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.
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