Last weekend was the end of the regular season for the NASCAR Cup Series. The next 10 weeks will likely be interesting. But before we can get there, we have 400 miles and change in Daytona to get through.
Saturday night was a big night for NBC. You got fast and furious action at a somewhat reduced speed after the recent rule changes. You had playoff drama and Ryan Blaney getting back to victory lane once again.
Viewers got likely one of the most substantial pre-race shows in recent memory. I was under the opinion that this race was going to start around 7:05 to 7:10. It ended up starting at 7:45 p.m. There was 90 minutes of pre-race before the command.
In that time, there were about a dozen interviews. In addition, there were a couple of slightly longer pieces with Michael McDowell and William Byron, both of whom were already locked in via victories. Neither were all that long, but I found McDowell’s interesting because he talked about how he didn’t realize the stress that he was carrying prior to winning the Daytona 500. He had apparently never really thought about it.
There was also a look back at the 2001 Pepsi 400 that Dale Earnhardt Jr. won and what that race ultimately meant to Earnhardt Jr., DEI and the rest of NASCAR after Dale Earnhardt’s death. If you watched Friday night’s coverage from Daytona, then you know that NBCSN re-aired pieces of the race during the rain delay coverage (the event just so happened to be the first race that NBC broadcast as part of the series-wide TV deals).
Part of that was the regular broadcast, but the rest was Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte giving context to everything they’re seeing from their own personal experiences. They claimed that “we might just have something here.” If they do, it isn’t exactly something that hasn’t been done before. I’m thinking of shows like Glory Days that used to air on ESPN here. Wouldn’t be a terrible thing to have something like that and put it on Peacock.
The actual on-track coverage was pretty decent Saturday night. Then again, it isn’t necessarily that hard to cover a Daytona race. For the most part, the field is going to stay close. The new rules actually made things a little easier.
The new killer app of the weekend was a partnership with Whoop. Four drivers (Brandon Jones and Justin Allgaier in Xfinity, Denny Hamlin and Daniel Suarez in Cup) wore wristbands that allowed viewers to see the driver’s heart rate. What we learned here is that Hamlin is either a very calm man, or his heart rate monitoring wristband malfunctioned. His heart rate was apparently below 100 while racing in the draft, while Suarez was much higher. Allgaier’s heart rate Saturday afternoon was nearly 190 at times.
As compared to previous years, there wasn’t quite as much points discussion since there was only so much to talk about for much of the night. It was only late in the race that you started to see it since Tyler Reddick got caught up in the lap 147 crash. I’m fine with that because it wasn’t really intrusive. I’m sure things will be different in a week or two.
Post-race coverage was actually pretty decent. Even with the 15 minute red flag after the lap 146 crash, the race still ended before 11 p.m. ET. Blaney’s interview was broadcast on NBC before coverage moved over to NBCSN for post-race. Viewers got a half-dozen driver interviews there, along with the regular season championship trophy presentation to Kyle Larson. Honestly, Larson was invisible Saturday night. You never really saw him until he got eliminated in the crash on the final lap.
Overall, Saturday night’s race was actually quite a bit better than I thought it was going to be. The 400-miler in Daytona is generally the least exciting of the four former plate races each year, but this was one of the most action packed ones that I can remember. I covered six of them on-site for Frontstretch (2010-2015), and none of them really captured me. The overall coverage was pretty good Even though it was a cutoff race, that fact didn’t get in the way of the race itself. I just hope that approach is in play at Bristol on Sept. 18.
Having races on network television at night in August is tough due to the haphazard fashion in which NFL preseason football games are broadcast. Teams typically have contracts with local over-the-air affiliates to air their games. As a result, things are all over the place. This mess is likely why the night race at Bristol was moved back into September.
As your TV writer, I spent a stupid amount of time looking up TV listings for every NBC affiliate in the country. The majority of affiliates have some way to look up their schedule on their website. Others don’t have it available for whatever reason. A select few affiliates don’t have websites at all. These are primarily in smaller markets.
I came up with a small list of affiliates that were not airing the Cup race Saturday night. KPNX 12 (12 NewsNBC) out of Phoenix and their satellite, KNAZ-TV 2 of Flagstaff opted out. WLBT 3 of Jackson, Miss. made what I guess was a last-minute decision to opt out of the broadcast in order to provide Hurricane Ida coverage.
WESH 2 of Orlando (the home market for the race, no less) and WFLA NBC 8 in Tampa aired the Tampa Bay Buccaneers-Houston Texans game. They were joined by KCEN 6 in Waco and KAGS 23 in Bryan, Tex.
NBC Owned & Operated WRC 4 (NBC Washington) in Washington, D.C., WGAL 8 of Harrisburg, Penn. and WBAL 11 in Baltimore aired the Baltimore Ravens-Washington Football Team game, then joined the race in progress at 9:05 p.m. How do I know the exact time? A reader, Kevin Utzy, who lives in Northern Virginia, contacted me last week asking for guidance as to where he could view the race. For the markets airing the Ravens-Football Team game, there were none. Had to wait until the race ended. Utzy later contacted me and told me that the switchover happened at that time. When the Ravens-Football Team viewers joined the race, it was during the third caution at the halfway point. Prior to that point, he had watched the race on his Roku.
The Florida affiliates both had alternate channels for the race. In Orlando and Daytona Beach, the race aired on WECF CW18, the sister station to WESH 2. Tampa-St. Petersburg fans could watch on WTTA, My38. Waco viewers were able to watch on KNCT CW46. Bryan viewers were unfortunately out of luck.
This whole setup was a mess, and not just because it takes hours upon hours to look up listings for 200+ affiliates (seriously, this took something like four hours, but since I saved their listing pages, it won’t take as long next time). The Washington situation was the most egregious as the game was apparently on both WRC 4 (NBC Washington) and WJLA 7, Washington’s ABC affiliate, as well. Ouch. Ok, there needed to be some communication there because that is ridiculous. In the case of the Washington situation, NASCAR was apparently not very happy about it.
Today, affiliates refusing to air certain programs from the network is rare … unless you’re a race fan in South Florida and your FOX affiliate is WSVN out of Miami. They have pre-empted a lot of motorsports programming over the years.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs well and truly gets underway with the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. It is guaranteed to be hot as heck. The forecast high for Sunday is 92 degrees. Combine that with South Carolina humidity and you’re likely sweating through shirts. They’ll be joined by the Xfinity Series and the Camping World Truck Series. The Truck race is (for the second straight year) a replacement race after the Chevrolet Silverado 250k at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park was cancelled. TV listings are available here.
For next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch, we’ll take a look at the Cup and Xfinity races from Darlington. For the Critic’s Annex, I want to look at Friday and Saturday’s coverage of the Wawa 250.
In addition, prior to Saturday’s Cup coverage, NBCSN premiered the new documentary Chase (Peacock subscribers had access on Wednesday), which is an inside look at Chase Elliott. It’s a rare look because Elliott is about as reserved and private today as Earnhardt Jr. was for much of his career. I tried to watch on Wednesday when it first showed up on Peacock, but it froze roughly halfway through. I suppose that’s a good thing because it could mean that a lot of people were watching it. While I won’t cover the documentary this week, it will get a column in the Annex soon.
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About the author
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 the Super DIRTcar Series.
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