(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Couch Potato Tuesday: Scheduling Kansas on a Thursday Night? Not the Best Idea

Last week was a rather odd setup. The NASCAR Cup Series raced Thursday night at Kansas Speedway. This setup was concocted to avoid Championship Sunday for the Premier League, but I think the whole thing was misguided. Those Championship Sunday games were over by 1 p.m. ET (and five of the 10 were exclusive to Peacock). Knowing NASCAR, had they raced Sunday afternoon, the race wouldn’t have started before 3 p.m. That would have been plenty of time to get the race on NBCSN (NBC was airing a repeat of Sunday’s motoGP World Championship Grand Prix of Andalusia from Jerez).

Super Start Batteries 400

NASCAR Cup Series racing on a Thursday night? Maybe not the best idea. It seemed like the race snuck up on everyone. I don’t believe that NBCSN did a very good job at actually informing viewers that there was going to be a race Thursday night. From what I can tell, the ratings were pretty terrible (Note: As of this writing, the full ratings information is not completely available, but I’ve seen enough to know that it’s bad). That’s a shame. This was a better race than Texas was.

While NBC Sports has generally been pretty good at promoting their NASCAR offerings lately, Thursday night was not one of those nights. It appears that the race got lost since it was up against Opening Night for Major League Baseball. The two games that aired Thursday night on ESPN were the highest rated broadcasts among viewers under 50 on cable. The only shows with more viewers were Tucker Carlson Tonight and Hannity, talk shows that air back-to-back on FOX News.

Not really having NASCAR America up and running outside of before and after Cup races is not helping things. Just thinking about that fact strikes me as odd. Even during the complete shutdown, FOX Sports 1 was still airing NASCAR RaceHub on a regular basis. Since NBC Sports took over NASCAR coverage, I think they’ve only had a couple of weeknight editions of NASCAR America. One of those was Thursday night as the pre-pre-race show.

That said, NBC Sports’ pre-race offerings are still providing viewers with much more of a race preview than anything FOX Sports 1 has been doing. That is partially due to the fact that they couldn’t get everyone back in the studio in Charlotte until after FOX Sports’ portion of Cup and Xfinity seasons had concluded. Now that they’ve been able to do that, the pre-race coverage prior to Truck races is that much better.

During NASCAR America, there were two main stories. One was the Quin Houff incident from Texas and what NASCAR should do about it. The idea was brought up here that NASCAR should have the power to step someone down. The truth is, they already have that power, but it’s rarely used unless something ridiculous happens. I believe Mike Senica got docked part of his license in 2018 for disobeying officials at Martinsville before the red flag flew for snow in a Truck race. Larry Gunselman also apparently lost the right to compete in then-Nationwide Series restrictor-plate races following this crash in 2008 at Talladega that injured Dario Franchitti.

In practice, NASCAR has sweeping powers here but doesn’t use them much. In fact, in the early 1980s, they outright claimed that they couldn’t stop anyone at all from racing. This is how you end up with the complete mystery known as LW Wright competing in the 1982 Winston 500 at Talladega.

Rutledge Wood conducted an interview with Bernard Pollard, the retired NFL cornerback who has recently jumped headlong into NASCAR and immersed himself over the past couple of months. Based on this, it appears that he believed that the sport was lily white, but realized that that wasn’t the case once he saw Bubba Wallace out there. Now, he says that he “feels the heart” behind it.

If you’re on Twitter, you’ve probably seen him trying to learn as much about the sport as he possibly can. That’s great to see. He’s even pressing his luck with iRacing and has already gotten out of the Rookie class.

As I’ve written about in previous weeks, NASCAR does need to diversify its fanbase, and new fans have to be willing to give the sport a chance. In past years, a lot of people would not have felt comfortable taking the plunge. With the recent changes that have occurred, maybe those potential fans are more open to the sport. Once everything’s back to normal (whenever the deuce that is), Pollard can come out to some races and take it all in.

Another new aspect of the broadcast was that NBC Sports stationed Marty Snider inside Richard Childress Racing’s command center in Welcome, N.C. for the day. This was an interesting look behind the scenes with engineers and the concoction of strategies. Lots of probabilities being thrown into play. RCR also had access to what seemed like real-time VMT data that would allow the engineers to suggest line changes. Heck, I can’t even get the best timing and scoring here at the house, but the teams have everything. That said, there was only so much that viewers could see for competitive reasons. I do feel like some fans may have been turned out by the analytical approach that a lot of the teams are taking toward racing and would rather keep that in the hands of the driver and crew chief. It’s a lot more like football than you’d think. This war room setup was likely already in use well before the pandemic showed up. The only difference is that there were likely less people in the room (specifically, Childress most likely wouldn’t have been there; he would be at the track in his starched white button-down shirt).

I will say this: The first command center segment did reveal to viewers that Tyler Reddick had scrubbed the wall with his I Am Second Chevrolet early on. This was not caught on the broadcast.

The race itself was a bit more of a wreck-fest than I thought it was going to be. I was not expecting 11 cautions in this race (my estimate was five, including the stage breaks and competition caution). I felt that NBCSN did a great job breaking down the wreck that eliminated Joey Logano and Matt DiBenedetto from the race. They were able to pinpoint that it was a left-front tire failure on Logano’s car that caused the crash.

That said, Snider also noted from the RCR command center than Austin Dillon had apparently broken his radiator and was also going to be forced into retirement. Apparently, that did not come to pass. Either Dillon busted his radiator and the team found a way to fix it, or Snider didn’t report the right information. Regardless, the No. 3 was beat up pretty good in that crash.

The hit Ryan Preece took was nasty. I’m happy that he was able to walk away from that. I am worried that he’s seemingly crashing himself out of the series at this rate, though (three straight last-place finishes and a grand total of six points for the month of July don’t go very far).

This was a fairly competitive race, and NBCSN did a decent job in showing viewers that action. I was quite occupied for much of the race. There was not much downtime to be had. I was pretty tired by the finish, but that’s because it was a long day.

Post-race coverage was fairly typical for NBCSN. During the actual race broadcast (which ran long), viewers only got a couple of interviews and the point check. Note that Denny Hamlin‘s interview was in victory lane, the first one done there since March. It just feels right doing that instead of doing it on the frontstretch in front of no one. NASCAR America Post-Race provided additional interviews and analysis.

Yes, Thursday night was a long one. That happens when you have a bunch of wrecks. Generally, I found the race to be far more enjoyable than Texas was. It doesn’t have anything to do with race length. I think not having the PJ1 TrackBite helped here, but simple aging of asphalt helped as well (remember, the surface at Kansas Speedway is eight years old now). We got some good racing and a somewhat enjoyable evening all told. I just wish the race wasn’t on Thursday night.

Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 200

Friday night saw the first of two races at Kansas Speedway for the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. Of the two events, this one ultimately was the cleaner of the two. Doesn’t mean that there weren’t any shenanigans at play.

Prior to the race, viewers got to hear from Johnny Sauter, who has struggled quite a bit recently, via Skype. While Friday night’s race wasn’t so bad for him, Saturday was a catastrophe. We also heard from Christian Eckes on pit road.

FS1 had a split setup for the Truck doubleheader. For Friday night’s race, Jamie McMurray joined Vince Welch and Michael Waltrip in the booth. Regan Smith replaced McMurray for Saturday afternoon races.

Friday night’s race saw a number of tire issues. First, Tyler Ankrum cut his right-rear tire. That resulted in a brake line or hose being stripped from the truck. That left Ankrum with no brakes and resulted in a brief stay in the garage. Had this been a Cup broadcast, we would have gotten a little more detail as how this could have gone down. We were more or less left with conjecture. That said, we did get a good shot of the right rear corner of Ankrum’s No. 26 in the garage with seemingly nothing back there except the hub, brake rotor and brake calipers. Stewart Friesen and Ross Chastain also had tire issues. Chastain’s were ultimately terminal as his Plan B Sales Chevrolet was smoking profusely after his stop (this didn’t happen with Ankrum).

I felt like I missed a bunch of stuff that happened during the race. For example, the only driver who was forced to withdraw from Saturday’s race was Korbin Forrister after he crashed fairly hard in turn 4. I have no idea what happened to cause this, as the only replay that aired didn’t even catch the wall contact. All I know is that he flattened his passenger side and ended his weekend.

The first half of the race was far more competitive as there was a decent amount of racing for position. The second half saw Austin Hill dominate the proceedings. As a result, not a heck of a lot seemingly happened there.

Despite the race ending relatively quickly as compared to recent Truck races, there was very little post-race coverage. Viewers only got an interview with Hill and a points check (not the real points standings) before leaving Kansas (temporarily) for a repeat of Beyond the Wheel prior to the ARCA race.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is very quiet in NASCAR. Only the NASCAR Cup Series will be in action at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Formula 1 will be back for the first of two weekends of racing at Silverstone Circuit in England. Meanwhile, IMSA’s series will be racing at Road America in Wisconsin. Chase Briscoe has entered the Michelin Pilot Challenge Road America 120. Given that this is the week before the Xfinity race there, think of it as a prolonged practice session despite the fact that the cars are substantially different. TV listings can be found in the TV tab above.

We will provide critiques of the Cup and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races in next weekend’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch. This week’s edition of The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter (which you can subscribe to at the bottom of this page) will contain critiques of the Kansas Lottery 250 for the Xfinity Series and the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series e.p.t. 200. The original plan for this article was to cover the Kansas Lottery 250, but the race ran against my work with Lebanon Valley Speedway. When I went to watch the race, my DVR recording was corrupted (it cut off after three seconds despite the DVR having been set for three hours). By Wednesday, the Xfinity race should be available on NASCAR’s YouTube channel.

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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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

    Phil, I too have wondered why NBC ditched NASCAR America. I notice they have the Dale Jr. Download that comes on, but NASCAR American presented a different POV. Granted I have always liked Race Hub over NA but I would record them both. I guess another Covid budget cut. Kudo’s to FS1 for keeping Race Hub going through this ordeal.

    • Avatar

      Too bad they didn’t take advantage of the lack of racing to keep interest in NA. Seems silly not to have the show on all week and keep fans informed. I tried to watch the truck races but just can’t abide listening to Michael Waltrip thru an entire race.

  2. Avatar

    NBC’s coverage is awful. Has been for at least 4 years.

  3. Avatar

    Thursday ratings were worst since 2001. TV viewers were down to 2.7 million from previous 3.7 million in Texas. Fans are not happy with NASCAR/Hollywood.

    • Avatar

      Not sure where you got those numbers but according to Jayski:

      Thursday’s NASCAR Cup Series race from Kansas averaged a 0.9 rating and 1.47 million viewers on NBCSN, marking the least-watched Cup race on any network since at least 2001. The previous low was 1.51 million for another midweek race this season, Charlotte on FS1 in May. The 0.9 rating tied Charlotte as the lowest since at least ’01.

      Midweek races now account for the three smallest Cup Series audiences since at least 2000, with Martinsville in June ranking third (1.71M).

      The four midweek Cup Series races this season have averaged 1.71 million viewers across FS1 and NBCSN, down 37% from the average for Sunday races on those networks (2.73M). Adding in last week’s NASCAR All-Star Race, the midweek average of 1.75 million is still down 36% from Sunday levels.

      • Avatar

        Upper right corner of this Frontstretch page lists the TV viewers and compared to two years (or close) previous. It’s a pretty good synopsis no matter what perfume the PR people put on the pig.

        • Avatar

          Well there’s the problem, I missed the “Texas” in your comment. I assumed you were talking about the most recent race in Kansas, which were what the numbers I saw on Jayski were reporting. Shame on me for not reading your comment more carefully. I also never even knew there was a ratings link on Frontstretch, so thanks for pointing that out as well.

  4. Avatar

    The question should be why schedule Kansas at all, not about the day it was scheduled. Kansas is just one more cookie cutter 1 1/2 mile track that was built when NASCAR was in its growth spurt. It has terrible racing just like the rest of the mile and a half’s. Time to go racing on short tracks and dump the aero packages that create follow the leader racing.

  5. Avatar

    Everybody jumps on the negative band wagon about 1 1/2 mile speedways and want more shorter tracks.
    Kansas had 5 wide racing at speed. On the 1/2 mile tracks if you want to pass at 80mph you just punt the guy out of the way. I don’t call that racing. As much as I don’t like how NASCAR runs the race, it still has exciting racing, especially at the end when it counts. The caution flags are thrown way too much for cars that are out of the racing way.

    Regarding the RACING COMMAND CENTERS (WAR ROOMS) back at the race shops: NASCAR always said they didn’t want too much technology. It took a long time for fuel injection and the ECU, but these WAR ROOMS are way to much technology. Of course F1 would laugh at these WAR ROOMS compared to theirs.

  6. Avatar

    Quin Houff may have been promoted too soon, but he’s not doing what hasn’t been done for the 50+ years that I’ve been a NASCAR fan. He’s green; he’ll grow, or he’ll lose his ride. I’m in the groove with other folks who want more short-track racing, but I do think 1.5 milers serve a purpose, too. Just ditch to aero-sensitiveness of the cars and allow adjustments to splitters and spoilers. New Hampshire should be interesting; it was near 100F yesterday, so the track ought to be nice and greasy. Then, again one good rain-storm could throw everyone for a loop.

  7. Avatar

    I’m with Tom B that the problem is not the tracks, it’s the cars. Too much downforce and not enough horsepower. The cars were not getting too fast on the straights, they were getting too fast in the turns. Cutting horsepower does not slow them down in the turns, cutting aerodynamics does that.

    Technology is way too much of the broadcast. Not only do we hear on every pitstop how a car is handling, we hear about it in too much detail. The car is “pushing on the entry to turn one neutral in the center and loose off, while it is loose on the entry to turn four and stiff in the middle and loose on corner exit, so they are going to use tire pressure, one turn on the track bar and two turns on the left rear.” Because, of course, the driver has nothing to do with it, this is a car race, not a driver race. The driver can only do whatever the car tells him to do.

    The same thing is starting to affect Indycar, but so far they still tend to talk about what the driver is doing more so than than what the car is doing. Sky broadcasting actually knows what racing is all about, as they never talk at all about what the Formula 1 car is doing. They assume the car will do whatever the driver tells it to do. They do talk about tire wear, but almost always in nterms of how the driver is coping with it. They have this old fashioned belief that racing is about drivers.