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Couch Potato Tuesday: NASCAR on NBC Needs Coverage of More Than Just the Championship 4

Well, the NASCAR season is now complete.  Kyle Busch is the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.  Out of the five of us from Frontstretch that worked the race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, I was the only one to pick him to do it.  Ultimately, Busch was the only one to not screw up Sunday.  Sometimes, it’s as simple as that.

Before I get into NBC’s broadcast from Sunday (Nov. 17), I must talk about TrackPass, the new subscription streaming service that will replace FansChoice.tv in December.  I was at the press conference on Nov. 14 at the Miami Beach EDITION where they announced the new product.  NASCAR President Steve Phelps seemed to struggle with specifics in explaining how it was going to work during his press conference, especially in relation to IMSA.  I had to get a bunch of clarification afterwards.  For what it’s worth, he admitted to that and everyone involved knows it’s a work in progress as they get the kinks ironed out.

For those of you who missed the news, TrackPass will be a new subscription service as part of NBC Sports Gold.  It will feature the ARCA Menards Series, ARCA Menards East, ARCA Menards West, the Whelen Modified Tour, a number of IMSA’s series, local short track racing and American Flat Track.  There will also be archived documentaries and films.

Practice and qualifying sessions for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series will be there as well during the NBC Sports half of the season.  I know that sounds like a step back, but they went out of the way to state that nothing is going to be moved from live television to TrackPass during the press conference.  The broadcasts would be in addition to live television, not in place of it.  I would argue that that edict would also include coverage that would be scheduled for NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports App as well.

Pricing is $4.99 a month or $44.99 for the year for the whole TrackPass service.  IMSA and NASCAR Roots (ARCA, Whelen Modifieds and the aforementioned practice and qualifying sessions) packages are both $2.99 a month or $19.99 a year, while American Flat Track is $1.99 a month or $10.99 a year.

On paper, this sounds like just a bigger version of what NBC Sports did with INDYCAR for this year with INDYCAR Pass.  Charge for stuff that people are used to getting for free.  That already ticked some fans off and I have no doubt that TrackPass will anger more.

Of note, the ARCA Menards Series races that will be on TrackPass are the 12 that will air live on MAVTV.  Those races will still be live on MAVTV as well.  I checked with representatives from Lucas Oil Racing TV last week.  They have notified me that ARCA races will no longer be streamed on the Lucas Oil Racing TV service in 2020.  They are still waiting to see whether they will be able to upload the race broadcasts after they air on MAVTV, though.

For full disclosure, NBC Sports and NASCAR gave every member of the media in attendance a gift box filled with freebies (including an Amazon Fire Stick).  Inside that box, there was a message entitling all in attendance to a complimentary year of TrackPass.  So, yes, I will make use of this in 2020 and critique races off of it.  It’ll be a real help for races that I won’t be able to watch live.  The quality should be better than what I’ve been getting on IMSA.com, plus there will be the advantage of an app that actually works decently (IMSA, I like you a lot, but your app leaves something to be desired… everywhere).

I’m admittedly bummed that some of the live broadcasts are exclusive to the service.  Most notably (for me), the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge is good stuff to watch.  Live coverage of IMSA Prototype Challenge presented by Mazda will also be exclusive, while IMSA Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup and Lamborghini Super Trofeo North America will stay on IMSA.com.

Pinty’s Series coverage is currently not in TrackPass due to rights issues, along with NASCAR’s Whelen Euro Series and Peak Mexico Series.  They’re apparently working on that.  Same with rights for Canadian viewers.  For now, the service is exclusive to the United States.

Finally, there’s a good sporting chance that you’ll see a decrease in the local grassroots coverage on TrackPass as compared to FansChoice.  There is a minimum standard for production.  It sounds like the onus is going to be on the individual tracks to get their production up to scratch in order to be included.  The press release specifically references Bowman-Gray Stadium (N.C.) and Myrtle Beach Speedway (S.C.) as part of the service.  I wouldn’t be shocked if they’re the only two on there in 2020, along with (maybe) Larry King Law’s Langley Speedway in Virginia.

I specifically asked about the other short tracks after the press conference.  NASCAR indicated that if tracks couldn’t get their production up to a minimum level, then they would be free to stream it themselves independent of TrackPass.  I feel like if that were the case, they might not do it at all.  It also makes me think back to the mid-to-late 1990s when the then-Busch Grand National Series was moving away from short tracks like Hickory.  The 43-car field would have meant curtains for Hickory on the schedule, but the track lost their date after 1998 due to being unable to produce a high enough purse for the race. Will we see other short tracks fall behind the curve during this era of paid live streaming?

Ford EcoBoost 400

After ISM Raceway last weekend, I worried that NBC’s focus was going to be all Championship 4, all the time.  Pre-race wise, it literally was.  The only exception to the rule was a brief mention of Paul Menard and David Ragan, both of whom were walking away from full-time competition after the race.

The Championship 4 were the only drivers interviewed prior to the race.  Michael Jordan chose to make the trip to Homestead-Miami Speedway to support Denny Hamlin and got some airtime with Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Am I surprised at Jordan’s knowledge of NASCAR?  A little.  Then again, he did grow up in North Carolina.

Dale Jarrett then sat down with Joe Gibbs to talk about his team’s 2019 season.  It’s been a record-breaking year as the team won 19 of the 36 races.  Ultimately, the piece was about JD Gibbs and how his passing has only made the team fight even harder.  More or less, this season will likely be remembered for JGR as being similar to Hendrick Motorsports’ 2004, where a tragic plane crash killed 10 people before the race at Martinsville Speedway.

After the start, it was 52 laps before we saw a race for position between two non-Championship 4 drivers (Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson).  Drivers such as Menard, Ragan and Matt DiBenedetto got a little bit of airtime Sunday, but it was rare.

If you weren’t in the Championship 4, the only way to get even a decent amount of airtime Sunday was to take it to the Championship 4.  The only driver really able to do that was Kyle Larson. But after a competitive race early, he blew an engine and finished dead last.  So much for that.  The Championship 4 drivers (Busch, Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.) then combined to lead all but one lap Sunday.  The exception to that rule was one lap that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. led during a round of green-flag pit stops.

Things that ordinarily would get a decent amount of coverage were all but ignored.  For example, during the last round of stops, Aric Almirola ended up getting a tire violation penalty.  What happened there?  A tire got away from the team, crossed pit road and hit the outside wall.  This was never commented on, but if you squinted your eyes, you could make it out.  Had I been checking this broadcast out on my older TV, I probably wouldn’t have noticed.  Before I left for Homestead, I bought a new 55-inch 4K TV and that made the difference.

As you would expect, post-race coverage was also completely focused on the Championship 4.  Not noted was that Sunday’s race is the fastest-ever Cup race at Homestead at an average of 142.654 mph.  Yes, that’s faster than the inaugural race on the flat version.

With the race being run at record pace, viewers got 35 minutes of post-race coverage on NBC.  In that time, we heard from the Championship 4, Busch got his trophy and there were interviews with the winning car owner (Gibbs) and crew chief (Adam Stevens).  The NBCSN portion of post-race saw secondary interviews with Busch, including one in the boat that he won for winning the race.

Overall, if you were looking for a decent amount of action, you really didn’t get that on Sunday.  It was almost all Championship 4, all the time.  For those of you that follow football, think back to that infamous post-game rant that the late Dennis Green went on after the Arizona Cardinals lost to the Chicago Bears in 2006.  My thoughts are not that different.

That makes the race hard to figure out.  Sunday’s race was down on lead changes from last year (14 to last year’s 22) and on the surface, nowhere near as competitive.  However, the loop data says that there were nearly 900 more passes in the race as compared to last year, an average of three more per lap.  If that translates to more racing for position on track, then we didn’t see that much at all.  I feel like I’m getting ripped off.

With this Championship 4 on hyper focus, it’s hard to follow what’s going on if the standard to get even mentioned on the broadcast at all is that high.  It’s truly frustrating.

That’s all for this week. While today will be the final regular edition of Couch Potato Tuesday this year, there will still be TV-related content during the winter months.  TV listings will be posted every day.  It isn’t 1996 anymore in the world of racing; there’s likely something out there every day.

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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11 comments

  1. Avatar

    Some of us dont get to watch MavTv anymore as it’s not carried with certain cable/satellite subscribers so this may be a plus for most…

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    Imagine a football broadcast where only 2 of the 22 players on the field are acknowledged during the course of the entire game.

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    Mr. Allaway, excellent points and article. I do not watch the final 10 races of the season, for the exact reason that you outlined. I care NOTHING about the so-called chase, playoffs or whatever they want to call it, I call it the FARCE! The current, so called, leadership of NASCAS, beginning with the brain-dead, Brian, have NO CLUE! Stock car racing is not now and has not ever been a “stick and ball” sport, and they NEED TO QUIT trying to make it into one! There are NO play-offs, NO do overs, NO quarters or innings, etc., in stock car racing! If they want a true representation of what they are doing, then they need to do the following. At the end of the “regular season” they need to tell all of the teams, except for the chosen 16, that their season is over, thanks for trying, see you next year at Daytona. Race the 16 ONLY, until they eliminate the first 4, send them home, with the same comments as the rest of the field got at the conclusion of the regular season. Now, race the remaining 12, until the 2nd round of eliminations. Send the next 4 home. Do the same with the remaining 8 teams until the next 4 are eliminated, they go home and you have the four final teams remaining. Now, they go to Homestead and race, just those 4 cars, NOT any others! There, now NASCAR has it’s PLAY-OFF, how it works in every stick and ball sport, that they are so desperate to emulate! That is basically what they are doing anyway. NASCAR has shown, repeatedly, that they care nothing for their fans. They have driven all but a handful of the old, loyal, long time fans, like myself (started following NASCAR in 1959, at the age of 6) away. They are about to lose another one, me. But, as I said, they DON’T CARE! Thanks for your article.

    • Avatar

      I noted that the crowd at the Homestead finale, which was supposedly invented to regain fan interest, was pretty spotty. How’s that working for you , NASCAR?

  4. Avatar

    I made upmy mind not to watch it. 3 cars winning most ofall the races means a fixed game.

  5. Avatar

    I see where you’re coming from. However, if guys like Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson or whoever else want the coverage, they need to win. It’s the championship race, why would non championship cars be the focus? You don’t see football teams not in the super bowl being the center of media coverage. I’m not a Kyle Busch fan but he was in the championship 4 and he did win. The other 3 drivers were in the championship 4 and they got post championship race interviews. So like I said, if the other drivers want that coverage… try winning for a change.

  6. Avatar

    Thank you Phil. Great job again this year. Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone. Travel safely.

  7. Avatar

    Thanks for the great coverage of the coverage this year Phil. You always point out things that I didn’t notice.
    Hope you have a great off season and holiday season.

  8. Avatar

    Thanks for another great year Phil. Good use of the Green clip. I think Homestead on NBC was like the Olympic’s on NBC. Pre-canned story lines. This was the worst Homestead after the worst Phoenix so I hope NASCAR follows through with tweaking at least the spoilers. It won’t cost that much RTA. Your choice to use the wind tunnel or not. Hopefully it will fix short/road tracks.

    Have a wonderful holiday season and I appreciate all your hard work.

  9. Avatar

    How many years have there been complaints about the coverage during ALL the events? The last event just exacerbates it. I suspect there will be the same next year. And the year after that. And the year……. And wait until they charge for the privilege.

  10. Avatar

    No gripes here. I will miss your column until the season cranks up again. Have a great Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years.

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