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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Couch Potato Tuesday: Phoenix Championship Coverage Was Ridiculous

We now know the names of all 12 drivers that will be fighting for the championships this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Once everyone gets to Florida, it will be all championship, all the time. TV-wise, will that be any different than what we got in Phoenix on Sunday?

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Based on what we saw Sunday, if the Homestead broadcast on NBC is any more championship-based, it would be an accomplishment. In all honesty, this might have the most narrowly focused race broadcast that I’ve seen in years. We’re not talking the level of Brazilian Grand Prix broadcasts in the early 1990s that pretended that everyone not named Ayrton Senna didn’t exist (side note: Rede Globo created a victory theme for Formula 1 races back in the 1980s that beyond 1986 effectively became Senna’s victory theme). It was better than that, but not by much.

During the race itself, it seemed like only the playoff contenders really got much airtime. Even drivers like Martin Truex Jr., who already locked himself into the Championship 4 by winning at Martinsville, really didn’t get much in the way of mentions. It was Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano almost all day. Chase Elliott also got significant airtime before he crashed out.

If you were looking for seemingly anything else, you weren’t getting it. It didn’t help that Sunday’s race might have been one of the least competitive Cup races at ISM Raceway in years. As a result, NBC really couldn’t do all much to make this race better to watch. There wasn’t much going on racing-wise that was all that much fun.

The extreme focus on the playoffs didn’t leave much time for any real coverage of anything else. Apparently, Brad Keselowski had some kind of engine problem during the race. This was noted on the broadcast, but not much more than simply stating that he was down a cylinder. The way that went off and the fact that Keselowski still managed to finish 10th makes me wonder if there was something more at play. Given the coverage that we got Sunday, we’ll never know.

Matt DiBenedetto apparently had quite the harrowing day Sunday on his way to a 13th-place finish. After the race, he posted this tweet.

I have no clue when either of these flat tires occurred on Sunday. Also, I did not have any idea that anything was unusual with DiBenedetto’s day until I saw this tweet after the race. If you’re covering a major race, you cannot completely ignore everything that doesn’t affect the championship. I’ve stated this multiple times in the past and it bears repeating here: Everyone has fans. This includes everyone from Elliott, Truex and the Busch brothers down to drivers at the back of the field. If something like this was going on with my favorite driver (note: while I have absolutely nothing against DiBenedetto, he is not my favorite driver; I’m just using his plight on Sunday as an example here), I think I’d like to know. Based on DiBenedetto’s tweet, something like his splitter issues would probably have been noticeable if you were at the race.

The main issue here is that you can’t just ignore everything else in favor of playoff coverage. This is why I hate this portion of the season so much. I hated it when I was in elementary school, if only because the season was ending and that there was next to no racing on television until February. Seeing who was going to win the title was not a big deal for me then and it still isn’t now. I’ve always believed that too much attention is paid to the championship, and it’s only gotten worse since the Chase — and the multi-round playoffs are worse still.

As you know, Sunday’s race had a late caution that could have affected the finish. Ultimately, it didn’t change the outcome of the race despite Kyle Larson gaining a couple of spots and nearly snagging third at the line. What happened? John Hunter Nemechek hit the wall in turn 3.

Did viewers get a replay of this on NBC? No. If you stayed with the coverage into NASCAR Victory Lap on NBCSN, then you saw a grainy replay of what happened. I’m not going to dispute whether or not the yellow should have come out here. Having seen the grainy footage, I’m comfortable with the caution. I just think this footage needed to make it onto the actual broadcast if for no other reason than to ward off the conspiracy theorists that think everything’s rigged (when it isn’t).

Prior to the race, NBC ran another one of their Behind the Driver segments. This time, Kyle Busch was the subject for the weekend. Unlike his brother, he talked about his father Tom’s influence on his career. Here, we got an idea of just how meteoric Kyle’s rise in the sport actually was. He went from racing for the first time to competing in the then-Craftsman Truck Series in three years.

Post-race coverage was fairly substantial since the race ended ahead of schedule. That said, the playoff focus continued here. You didn’t hear from anyone that wasn’t either in the Championship 4, or had just been eliminated. The number of interviews aired on NASCAR America Post-Race was down as compared to normal. That could either be due to the 25 minutes of post-race coverage on NBC before the channel switch, or the sheer playoff focus.

If this is a preview for the coverage that we’re going to get in Homestead, perhaps it’s better that I’m going to be in Homestead instead of at home. Don’t think I won’t be watching on Sunday. I’ll be watching and even taking notes when I’m in my chair in the media center’s deadline room.

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Saturday afternoon saw the Xfinity Series take on the one-mile tri-oval for 200 miles of action. Justin Allgaier broke a long winless streak to lock himself into the Championship 4, while Christopher Bell lost his chance at one of the most dominant Xfinity runs ever at ISM Raceway.

Prior to the race, the focus was on those drivers that were going to have to push in order to put themselves in position to get into the Championship 4. Viewers saw interviews with three of the four drivers (Michael Annett, Austin Cindric and Noah Gragson) prior to the race. Admittedly, all three of these drivers were longshots that all but had to win to move on.

As compared to Sunday’s race, there was less championship coverage. The fact that it wasn’t quite as competitive around the points cutoff clearly played a role. In addition, there appeared to be more racing for position to go around, which made the event a bit more enjoyable to watch.

Much like Sunday’s 500-kilometer Cup race, the race was completed quite quickly. There was a decent amount of post-race coverage where viewers got five post-race interviews before leaving Arizona for the local news.

As compared to Sunday’s race, there isn’t quite as much to say here. What is true is that there was a lot more action on offer for viewers Saturday afternoon than Sunday afternoon. The current rules package in Cup, which currently will not be changed for 2020 due to the new car coming in for 2021, actively hurt the action. That wasn’t the case on Saturday. There appeared to be a decent amount of action on-track. NBC showed some of that action, but not as much as they could have.

It’s interesting to note that according to NASCAR’s loop data, there were more passes per lap in the Cup race than in the Xfinity race. Despite that, the Xfinity race looked like the more exciting and enjoyable event. Why is that? Because NBC actually took a little more time to step away from the crushing playoff coverage to actually show things.

That’s all for this weekend. Next weekend, we’re going to crown some champions. By Sunday night, we’ll know who’s going to be on top in NASCAR’s top three series. Homestead-Miami Speedway is always interesting as well. Speaking of Brazil, that is where Formula 1 will be racing this weekend as Interlagos plays host to the World Championship for the 30th straight year. There is also the Creventic season finale, the 24H of COTA at Circuit of the Americas. Finally, the Macau Grand Prix is this weekend. Be prepared for clips featuring shenanigans to come out of the former Portuguese colony just because that happens every year. TV listings are in the Television tab above.

I will be in Homestead along with four of my colleagues for this weekend’s championship action. Due to next year’s schedule changes, this weekend will likely be the final time that I go to Homestead. Long story short, the new weekend for Homestead next year is all but the worst weekend of the year to have the race for me. I’m sure South Florida on March 19 isn’t all that bad. It’s just the fact that I can’t leave town that time of year.

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.

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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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10 comments

  1. Avatar

    Very sad — yet happy to see you and the comments from others about the pathetic broadcasts. I was not quite as upset with Jeff and Dale Jr.’s comments, even their “shouting” because I’m thinking there’s a bit of a poor technical element there coming from their producers. But Rick Allen (who’s a very nice guy personally) is just irritating. I’m glad to see someone calling it “condescending” because I was trying to think about a way to describe his constant – constant – constant repetition of what it means to be in the “top four.”

    Your comments on what we didn’t see are excellent and so on target. We used to find out why any car “retired” now we learn nothing. I know they’ve had some pretty boring racing to cover this year but the professionalism of the SkySport F1 announcers for racing that is very different with most often even less “racing” than NASCAR is still more interesting.

    I’m not even looking forward to Sunday’s final — first it’s almost an IROC race (maybe there should be a last-minute NASCAR switch to have the three JD drivers swat cars ) — but I’m dreading the TV coverage.

  2. Avatar

    Well said for the article and respondents I have been watching race with sound down and listening on PRN or MRN but just as bad all season. There were times I just watched race no sound. The announcing team for both sites tell us that stands are almost a sellout. Wow I guess they all think we are stupid idiots

    I keep hoping that there will be changed but don’t think so.

    Most of my interest is now with sportscar racing.

    I’ll quit there

  3. Avatar

    You’re right about Sunday’s coverage but if NBC had devoted more time to the other cars on the track, they would have had to cut into Rick Allen’s condescending commentary. It’s been the Championship for week now, Does he really think viewers need to hear him explain the most fundamental things about NASCAR every week? Can’t wait to hear Mike Joy calling the races again.

  4. Avatar

    Pathetic coverage! Screaming announcers; in-car ad cameras showing nothing; only playoff drivers shown.
    Anyone else notice how Rutledge was conveniently placed on the hillside interview to frame the Toyota ad behind? Fans are not fools. Gives us one race weekly, not segments, and ONE checkered flag!!!!

  5. Avatar

    I don’t understand why they screwed up this racetrack. It wasn’t broken, and they fixed it. I understand moving the stands and even the start finish line, but the changes to the banking in what is now 3 and 4 was a mistake. Similarly, cutting across the dog leg is ridiculous. There should also not be a groove on any track that is fast with all 4 wheels off the racing surface. And just think…this #%&$-hole is where the finals are headed next year!!!
    As for traction compound…adding that variable to a race weekend is only a positive if you were the winner. Figuring out a way to “activate” it would be a great next step unless elimination is possible. Congratulations to the Gibbs people and Harvick/Childers. Hopefully in the off-season, Chevrolet will take a lesson from the others and force the teams to work together for the common good. They can make that happen…don’t write them a check unless they agree.
    Everyone in the booth needs to move to decaf or they need to go back to a professional announcer plus one driver format. What they are doing now is getting annoying.

    • Avatar

      “Fixing” things that aren’t broke is a Nascar specialty. Case in point: The ‘playoff’.

    • Avatar

      The only thing wrong with ISM formerly Phoenix International is this rules package. We drive street cars with more horsepower. Big spoilers and tapered spacers equal bad racing.

    • Avatar

      “It wasn’t broken, and they fixed it.”

      They fixed it up real good… didn’t they?

  6. Avatar

    I didn’t make it to the end of the race. I got so burned out, not only on the extremely limited coverage, but the cheerleading for Denny Hamlin…I wondered why they were bothering to run the race instead of just deciding that all the JGR cars still eligible would be in the playoff. Hint to NBC: Having your announcers talk more loudly doesn’t make the lack of competition on the track disappear. It just makes it too annoying to listen. Since I have little interest in who wins the bogus 10 race title I left the race with over 150 laps to go. A total waste of my time. Once again, putting so much emphasis on the championship instead of each race, they have sucked the life…and a lot of excitement…out of the entire season. Pathetic race, and the coverage matched it.

  7. Avatar

    If I’m a major sponsor on any car other than the top six I’m going to really rethink if my money is spent wisely. Nbc not showing or mentioning any other cars or their sponsors would tick me off. Nbc coverage would show you it’s way cheaper to have network spot commercials than to throw millions at a car that never gets shown or mentioned during a race. It’s not the teams or NASCAR’s fault, it’s the networks fault. And screeching jr and Burton don’t help at all.