New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Loudon, N.H.) holds an interesting spot in NASCAR. A lot of fans don’t like the flat track, but it’s the only venue in all of New England that could realistically host a NASCAR Cup Series event. With the Next Gen car in action, no TrackBite was applied to the facility. Since it’s been three years or so since the last application, that leaves the oval more or less back to normal.
As a result, viewers didn’t see the most exciting race at the front of the field (only eight lead changes in 301 laps). That said, there’s still plenty to talk about with this week’s telecast.
NBC Sports declared that Sunday’s (July 17) Ambetter 301 would be a “Racing Team” broadcast. As a result, Dale Earnhardt Jr. called the race as the play-by-play commentator alongside Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte.
Earnhardt Jr. has made this adjustment before, but not in the NASCAR Cup Series. Those previous events had gone well. Sunday’s was about the same, to be honest. Earnhardt Jr. in the booth is naturally excitable. In that regard, he would be able to easily bring attention to things going on that other play-by-play commentators who are more subdued might not be able to.
The other thing that the Racing Team wanted to do is to talk about everyone in the race on Sunday. You’d think that wouldn’t be all that difficult to do, but it is not common for everyone to be covered. I whole-heartedly believe that this idea is something Earnhardt Jr. pitched.
As you know, Earnhardt Jr. is a zealot for nostalgia. He likely has boxes of old race broadcasts at Dirty Mo Acres in North Carolina. As a result, he likely watched many dozens of NASCAR events on ESPN in the 1980s and 1990s. They prided themselves on covering everyone. That mentality is how you get an in-race interview where Jack Arute asked Ronnie Thomas about apparently getting fined for “profanity” in the middle of the 1985 Valleydale 500.
Naturally, when this was pitched during Countdown to Green, I immediately wrote the number of every driver in the race down in my notebook and kept a running tally to see if everyone was covered. Were they? It depends on where that coverage was.
If you’re including Countdown to Green, then I guess so. If we’re only talking about the race broadcast, then likely no. There were a couple of drivers that didn’t really get any coverage, like Cody Ware.
Note: Unfortunately, there was a brief section of the race that was unable to be viewed. This was not my fault. During Sunday’s race, this happened six miles from my house. It actually made me a little concerned because one of my friends lives right next to the substation noted in the article.
The power at my house only flickered briefly, but it knocked my cable out and rendered me unable to watch for a brief amount of time. This occurred right after Todd Gilliland had his incident in turn 4 to bring out what turned out to be the final yellow. What a time for that to happen.
One of the major stories on Sunday is the ongoing beef much of the field has against Ross Chastain. Nate Ryan voiced a feature on Chastain’s aggression and the field’s opinions of him during Countdown to Green. The primary idea of that piece seemed to be to compare Chastain to Ernie Irvan, a similarly talented racer who ticked off a bunch of people in the early 1990s.
For the sake of this discussion, I will admit that I was a card-carrying member of the Ernie Irvan Fan Club for a year. Given the near-fatal injuries Irvan suffered at Michigan in 1994, most of the time I was in the club was when he was recovering.
While there are likely some similarities between Chastain and Irvan, things are quite different now as compared to 1991. Drivers are way more aggressive than they were 30 years ago. In addition, the current format of the season, for better or worse (most likely worse) actively penalizes you at times for not wrecking dudes. I’d argue that what Chastain needs to do is not necessarily one-to-one compared to what Irvan did. If he cools it, it can only be a little, or other drivers could take advantage of him.
With only eight lead changes and Martin Truex, Jr. leading 172 of the first 206 laps with very little challenge, there really wasn’t going to be that much action at the front. USA was going to have to bring viewers more than that. I thought that they did a decent job under the circumstances. There were a number of drivers that ran quite well Sunday that haven’t always been up there this season (Ex: Bubba Wallace, Cole Custer before he had to stop). All of them received solid coverage.
There were multiple decent battles on track at times and USA did a good job bringing those battles to the viewers. Just goes to show that how you broadcast a race can make a difference in how it is perceived by the general public. Those who actually make the trip will probably come away with a more uniform opinion of the race than those watching on USA. If you looked at the results sheet, you might think this race was more boring than it was. Instead, there was enough to keep you satisfied.
Outside of the Chastain topic, the biggest story that came out of the race was the ridiculous Austin Dillon–Brad Keselowski contretemps under yellow following Kyle Busch’s second spin. The whole thing seemed strange to me watching at home and the booth seemed confused about it as well. Heck, the crews were even confused about how the incident unfolded.
To be fair, USA did make use of their available wares to figure this out. Radio chatter indicated that Keselowski thought Dillon’s bump on the backstretch was intentional. Afterwards, it was like he just lost his mind for a moment. Wow. Haven’t seen anything like that from him in years.
After the race, viewers saw both sides of the story as Dillon and Keselowski explained the affair. Well presented from a production standpoint but still a weird turn of events.
The start of this race was delayed by approximately 15-20 minutes due to a small thunderstorm that passed near the track prior to the event. While they were somewhat low-key about it during Countdown to Green, the storm actually required the grandstands to be cleared. Luckily, the sun came out and dried everything to minimize the delay. That said, it still meant that the race ended pretty late.
As a result, USA cancelled the first repeat of Austin Dillon’s Life In The Fast Lane in order to provide a full post-race show. In addition to both sides of the Dillon-Keselowski spat, viewers got a series of other interviews including with race winner Christopher Bell, point checks and analysis.
Given the circumstances, I have come to expect minimal post-race coverage when things run late. That wasn’t the case here and I was happy to see it.
Overall, New Hampshire was a pretty decent race to watch. Loudon races have gotten better since they stopped using the TrackBite to watch. Perhaps, it is the approach used that helped the telecast. You can’t just focus on a couple of dudes for a race broadcast. Spread that out.
Do I think that the “Racing Team” should be the regular setup for the broadcast booth going forward? No. It’s a different setup, but that doesn’t mean that it should be every week. That said, they can take some ideas from it for the regular broadcasts. Being able to properly cover every driver in the field is one of them.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is a very busy weekend. Pocono Raceway will host a quadruple-header of racing starting on Friday with 200 miles for the ARCA Menards Series. Saturday sees all three of NASCAR’s National Series on track with the regular season finale for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and 225 miles for the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Sunday has NASCAR Cup Series teams racing for 400 miles.
Outside of NASCAR, IndyCar has a doubleheader this weekend at Iowa Speedway. 550 laps of racing on the seven-eighths of a mile short track. Formula 1 returns to action at the Circuit Paul Ricard in France. Finally, SRO America will be at Watkins Glen International. It’ll be a busy weekend. See the complete schedule here.
We will have a critique of Sunday’s Cup race in Pocono for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. The Critic’s Annex later this week in the Frontstretch Newsletter will cover the Crayon 200. There might be a second one covering the Honda Indy Toronto since that race was fully exclusive to Peacock and that’s worth looking at because the race was presented differently than the typical IndyCar event.
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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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