaugural season as the NASCAR SuperTruck Series by Craftsman, only three tracks remain and only two of them have been visited every season.  ISM Raceway is one of them, but this race was very interesting.

Early on, there were some technical issues to deal with.  Namely, audio issues.  As usual, I never know if this is just me or if everyone dealt with it, so by all means, share your experiences.  From what I could tell, all of NASCAR RaceDay – CWTS Edition was peppered with audio drop-outs.  There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to it.  That made things a little difficult to follow at times.  Thankfully, that went away by the time the green flag flew.

During the race, there were scoring issues as well.  The FOX scoring pylon froze almost immediately, forcing viewers to go without an order on-screen for the first few laps.  Something similar appeared to happen during the Cup race on Sunday, but it lasted for the entire first segment of the race.  Perhaps there were some teething issues with the new equipment in place at ISM Raceway (meaning, it was possibly an issue beyond the control of the TV compound).

The race itself was far cleaner than last year’s affair, where a grand total of 14 trucks managed to finish the 150-mile race.  That said, it was very exciting at times.  I was surprised to see the sheer amount of side-by-side racing.  Brett Moffitt and Stewart Friesen were very willing to go way below the white line in Turns 1 and 2.  Given that this was the only one of the three races run at night, the cooler temperatures may have allowed movement in the opposite direction as compared to Sunday.

Much like on Saturday, Nemechek was one of the strongest drivers.  Despite having to use a two-tire strategy to get the lead, he was able to hold off Grant Enfinger, Noah Gragson and others to keep the lead.

Then, Nemechek apparently cut a right rear tire and spun out of the lead.  The booth seemed to think that the tire was still up at the time of the spin, but it was really hard to tell.  The grinding back to the pits apparently caused a bunch of suspension damage that put him out for the night.  While that was hypothesized by the booth while Nemechek was driving back, they never actually confirmed whether that was the case.  You just didn’t see Nemechek anymore for the rest of the night.

Also of note, the race was red-flagged during that caution for a bunch of oil being laid down by Justin Haley.  According to the team, it was an oil line that did him in.

I don’t recall that actually being mentioned on-air.  FOX Sports 1 did show Haley’s truck being pushed back to the garage and a pool of fluid in their pit.  Still have no idea how that happened or when it happened.

The racing late in the event was just excellent and FOX Sports 1 did a good job in bringing that action to the viewers.  Moffitt more or less was going to race his way into the Championship 4 on points, but managed to put an exclamation point on a very interesting year.

The ongoing mess with the NT1 and “open” motors continued in Phoenix as Hattori Racing Enterprises broke out the open motor once again.  This is after they felt that they were forced to switch due to a very quiet rule change.  On the broadcast, it was quickly apparent that FOX Sports 1 wasn’t expecting anyone to run an open motor as the telemetry was off all night in regards to revs.  In addition, there was no attempt to show the effects of shifting on revs, something that was important since Moffitt was shifting four times a lap.

In regards to the spat, I’m used to this kind of thing since there’s constant talk about “Balance of Performance” (BoP) in sports car racing and that’s the situation you have here.  Problem is, NASCAR is generally only willing to do it for a short period of time.  In the past, this was the case with body styles.  The way they would convince teams to ditch older bodies was by quietly instituting a rule change that would make the older style uncompetitive (before it became ineligible), like requiring additional spoiler height.  That’s more or less what appears to have happened.

Post-race coverage was about average.  FOX Sports 1 brought viewers a few interviews from a couple top finishers and the two drivers (Enfinger and Matt Crafton) that got eliminated from the playoffs.

Ultimately, there was a lot of action on Friday night and FOX Sports 1 did well in covering the event.  I enjoyed the action and I hope those that were present in Avondale had fun.

That’s all for this week.  Next weekend is Ford Championship Weekend in Homestead.  The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series champions will be decided.  Also, the FIA World Endurance Championship returns to action in China.  TV Listings are in the Television tab.

Since I will be in Homestead for the races this weekend, the plans for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday are up in the air.  I currently plan to return from Florida Monday afternoon.  The current plan is for there to be a critique column next week here at Frontstretch.  It just might not be Tuesday.

For the Critic’s Annex, I plan on taking a look at IMSA’s broadcast of Sunday afternoon’s Michelin SportsCar Encore from Sebring International Raceway.  The race was streamed live at IMSA.com and on IMSA’s Facebook page.  We have a recap of the event on the site.

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 the author

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 the Super DIRTcar Series.

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salb

Points, points, points, playoff, playoff, playoff. OVERKILL! Nascar invented this ‘playoff’ because they said it was too hard to keep track of the Latford point system. really? Now you have playoff points, stage points, who knows whatever points…. and you get beaten over the head about them non stop. I couldn
t just enjoy the race because of the over emphasis on points and playoff. I didn’t even watch the track race, and gave up on both other races only half way because I was tired of the points as they run now…which mean NOTHING until the race is over.

z

For those who do not have TV race coverage, but do have a computer, one can watch a free live video, at http://www.nascar.com, of the Xfinity and the cup races (the video is from what I assume is a nascar.com camera, and is not a regular broadcast feed). I have yet to find any free live video of the truck races. The nascar.com video has no replay, no sound, and is limited to whatever the cameraperson is showing at the time (for instance, one only sees a wreck or a good move only if the camera happens to be on the involved car at the time of the incident). One can get a concurrent audio play by play via MRN (MRN does the races at ISC tracks) or PRN; the radio broadcast of the race is available through nascar.com, or by opening a separate link on your computer. The MRN radio has a ~7+ second delay compared to the live video feed (the PRN feed tended to be live). This alternative way to watch Nascar races is not ideal, but it is free, and is better than nothing if one needs a race fix (in general, this is one of those deals when I should be thankful for what I have, rather than complain about what I do not have). My biggest beef is the absence of video for truck races. The video has not recently had any commercials, but earlier this season, each switch of a view caused a short commercial, so one was better off not switching views.

Bill H

I watched the Formula 1 race last week in which that championship was decided. They did mention the championship several times, but showed points no more than three times during the entire race, and spoke of the points and the championship maybe a dozen times. For the most part it was narrated as a normal race. I happen to know that they run on Pirelli tires, but they never sad anything other than that the cars were pitting and what type of tires (medium/soft/supersoft) were being put on. Nothing ever was said about fuel other than they burning it off made the cars a bit lighter at the end of the race, but the point was not belabored. I have no idea what brand that fuel is.

By contrast, “stage points, every point matters” and “four Goodyear tires and Sunoco fuel” became a sound resembling fingernails on a chalk board.

David Edwards

Bet you didn’t heard any lame jokes either. The coverage of F1 makes the coverage of a nascar race seem like amateur hour. Maybe thats one reason, although certainly far from the only, that Comcast bought Shy instead of nascar.

z

The Nascar radio broadcasts also frequently mention Goodyear tires and Sunoco fuel – I wonder if such mentions of Goodyear and Sunoco are demands by Nascar as part of the contract to broadcast the race.

Separately, an F1 money grab includes money demanded by F1 from racing locales – an article earlier this year, if one believes the internet, mentioned the asking price (the equivalent of millions of dollars) is increasing to the point some locations may not be able to pay for future F1 races; I can not help but think when F1 recently declined/delayed an offer from Miami, and cited something about inadequate fan experience, or something, I assumed what F1 really meant was Miami’s monetary offering to F1 was too low.

DoninAjax

And 36 cars and drivers and sponsors disappear from the telecast on Sunday. It’s time for a poll on how many laps until the chosen ones are running 1-4 and no one can pass them no matter how much faster they are. Right, Kyle Larson?

rg72

NASCAR may grant an exemption to the designated car that don’t belong on the track but can spin out with about 5 laps to go to, bunching up the field (Championship 4) to add that Game 7 feel.

DoninAjax

That couldn’t possibly happen, could it? It’s never happened before. Who would they want to do that for?

Matt

Surprised you didn’t mention.the scoring ticker on NBC WAS MIA for the first 22.laps Sunday. If you’re going to.say the playoffs are the greatest thing since poptop.beer cans you don’t just bring a backup system to.the.penultimate race you being a backup.for the backup

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