It seems so weird to actually be home for the final race weekend of the NASCAR season. For me, this was the first time since 2014 that I’d actually been home for it. The last five season finales were spent in Homestead, dodging rain showers, hiding under souvenir trailers and sweating. We also got interesting and competitive action.
For 2020, NASCAR made the decision to move Championship Weekend from Homestead to Phoenix. I think the only benefit of that move is that NASCAR avoided the current terrible weather in South Florida (Miami has received approximately a foot of rain since Friday due to Tropical Storm Eta). You also ended up with races that I think are too short to decide championships (especially for the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series).
Before we get going with our look at Championship Weekend, next year’s NASCAR TV broadcasts will end up looking different. We already know about Clint Bowyer’s permanent move to the broadcast booth with FOX Sports.
Friday saw another move. Krista Voda is leaving NBC Sports — and not by choice. They didn’t renew her contract. As a result, Sunday was her last day on the job.
This bites. I actually liked Voda in her roles with NBC Sports. However, the current environment severely limits what she can do. The combination of her (along with Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett) being unable to go into the field and NBCSN effectively capitulating the weeknight battle to FOX Sports 1 meant that there just wasn’t much going on for her.
My guess is that there will still be a “host” for NBC Sports’ NASCAR coverage in 2021, but that host will be Rick Allen. He’ll “host” the coverage from wherever the series is that weekend and converse with Jarrett and Petty (if they stay on).
Luckily, Voda isn’t a one-note TV personality. She’ll have experience in other sports that she could use to get another gig. Perhaps it won’t be a national one, but I think she’ll be able to find something. Maybe she’ll end up like Danielle Trotta and take a job with an RSN (after leaving FOX Sports, she worked for NBC Sports Boston before re-entering the sport with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Regardless, this isn’t the time to get dumped from your day job.
Season Finale 500k
As could be expected, the Championship 4 was the primary focus Sunday in Phoenix as Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin did battle in Arizona. Based on the race I watched, there wasn’t much else going on. If I were there, it would have been a different story.
Prior to the race, the only topics discussed were Championship 4 and Sunday being the final race for Jimmie Johnson. For what it’s worth, Johnson did a great job on Sunday to finish fifth. This wasn’t a relaxing stroll like Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final race in 2017.
Bowyer didn’t even get much of a mention all day. Yes, NBC noted that he’s going to FOX Sports next year, but they never even talked to him prior to the race. The quirkmaster’s got his fans. They deserved a chance to say goodbye to him.
Speaking of Bowyer, his main goodbye probably came on NASCAR RaceHub prior to the start of NBC’s coverage Sunday. In the days leading up to the race, they arranged for a special interview at Bowyer’s home. It was interesting, to say the least. Then again, what isn’t interesting with Bowyer.
"Do you think you and @JeffGordonWeb are gonna wreck each other in the booth??"
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) November 8, 2020
Apparently, Bowyer wasn’t lying here. He’s really bad at tying ties, to the point of getting Adam Alexander to do it for him. The man just needs to favorite a YouTube video or two on his phone. That’ll get him everything he needs.
For much of Sunday’s race, the focus was on the Championship 4, often at the expense of other action on the track. Yes, I understand that the championship is important. However, and I can’t stress this enough, you can’t ignore everything else that goes on to cover it. With limited access to the venues this year and likely much of next season, the TV coverage will be the primary way in which sponsors are going to get a bang for their buck. If they’re going to spend 157 minutes showing four cars, backers are going to turn their noses up and walk away in a huff. The sport cannot have that.
Probably one of the best examples of this happened late in the race after Elliott had taken the lead for good from Logano. I’m keeping tabs on the running order in in the vertical pylon and noticed Johnson running down Ryan Blaney for fifth. The two had been fighting for the position on and off for a while, but I noticed just how close the intervals were at the time.
Looking at that, I thought to myself, “Gee, they’re right on top of each other. That must be a great battle.” At the time, the broadcast was just showing Elliott, who wasn’t around anyone and was not feeling any pressure at all. The battle between Blaney and Johnson went on for what I think was five laps before Johnson dispatched the Menards Ford. Viewers saw none of it. That’s a bad thing.
Does NASCAR need to put one of their officials in the production truck to guide the broadcasts toward more battles in order to get a better show for viewers? That is apparently something INDYCAR did once years ago.
When I watch a race, I want to see the most competitive race possible. I didn’t get that from NBC Sunday. You only saw a bunch of competition Sunday if some of the Championship 4 drivers were duking it out. That happened from time to time during the race, but not that often. There’s more out there than what we got.
My guess is that NBC thought the race was going to run about 20-30 minutes longer than it did. The checkers were out not long after 6 p.m. ET. Given the time difference, it seemed so strange to see the Bill France Cup awarded with the sun still being out.
There was something like 45 minutes of post-race coverage on NBC before the coverage moved to NBCSN. There, we heard from the Championship 4 drivers, had the trophy presentation and interviews with Elliott’s parents and crew chief. Rick Hendrick didn’t show up until the NBCSN portion of the show, which seemed almost like it was a partial rerun. It’s like they ran out of stuff to say. Wouldn’t be surprised if one of two things happen for next year.
One is that the race might start later so that the coverage can flow into Football Night in America better, something that NBC loves and race fans could take or leave. Then again, with the race in Arizona, this was a 1:17 p.m. green flag local time. That’s not exactly late.
Another option is to lengthen the race. Phoenix did this once, in 2010 when the spring race was moved a little earlier in April. In an attempt to keep the twilight flow of the race, the event was lengthened by 100 kilometers to 600 kilometers (375 laps). The resulting event was the better part of four hours long. I don’t really see this option happening.
Overall, I just didn’t enjoy watching this race. It was far too laser-focused on the Championship 4. There was plenty of other stuff going on, but I couldn’t tell you what most of that looked like.
The fact that it was the last Cup race of the year didn’t exactly help things either. I’ve always hated the very end of the season, all the way back to the early 1990s. Of course, back then, you got next to no racing until Speedweeks once Atlanta came and went. Given this loony season, we’ve still got another month of regular races to go, so the offseason will be a little more than a month. There will still be race broadcasts premiering between now and late January.
Lucas Oil 150
150 miles at a 1-mile tri-oval is far too short of a race to decide a title. Simple as that. That is what the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series had on offer Friday night.
Much like NBC on Sunday, the Championship 4 took center stage Friday night as well. I was not particularly surprised that Sunday’s race was so clean. That’s really been the trend in Cup ever since the stages were introduced. I don’t think that was NASCAR’s intention, but it just turned out that way. What I really wasn’t expecting was for Friday night’s race to be so clean.
Racing-reference.info indicates that Friday night’s race took 94 minutes. Felt more like 75.
The entire first stage literally didn’t mention anyone outside of the Championship 4 … other than Akinori Ogata. Why Ogata? Because Brett Moffitt hit him while trying to lap him. I don’t think anyone was expecting that.
Unlike the Cup race, there really wasn’t much movement going on. The first stage saw the same 10 drivers that started in the top 10 finish the stage there. Three of them were in the same place they started while no one moved more than three places.
It really didn’t get much better all night. Honestly, this might have been the most boring Truck race that I’ve ever watched at Phoenix. I cannot recall a Phoenix Truck race that was as devoid of action as what we got Friday night.
Outside of the Championship 4 drivers, much of the discussion was about the PJ1 TrackBite and how it was working. This was considered to be surprising since it took much longer to come in during the race weekend in March (which had a full suite of practice sessions). Kurt Busch made note of what he saw and made use of his lessons in the race on Sunday (he finished 12th).
Honestly, this race was non-descript until Dawson Cram failed to clear Tanner Gray and wrecked with three laps to go. The resulting caution changed the whole race. Moffitt and his team failed to pit and cost Moffitt the title. Let’s just say that he wasn’t very pleased about that. Had he been planning to stay at GMS Racing next year, he torpedoed any chance of that afterwards. Woof.
The race ultimately ended very close to the sign-off time on FS1. Post-race coverage was quite brief. Viewers got interviews with the Championship 4 and the trophy presentation, but that was it. They were gone in order to cover football shortly afterwards.
This race might have been covered even more tightly than the Cup race. Based on what I saw, there was next to nothing going on outside of the final restart. I don’t think that was really the case, but that was the perception. Not good. Not the best note to finish up your season.
Of course, this wasn’t the perception that came out of the race. Instead, the perception was that it was incredible because of the final restart that had everyone diving all over the place and Sheldon Creed coming from 10th or so to win the title, as if that made the first 154 laps better than they were. They weren’t.
That’s all for this week. Hard to imagine that my 12th year of critiquing race broadcasts is pretty much complete. That said, the racing season isn’t over. This upcoming weekend has the FIA World Endurance Championship season finale in Bahrain and IMSA’s season finales (excluding Prototype Challenge) at Sebring. Formula 1 will also be back in action in Turkey, while MotoGP will make their annual trip to Valencia in Spain. TV listings can be found in the TV tab at the top of the screen.
Saturday’s Desert Diamond West Valley Casino 200 for the Xfinity Series will be covered in Thursday’s edition of the Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter. Yes, I will talk about the unexpected controversy that erupted from the broadcast there. Next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here on Frontstretch will go somewhere I really haven’t been able to go so far this year. We’re going to talk some IMSA coverage since they’ll be taking center stage on Saturday.
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