Daytona International Speedway in summertime is always a tricky proposition. You can have blazing heat and humidity, to the point where you get dizzy if you’re in the sun too long. The other option is often a bunch of rain with the potential for lightning. Unfortunately, that is what we had last weekend.
The original plan was for the NASCAR Cup Series to race Saturday night (Aug. 27) on NBC. It was going to be a great time. But the rain simply couldn’t stay away long enough to do it, so they had to come back Sunday with television coverage shifted to CNBC.
As you all know, the pivotal moment of the race was when the skies opened on lap 138 with the field in a fierce pack.
The situation seemed to occur so quickly that no one could figure out it was the rain to blame. It was obvious that it was close by. Shots before the restart showed the rain coming down maybe a mile or two west of the track, east of Interstate 95. The shadows were descending to a degree that it probably should have been a little more obvious what was happening.
It was almost like nobody wanted to admit on television that rain was the cause, even though there have been a couple of instances where rain has caused a series of wrecks in the past. Examples of this phenomenon include the start of The Winston in 2001 and the end of the TranSouth 400 at Darlington Raceway in 1999.
Weather-wise, the rain was never far away during the event. Until the final stage, it rarely merited a mention, though. It was only then you started hearing about the potential for precipitation. I don’t know if that was the right approach to take for NBC Sports due to the fact the weather can change in a hurry in Volusia County.
Lightning will always be an issue in central Florida during the summer as well. Thundershowers were hanging out over the Pine Barrens west of the track most of the day, which I find to be a regular occurrence. In addition, a rain shower was hanging out at the beach, enjoying some grub at Joe’s Crab Shack on the Daytona Beach Pier.
Also, there was a shower early in the race that put some precipitation in turns 1 and 2. The rain could be seen on Justin Haley’s roof cam, sort of written off by the booth as “gee, that happened.” Given Daytona’s track record, I think I spent way more time looking at the radar than the broadcast did.
Once the rains started in earnest, they were accompanied by the dreaded lightning, causing another long red flag. Faced with continued coverage, NBC Sports set themselves up in a room inside the media center normally used for driver meetings and the odd press conference or two to do interviews.
It was an area the network had utilized already, staging there Saturday night before the race was postponed. They also replayed the early portions of the race to keep fans interested and sticking around. In order to keep the Cup race on the same channel, the IMSA race was moved to USA and aired in its entirety there.
The previous night, there was no such waiting around. NASCAR called the race off Saturday night at 8:10 p.m. ET, fairly early. Then again, it was pouring at the time with lightning in the vicinity. The argument was that NASCAR wouldn’t have been able to get the race started until something like 1 a.m. or later. Having spent a lot of long nights at Daytona in the past, I understand that.
However, moving the race created a TV nightmare.
This scenario is where you really wish NBCUniversal hadn’t killed NBCSN at the end of last year. If it were 2021, the race likely would have aired on that channel. Instead, NBC Sports had coverage of the PGA Tour’s Tour Championship, Premier League soccer, the Vuelta a Espana and IMSA from VIR on tap.
They chose to make the ninth stage of the Vuelta a Peacock exclusive for the day and moved the Cup race to CNBC. Even though CNBC is a basic cable channel and has been, more or less, since it launched in 1989, it’s still a substantial drop down in visibility. The move seems so weird knowing how NBC Sports views this race as one of the biggest they cover each year.
Unlike previous years when this race was postponed, NASCAR decided to start the race at 10 a.m. ET, a throwback in and of itself in that the summer Daytona race started at 10 a.m. through 1990 (it’s one of the reasons why the race was one of the last Cup races to get a live broadcast). In 2014, when I was in Daytona to cover this race for Frontstretch, they chose to start at noon and ran into instant rain issues.
Back on Saturday night, NBC had nearly three hours to kill after the race was postponed. They spent that time watching parts of two older races, the 2001 Pepsi 400 and the 2015 Coke Zero Sugar 400. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton watched the events and gave their own feedback on what they were seeing.
Honestly, the idea of something like that is a good one. NBC Sports has toyed with this idea a couple of times in the past during rain delays. If NASCAR had launched its own network, or an over-the-top streaming service, such a show could air on there down the road. It’s always intriguing to look back at things and be able to add additional context to what you’re seeing, especially one of the most famous races Earnhardt himself ever won.
The choice of races themselves were interesting for multiple reasons. For NBC Sports, the 2015 Coke Zero Sugar 400 was its first race in the current TV deal. It was a big deal for them. You probably remember the commercial put out to advertise NASCAR’s return to the network after more than eight years.
It also gave Burton a chance to look back at how he’s changed as an analyst over the past seven years. I would say that he’s more assertive in the booth today. That just comes with experience.
Burton also admitted that when the big crash happened at the finish, both he and Steve Letarte froze up in what amounted to shock. They let Rick Allen take care of it. Admittedly, I don’t blame them for that. It was legitimately frightening. Burton admitted on-air back then that he was scared.
I don’t have an edition of Couch Potato Tuesday to look at from that weekend, but I have a good excuse. I was there for Frontstretch and didn’t get out of the track until 5:30 a.m. ET. I did write about some of the emotions triggered by the aftermath of Austin Dillon’s wreck.
Earnhardt Jr. talked at length about how much he hated saving fuel at the time since it was just becoming a constant thing by that point. He also expressed surprise about how Rick Allen had been on play-by-play for more than 10 years before coming to NBC. That was actually a rehash of a conversation from Friday night’s broadcast when they made note of Craftsman returning as title sponsor of the now-Camping World Truck Series in 2023.
A lot of viewers don’t realize that 2022 is Allen’s 20th year on play-by-play for NASCAR races. When SPEED acquired rights to air Truck races, starting in 2003, it hired Allen to serve as the play-by-play commentator alongside the then-relatively new Phil Parsons.
I also came away from last weekend in awe of Earnhardt’s ability to communicate everything that goes on in the draft. Granted, he is likely one of the best two or three superspeedway racers of the last 25 years, but he can explain superspeedway racing techniques better than anyone else.
There’s a reason why so many people blow up Earnhardt’s cell phone in the weeks leading up to a Daytona or Talladega Superspeedway race. Earnhardt’s dad, Dale Earnhardt Sr., was also exquisite at both venues, but never really got to the point where he could (or would) explain how he was so good.
A lot of that is because Earnhardt Sr. died before he could get to the point of retiring, so he didn’t want to give anything away. What we do know is that Dale Sr. wasn’t a fan of restrictor plate racing. He thought it was unnecessarily dangerous. The whole idea of him being able to “see the air” worked for him, though.
The funny part about that is it wasn’t a real thing. What the Intimidator likely had instead was a seat-of-the-pants understanding of how the air worked around his Chevrolet that was better than his peers. Having the open-faced helmet probably played a role as well since he could feel how air hit his face.
What Dale Jr. does, building on the Earnhardt mystique, is explain in simple terms how individual actions can affect the whole pack scenario. It’s something that viewers can easily understand. Believe me, Dale Jr. can be as insider-y as he wants, but he’s made a conscious decision here to be more inclusive.
Since Sunday’s race was the final one of the regular season, you’d expect a lot of cutoff coverage. However, there wasn’t all that much. Had Kurt Busch not withdrawn his waiver earlier in the week, things would have been way different.
As it stands, you would get updates every now and then, but it didn’t take over the flow of the race broadcast, like you’ll probably see at Bristol Motor Speedway in three weeks. It really picked up after the Big One since both Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. were still in the race after that mess and Dillon was in position to knock one of them out.
The final couple of laps were a little difficult. Effectively, a bad directorial decision meant the broadcast missed the pass for the win, which occurred when Austin Dillon got a run, bopped Austin Cindric in the hindquarters and nearly wrecked him entering turn 1. That brought a number of other drivers into play. I would have liked to see how the finish would have played out had that not happened.
Post-race coverage was fairly brief. Viewers got interviews with Dillon, the aggrieved (Cindric) and the drivers going for the sole playoff spot on points (Blaney and Truex). There was also some post-race analysis before NBC Sports left Daytona for what turned out to be a simulcast with USA of the Michelin GT Challenge at VIR.
It was an interesting programming choice, probably unnecessary since the IMSA race had been on USA since it started and they made no move to take it off of the network. Basically, I think CNBC could have shown a little more post-race coverage. Had the big wreck not happened, they probably would have.
Overall, it was a very competitive Coke Zero Sugar 400, one of the most exciting ones that I can remember since this race was traditionally the dud of the bunch. There was a lot of action to be had and the Next Gen car’s deficiencies in regards to sucking up mean that you can’t hang back in the draft much anymore.
However, there are some things that need to be improved. The broadcast still needed to do a better job of being more inclusive in the stories covered at Daytona. It would have helped a lot to know just what the heck happened, for example, that got Ty Gibbs so many laps down. I looked up and he was being put three laps down (Gibbs ended up 13th, two laps down, but received three free passes).
That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs will begin with one of the toughest challenges of the season, the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. They’ll be joined by the Xfinity Series.
Meanwhile, the NTT IndyCar Series will be at Portland International Raceway for their penultimate race of the year. Formula 1 will be at Circuit Zandvoort in The Netherlands, where vision may not be the best on Sunday, despite good weather being forecast. TV listings can be found right here.
We will provide critiques of the Cup and Xfinity races from Darlington for next week’s edition of Couch Potato Tuesday here at Frontstretch. For the Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter, we’ll cover a late Friday night in Daytona and a couple of ARCA races, one from FOX Sports 1 and one from MAVTV.
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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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