Talladega Superspeedway is an interesting place. You can have wild races, or you can have races like the 2018 1000Bulbs.com 500, where Stewart-Haas Racing turned the race into their own bash that was completely designed to allow Aric Almirola win. Sunday’s race (Oct. 4) was the former, but that created problems for NBC.
Outside of the championship race at Phoenix Raceway, the biggest NASCAR Cup Series race in the playoffs for NBC is the YellaWood 500 at Talladega. Talladega itself attracts a broader audience than normal mainly because of the potential for shenanigans to break out. Shenanigan fans got more than their fill on Sunday.
However, this race took way too long for NBC’s taste. The race was scheduled from 2 – 6 p.m. ET (1 – 5 p.m. CT) on NBC. They were completely unwilling to wait one minute beyond 6 p.m. As a result, NBC bumped the triple overtime finish to NBCSN.
Let’s just say that it didn’t go over very well. NBCSN was trending on Twitter for approximately an hour after the race due to fans being rightfully ticked off over the move. I received this tweet after the move was made.
— Eli ParkerCKCK (@parkerckck) October 4, 2020
If you’re wondering, no, the YellaWood 500 did not finish before the Indianapolis 8 Hours. That race finished up during the lap 189 red flag. At the time the Cup race went green, there was still four hours to go at Indianapolis. Normally, it’s pretty easy to complete a Cup race at Talladega in that time. Sunday wasn’t a normal Talladega race. A quick cursory look at Racing-Reference reveals only one Cup race there (the 2004 Aaron’s 499) that had a slower average speed. That was before races could be extended past the scheduled distance, though. That was the race Jeff Gordon won under caution only to have fans pelt his car with detritus in what was the second-worst track littering that year (yes, Pocono was worse since one galoot actually hit the assistant flagman with a cooler).
That same look also shows that there are no Talladega races in which the amount of time that the cars spent in motion was longer than Sunday’s race. I don’t think any Talladega race (excluding red flags) had ever lasted more than four hours prior to Sunday. That says something right there.
My guess is that the chaps at NBC knew that a caution leading up to an overtime restart at Talladega was likely to lead to chaos. Sure enough, it did. That said, NBC is also spending stupid money to broadcast NASCAR (more than $400 million a year through 2024). You’d think paying out that much scratch would give the sport some kind of preferential treatment.
Given that this was one of their biggest races of their schedule, NBC really should have stayed to the end, then shifted to NBCSN for post-race coverage. For all we know, this could have been a quick two-lap shootout that wasn’t worth kicking it to NBCSN.
There is one more factor in play. As probably anyone knows that’s reading this article, President Trump was in the hospital last weekend being treated for COVID-19 (as of this writing, he’s back at the White House and seemingly chipper). NBC likely thought that viewers wanted the absolute latest news about Trump’s condition. I don’t want to go into that whole situation any more than that. Regardless, I am confident that it played at least a partial role here.
Despite all that, the optics look bad for NBC and NASCAR. It makes it look like NASCAR’s TV partner is abandoning them on one of their biggest stages, although they would never admit to such a thing. Let’s face some facts: NBC will always have a bigger reach than NBCSN, no matter what NBCUniversal does to expand the cable network’s reach. I have cable. I could still watch the conclusion of the race without an issue. Not everyone can. Those people who couldn’t have every right to feel robbed. And what about people who watch the race on DVR?
Post-race coverage was actually more substantial than advertised. The original plan was to finish for the night at 6:30 p.m. following a post-race show on NBCSN. They ran until 7:30 instead. Viewers got a bunch of post-race interviews, point checks and analysis.
Following the race, the big story was the dreaded yellow-line rule coming into play once again. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Jarrett are not fans of the rule as presently interpreted. Earnhardt’s idea is that he doesn’t want NASCAR to have to act at the end of races and affect the outcome. I can understand that. This was a rather unusual race in regards to the rule. NASCAR is becoming more proactive in how they police the rule. In the 78 Cup points races at Daytona and Talladega held since the rule was formally instituted, the number of times that drivers have been penalized for forcing foes below the line is approximately five in 20 seasons. This happened at least three times Sunday, including twice on the final lap. It’s unheard of. Matt DiBenedetto lost second place due to a penalty for forcing William Byron below the line, while Chris Buescher lost his top-10 finish as well. Had Buescher not been penalized, he would have earned the most points Sunday.
Having said that, Earnhardt actually believes that NASCAR’s rulings were in line with the rule as written. They’ve always included the possibility of penalizing those who force, usually with verbiage along the lines of “if you force someone below the yellow line, then you may be penalized.”
Quick note: The yellow line was first suggested by Dale Earnhardt as a way to tell drivers to not be stupid and go down there. There was no penalty attached to it. The penalties only started showing up after a battle for the win in the 2001 Subway 300 in which a number of drivers went way below what is now the yellow line in an attempt to make passes. The blocking was strong that day.
The next day in the caution-free Talladega 500, NASCAR started admonishing drivers for going down there. One crew chief or spotter (not sure which) was heard on FOX’s broadcast saying something along the lines of “…NASCAR ain’t tolerating that <expletive deleted> today.” By the Pepsi 400 in Daytona, the rule was formally in place.
I cannot recall a race that had post-race result changes that didn’t involve disqualifications like Sunday’s race. I do recall some position shifting at Daytona once, but that was 20 years ago. Let’s just say that I had to make multiple edits to the points standings section in Monday’s edition of the Frontstretch Newsletter before I sent it out because of that.
During the race itself, you didn’t really have to worry about whether the broadcast was being inclusive as much as even typical Talladega races. Having 13 cautions meant that most of the field stayed close together. The only round of green-flag stops was interrupted by Ryan Blaney cutting a tire and hitting the wall to bring out a yellow.
That said, you did end up with drivers that ended up with decent finishes that were barely acknowledged. Brennan Poole got his first top-10 finish in Cup by keeping his Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet clean. Before he got put in the wall on the final lap, Cody Ware had done well to keep himself up there most of the race. He didn’t need a lucky dog to get back on the lead lap at any time because he was always there. It’s a commendable effort for someone that takes a lot of slack.
As for what happened to him on the final lap, I’m not really sure. It looked like it got a little rough on the backstretch. It seems like Justin Haley got hit and slid across the track to clean out Ware unintentionally. He was able to recover to finish 19th.
Viewers didn’t get a replay of that incident. More importantly, they didn’t get a replay of the incident involving James Davison. Yes, I know Davison was 82 laps down at the time. It doesn’t matter. That incident and the shedding of debris led to the caution that put the race in overtime. It’s important that the fans fully understand what led to the extra 45 minutes of action.
Finally, I know that you probably noticed the loud cheers that seemed to erupt when Bubba Wallace got in the wall on lap 183 exiting turn 2. With only a small crowd on-site, it seemed like quite a big pop, much along the lines of what typically happened when an Earnhardt would snag the lead. The booth didn’t really acknowledge this, but it didn’t sit right with me. Maybe there was some sound stuff going on there. If not, that’s a group of fans actively cheering for Wallace to fail. If that’s so, this sport still has a long way to go. Not classy.
That’s all for this week. This weekend, the NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series will travel to Charlotte Motor Speedway for a weekend of racing on the ROVAL. In addition, the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s GT classes will join the card on Saturday night for a 100-minute sprint race that will replace the cancelled race at Lime Rock Park. Race fans would do well to keep their eyes peeled to weather forecasts over the next few days since Tropical Storm Delta is brewing in the Caribbean Sea right now. It is currently forecast to strengthen into a hurricane and make landfall on the Gulf Coast. The remnants from that storm are currently forecast to dump rain on Charlotte this weekend. Things could get sketchy.
Meanwhile, Formula 1 will be at the Nurburgring for the Eifel Grand Prix. The weather there looks quite sketchy as well. However, this will be a light rain with weather in the 50s. Problem is, it’s going to be like that all week.
We will be back with critiques of both the Cup and Xfinity broadcasts from Charlotte Motor Speedway’s ROVAL, regardless of how looney those races end up being. Honestly, if it does rain, NASCAR is going to have to do something. You can’t send these guys out there with no practice on a track that no one’s ever really raced in the wet in cars that have all but never run in the rain. This could get ugly.
In the Newsletter, we will cover both the Xfinity Series Ag-Pro 300 and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250 broadcasts. Both races have their own issues.
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