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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Couch Potato Tuesday: Dover Hard to Keep NASCAR on NBCSN From Dozing Off

Dover International Speedway’s October races are some of the most exhausting on the calendar for NASCAR drivers. Cooler-than-normal Sunday temperatures (Oct. 6) at least made the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race slightly less taxing than it could have been. (Next year, with the race scheduled for August on what was the off week between Bristol and Darlington, that will likely not be the case).

However, while the drivers ended the day with more energy, the fans in the stands simply wound up exhausted. NASCAR’s current rules package created a less-than-compelling race for the Monster Mile.

Before we begin this week’s NASCAR critique, it’s important to note Nielsen TV Ratings are changing. As was reported at outlets such as SportsMediaWatch and TheWrap back in August, this past weekend was the first in which overnight ratings are now compiled from only 44 major TV media markets instead of 56. As a result, overnight ratings that you may find on Twitter might be lower than they would be otherwise. As an example, for those of you that are football fans, New Orleans and Buffalo (both markets that have teams) got dropped.

We generally do not use overnight ratings on the TV Ratings page here at Frontstretch, so it will not affect the information we provide here on the site. Note there is the possibility of a bigger swing between the overnight and final ratings, though, going forward.

Drydene 400

Sunday started the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Round of 12 at Dover International Speedway. The Monster Mile might be one of the racetracks affected the most by the rules for 2019. Dover was already a tricky place to pass, and having so much more downforce didn’t help. This race actually had more green flag passes than the spring event but also had more laps run under green. A place that used to eat race cars for breakfast didn’t have a single caution for wrecks over 400 miles of action.

Unlike recent weeks, there was no Behind the Driver piece on NBCSN prior to the Drydene 400. Instead, the primary feature of pre-race coverage was an interview Kyle Petty conducted in victory lane with all three of Hendrick Motorsports’ playoff drivers (Alex Bowman, William Byron and Chase Elliott). Here, the topics of discussion were whether they’ve reached their objectives for 2019 and where they could improve.

Byron is more or less satisfied with his 2019 season. He’s gone further in the playoffs than expected and has shown quite a bit of improvement over his rookie year. Bowman is fairly pleased, too, but knows he needs to be more consistent.

My takeaway from the piece is all three drivers recognize their strengths and weaknesses and what they need to improve. To a certain extent, they can actually take information from each other in order to do that. It’s an interesting TV feature in that Byron showed himself to bring a lot more to the equation than I thought. But I would have liked to have had Jimmie Johnson in there as well (heck, it’s a Hendrick Motorsports piece, why not?)  Johnson, while not a playoff driver this year, has more than 180 percent of the Cup starts of his three teammates combined. I would have loved to see his thoughts on what he can take from his 20-something teammates to improve.

Probably the most noticeable aspect of Sunday’s race is just how difficult it was to pass. There were, at best, two passes for the lead under green Sunday. One was on a restart on lap 13. The other was when Martin Truex Jr. snatched the advantage away from Denny Hamlin on lap 229.

The only way you had any chance at a battle for the lead was when the leader (Hamlin, Kyle Larson, etc.) caught lapped traffic. Given that the broadcast was very playoff-centric and further clustered toward the front of the field, there was sadly not very much racing for position to go around.

Unfortunately, not only was it hard to pass if you got to someone, but the lack of cautions (three for 17 laps in the whole race) meant that the race got spread out as well. It isn’t very often that the 20th-place driver in a Cup race (Bubba Wallace) is five laps down at the finish. It should be noted that Sunday’s race is the fastest-ever Cup event run at Dover. It’s the only 400-mile race there to be completed in under three hours.

Add these factors up and Sunday’s race was clearly not the most exciting to watch. When this happens, my preference is for the broadcaster (NBC Sports, FOX Sports, etc.) to expand their focus.

They didn’t. NBCSN should have provided a more inclusive telecast as a way to make the racing look better. Run a Through The Field, for example, that hits on all 38 competitors. Or spend some time talking about drivers we don’t usually see. Instead, they seemed to focus on the monotony of the moment — and that’s what fans were left feeling.

In addition to the runaway nature of the event, there were some technical issues. DirecTV users were the first to run into problems, but it struck everyone else later on. On my end, the video feed seemed to go down during the third and final caution of the race prior to the round of stops that got Larson the lead. For maybe a little less than a minute, viewers saw a still shot with somewhat fuzzy audio before the full feed came back. I’m not sure what caused this problem, but knowing how complicated NBCSN’s broadcast setup actually is, it could have been any number of factors. I feel like DirecTV viewers might have had more substantial issues, though. If you did have more than I just described, go ahead and make note of it in the comments.

Since the race was run at record pace (note how no one references those kind of things anymore?), there was plenty of time for post-race coverage. Essentially all of it was focused on the playoff contenders, while Matt DiBenedetto’s run all but got buried on television. (We gave him his proper due, though.)

Overall, the race just wasn’t all that interesting. It’s another one of those events where frustration flows after the race, and it’s not necessarily anything to do with the on-track conduct (although Hamlin was pretty ticked at Joey Logano for racing him hard despite being 20+ laps down). But NBCSN really didn’t do much to improve their race telecast Sunday, either. They let the competition stand on its own; the end result was mediocrity.

Use Your Melon Drive Sober 200

Saturday afternoon (Oct. 5) brought NASCAR’s Xfinity Series to Dover for 200 miles of action.This race was a much different event compared to the Cup race the following day.  For one, it was a little easier (but not that much easier) to pass.

Unlike Sunday, the Xfinity Series race in Dover was a cutoff race for their Round of 12. As a result, there was some focus during NBCSN’s Countdown to Green on it, but not that much. Viewers saw interviews with a majority of the playoff contenders, locked into the next round or not.

For Brandon Jones, Saturday was a day he needed to have a great run in order to advance. His chances were done in less than 15 seconds, however, as teammate Harrison Burton spun out on his own exiting turn 2. Jones had nowhere to go but into the DEX Imaging Toyota. The crash broke Jones’ radiator and put him out.

Admittedly, Jones crashing out so quickly Saturday likely cut down the playoff focus significantly. By that point, it was already down to just Michael Annett and John Hunter Nemechek for the final spot in the Round of 8.

At the same time Burton wiped out, Tyler Reddick smacked the wall exiting turn 2 and ruined his day (he ended up finishing two laps down in 12th). Anyone who watched qualifying Saturday would have noticed Reddick’s car was just as loose in his qualifying run as it was on the first lap of the race. It made me think that something was broken on the No. 2 car during qualifying. The post-race quotes from Reddick don’t point in that direction, though. I don’t know if his car needed to be quite that loose at the beginning of a run to come in nicely later on, but jeepers creepers! That car was undrivable. It was pretty much the epitome of Harry Hodge’s “loose is fast and on the edge of out of control” quote from Days of Thunder.

At the time, the Burton spin ultimately took precedence on the broadcast, but as noted above, anyone that saw qualifying knew that Reddick had an evil-looking car. That should have been referenced since the fact that he basically lost it on the first lap wasn’t really surprising.

Christopher Bell had a fuel pressure issue on lap 15 and was forced to go behind the wall for repairs. He later came back out and ran until he couldn’t gain any more positions. Bell eventually finished 25th. I don’t think we got the full story there. Yes, NBCSN covered the problem when it happened with the help of radio chatter, but once they went behind the wall, you saw next to nothing.

Yes, I know that Bell was already locked into the Round of 8. Whoop-dee-do. Don’t care. It’s big news when your points leader goes behind the wall before lap 20. Never really heard much about what it actually was after Bell went back out 13 laps down, either.

Overall, there was more competitive racing on offer Saturday. NBCSN did a decent job in bringing that action to viewers. That said, the race was even more of a butt-kicking than Sunday. Even without the late caution that threw everything up in the air, there would have been less than 10 cars on the lead lap and about 24 that finished.

Post-race coverage was about average. Viewers got to see a few driver interviews (not many) and a check of the points before NBCSN left Dover. Admittedly, the race broadcast ran a little long, so there was a shortened amount of time remaining in the dedicated time slot for the post-race coverage that ended at 6 p.m. ET.

That’s all for this week. This weekend is likely to be far more exciting. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Gander Outdoors Truck series will be in action at Talladega Superspeedway. Note that the truck race will not be on over-the-air television this year (FOX Sports 1 instead of FOX).

Meanwhile, we’ve got four other major race weekends. The IMSA season will conclude at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta with the 22nd running of the Motul Petit Le Mans on Saturday (Oct. 12). Formula 1 makes their annual trek to Suzuka for the Grand Prix of Japan. In dirt track racing, Super Dirt Week XLVIII begins Thursday at Oswego Speedway, capped off by the Super DIRTcar Series Billy Whitaker Cars & Trux 200 on Sunday (Oct. 13). By the way, yes, they spell the word trucks with an X.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet, the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship has their biggest race of the year, the Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000. There’s plenty of good action this weekend you can view on our TV Listings page.

This weekend, I will be at both Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta and Talladega Superspeedway, bringing you four days of coverage from Petit Le Mans weekend and Cup race day coverage from Talladega. Right now, the plan is to push this column back to a Wednesday run date because I’m not scheduled to get back until midnight ET Monday night into Tuesday morning. Regardless, you’ll still get a critique of the Cup and Truck races from Talladega when it runs.

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 ones full of rants and vitriol.

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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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5 comments

  1. Avatar

    For the most part this year I’ve been recording the race and tuning in about an hour after start time. I typically watch most of the first stage then fats forward thru the second stage stopping only for replays or the stage end. Same for the third stage up until about 10 to go.

    This package leaves no real racing. If the cars are not on the edge and these drivers are not put in positions to put their driving skills on display the end result is a watered down product. I can’t stand hearing the commentators talk about “4 AND 5 WIDE RACING” when then cars are only fanned out because they are going 20 MPH slower into turns then they used to. Side by side racing is not exciting if the cars are not on the edge.

    Racing is inherently more exciting when their is risk involved.In this day and age there is only a marginal risk of injury in the top three series and now with this aero package there isn’t even a risk that they will wreck at all. Dover is one of the most difficult tracks on the surface and used to be one of the most intimidating (ask Landon Cassill) and yet not one unforced driver error incident the entire race? Time to put V-6’s in these cars and and cut down the tire grip (whatever happened to tire fall off/managing tires?) and get these cars going sideways again.

    Rant over…

  2. Avatar

    How come there is no coverage on why it took NASCAR 10-15 minutes to discover Joey’s axle and axle cap laying in the pit entrance before the start of the race. The team knew it was missing. Did they not tell NASCAR it must be on the track somewhere?

  3. Avatar

    I HAVE NOTICED THAT, WITH MOST NASCAR RACES THIS YEAR, I AM TURNING OFF THE SOUND AND READING A BOOK WHILE THE RACE GOES ON IN THE BACKGROUND, A FAR CRY FROM THE DAYS OF WATCHING EVERY MINUTE OF THE TELEVISED BROADCAST AND ALSO LISTENING TO ELI GOLD ON MRN AND WISHING FOR MORE. I GUESS I WILL MUDDLE THROUGH THE REST OF THE SEASON ON MUTE AND MAKE A DECISION ON FUTURE IN NOVEMBER. I THINK THE ONLY THING THAT WOULD GET MY INTEREST BACK IS TO HAVE DODGE MAKE A COMEBACK !!!

  4. Avatar

    Sunday’s Cup race at Dover was the worst one SO FAR this year.

    • Avatar

      It was a very good race for those attending the race and deciding there was more action in the Casino……do they have stages on the craps table?

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