The view from my couch
The NAPA 382 from Atlanta
The rain this past weekend in Atlanta proved to be frustrating for the drivers, fans, and a little too obviously for the TV broadcasters. Overall, NBC did their usual excellent job in dealing with another rain-challenged weekend. I only had two major complaints about the broadcast, but one of them was a doozy. For some reason, through the over six-hour broadcast, I kept getting the distinct impression that Allen Bestwick wanted the race to be rained out by the halfway point. Thankfully, the fans who sat through the over two hour rain delay and those of us faithfully watching at home got to see at least 75% of the scheduled laps before the rains came to stay.
The pre-race show was up to the usual high standards that the viewers have learned to expect from Bill Weber and the NBC crew. In addition to the live interviews with all of the points contenders, Dave Burns had an interesting demonstration about the physical effects a high-bank and fast track like Atlanta has on the drivers. He had two assistants help him in explaining exactly what the drivers mean when they talk about G-forces and how they affect the drivers.
NBC caught the tail end of John Andretti’s wreck, which brought out the first caution of the day. The producer was quick to queue up replays of how the wreck started and Allen told the viewers which teams chose to pit under the caution as NBC went to commercial. As the race was going back to green, Marty Snider told us what changes were made to Rusty Wallace’s ill-handling car during his pit stop. Unfortunately, my two weeks away from the TV broadcasts did not make me miss the bubbles which were uselessly shown to illustrate leader, Tony Stewart’s, car on the restart.
Next, Benny Parsons asked Bill to explain the vibration that Bill Elliott was feeling in his car and Matt Yocum also explained that Kurt Busch was having an intermittent electrical problem on his car.
I was surprised when NBC went to their next commercial break that the producer cut away abruptly after only two commercials to show us that the field had gone under caution because of rain. This was excellent. Next, we had full coverage of pit stops and speculation by the commentators on which teams may have taken on only two tires. Dave interviewed Andretti to get his version of what happened during his wreck.
During the resulting red flag, NBC did a very good job of filling the next two and a half hours of rain delay. There were lots of interviews with drivers and crew members, with interesting things like finding out Mark Martin’s diverse music choices and Ryan Newman telling the pit reporters that his crew was starting a poker game back in their hauler. To me, the only low points of the rain delay show were a ridiculous scene of Dave making a sandwich in the #8 team’s hauler and Marty’s prelude to an interview of Ricky Rudd and Elliott Sadler. Marty seemed to be trying to imply there was some grudge between the two drivers who are effectively trading rides next season. I found his "making amends" remark a little too over the top, and Rudd and Sadler confirmed this with their assurances there was not bad blood between them.
Matt had a very interesting interview with a #19 team member who had come up with a "cool suit" for pit crew members. Unfortunately, Allen made it clear from the time the booth personnel came on the air and throughout the entire rain delay that he did not expect (or was it hoped) the race would go beyond the halfway point. I found this particularly disheartening and bad form for someone for whom I normally have a lot of respect. All day long, it almost appeared as if Allen just wanted to have the race called so he could rush home. I doubt the fans in the grandstands were as anxious to pay $80-115 for half a race.
Sometime after 3:00, NBC gave up on live coverage and reverted to showing another taped portion of the Brickyard 400. I can appreciate the humor of Allen saying, "every time we show part of the Brickyard, the rain stops and we’re able to get back to live racing." Unfortunately, it seems like NBC could try and queue up a tape of last year’s race from the current track, rather than showing the same tired tape every time. At this point, I flipped over to the Baltimore Ravens game on CBS, and kept NBC in the picture in picture. Thankfully, NBC came back on live soon and showed that the drivers had been called back to the cars and the race was about the resume.
Once NASCAR put out the yellow flag instead of the red, the pit reporters followed stories such as Kenny Wallace’s car not being able to start without the help of a wrecker and Bill Elliott’s team’s attempts to fix the vibration in their car. There was a graphic on the Manufacturers’ points to date and the viewers were told which teams stopped to top off with fuel before the restart. During this time, Allen again disappointed me when explaining the fuel mileage strategy if teams were racing to halfway. He fell back on the tired phrase of "if you are new to NASCAR…" I can only guess this phrase is required for all races aired on NBC, as opposed to TNT, since the broadcast networks feel they need to appeal to a wider audience.
After the race restarted, I was happy to see that NBC stayed with the close racing action for 14 minutes before breaking for commercial. During this time, the viewers were treated to views of side-by-side racing throughout much of the pack. Unfortunately, during the rest of the day, I noticed that NBC seemed to choose to focus only on the leaders and Tony Stewart. While I understand that Stewart is the points leader and was making excellent progress through the field, I was very disappointed that we barely saw most of the 42 cars remaining in the race. And only then if they were being lapped by the leaders or being passed by Stewart. Both times, NBC did a "Through the Field" segment, I believe they only showed the top ten drivers. I don’t think I am alone in wishing to see deeper into the field. Sometimes showing the top ten leaves out many people’s favorite drivers. I did note; however, on the last "Through the Field" segment that Allen provided a quick rundown of who was running in positions 11-19 after the top ten were featured.
On each restart, we got to see the lovely bubbles over an already clearly visible leader. I couldn’t help but think that the bubbles might have been better used on the replays of incidents such as Jimmie Johnson’s two spins, to point out his car in a pack of traffic.
While the coverage of the on-track action might have been lacking, the pit reporters were on top of their game, as we’ve come to expect from NBC. Each green flag pit stop was covered thoroughly, with replays of the race out of the pits, and replays of teams having problems during their stops. The color-coding on the ticker continues to be an innovation introduced by NBC to show which cars have pitted and which are still on the track.
Wally Dallenbach was excellent in picking up the commentary concerning some bumping which occurred between Robby Gordon and Tony Stewart. The camera was showing them just as Stewart appeared to be about to hit Gordon, but moved away from the scene. Wally explained that Stewart got Gordon loose and the producer was quick to queue up a replay so that we could see what we had missed.
As the race passed the halfway point, Allen actually seemed disappointed that we might actually be able to get in more of the race. Alas, he got his wish when the rains came to stay after about 248 laps. My husband is not normally a conspiracy theorist, but he predicted that NBC would come back from commercial with the news that the race was called around 6:00 p.m. Unfortunately, he was correct in this case, but he was surprised to find that NBC stayed with the broadcast long enough to interview the winner, the top five finishers and even Jimmie Johnson, who had lost second place in the points. I was happy to see that NBC continued their commitment to NASCAR and did not abruptly depart from the race, even when it went well over an hour and half past their scheduled time slot.
We didn’t get to see the complete finishing order, but Allen explained the scoring computer had locked up (I sarcastically said that the NBC staff had unplugged it early in their haste to get out the door). We did get a quick graphic of the points breakdown after the race before NBC concluded their race day.
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