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The Ford 400 from Homestead

NBC definitely went out on a pretty good note with their last broadcast of the year. The broadcast was commercial-free for the last 62 laps of the race. In fact for one hour and six minutes of the broadcast, NBC stayed live at the track and included many post-race interviews. My only complaint about the broadcast was too much emphasis on the championship battle, especially in the waning laps, at the expense of showing us the race itself.

Pre-Race

The pre-race show had the usual mixture of live interviews and features. It started off with a montage feature on Tony Stewart set to rap music. Iím not sure what the point of the music was and the unknown narrator. There was also a big deal made out of Benny Parson smashing the Golden Benny trophy. I guess NBC decided that feature was not exactly a smashing success, but I applaud them for getting rid of it. Dave Burns talked about the tight battle for third in the points and the accompanying big differences in the money pay out for those positions.

Bill Weber had a season-ending feature listing the five things he would like to see NASCAR do to improve the racing in 2003. The items kind of overlapped a little, but seemed to be 1) aeropush, 2) a consistent policy about ending the race under caution or red flagging it, 3) problems with restrictorplates, 4) the costs of sponsorship, and 5) having a driver panel to give the competitors a voice with NASCAR. These are all excellent suggestions that I believe mirror the issues with which many fans are concerned as well.

Bill also had a feature and interviews that explored how Stewart will be as the NASCAR Champion, including comments from Richard Petty about the responsibility to be a good ambassador for the sport. There was taped comments from Stewart about how he is not running for political office. Bill concluded this segment by saying "People will forget how you won the championship, but will remember how you held it." I thought this was a great observation.

Weber closed out the pre-race show by thanking the production crew and his researchers, which was very classy.

Allen Bestwick told us that Ryan Newman had to start at the back of the field because of an engine change and that Geoffrey Bodine would be driving the 26 car because his brother, Todd, was having some back problems.

The Race

Right before the race started, NBC played some scanner bites from Mark Martinís team, where his crew chief thanked the team for the good season. NBC continued to play interesting communications between Mark and his team concerning his car throughout the day.

Benny pointed out that the Homestead track had almost no banking, and Wally Dallenbach said that it was always slippery, even without the rain that had earlier in the day.

NBC had a graphic on the scenarios between Martin and Stewart in the championship chase, where one had to finish for the other to win. This was updated throughout the day; unfortunately, I felt it was overused a bit.

There was a quick replay of Dave Blaneyís lap 3 accident and then NBC went to commercial. Dave Burns had an interview with Blaney after the race restarted.

Wally or Benny noticed immediately that Jamie McMurray had passed some cars illegally on the restart. Allen was monitoring race control and told us when McMurray was blackflagged and called into the pits.

Allen also relayed what Mike Helton said in the driversí meeting; specifically that anyone who was tempted to manipulate the outcome of the championship on the track would be parked during the race.

NBC followed the story when Dale Jarrett came in for an unscheduled pit stop because he throught the had a tire going down and Wally told us that he lost a lap in the pits. Bill later reported that a loose lug nut made Jarrett think he had a tire going down.

As they broke for commercial while Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was leading the race, Allen gave the viewers an update on who got lapped early because he was setting such a fast pace. When they returned from commercial, they updated us on Joe Nemechek closing in on Earnhardt while they were away.

Throughout the early part of the race, NBC seemed to be making a effort to show racing throughout the lead lap cars and not just focusing on the championship contenders. Unfortunately, as the day went on, their focused changed.

After the first round of green flag pit stops, Matt Yocum showed how Martinís tire was worn down to the cords. Allen explained that because Earnhardt had pitted earlier than Nemechek, heís had the advantage of fresh tires and gained a lot of ground on him on the track.

When the race was slowed because of debris on the track, NBC was quick to show us what caused the caution. This is a great improvement over the last few races. NBC stayed with the broadcast to show us pit stops among the lead lap cars. When they returned from commercial, they showed us replays of some mishaps during the pit stops by the lap down cars. This included a fire in Bobby Labonteís pit where a crew member was injured. Dave gave us an update on his condition later in the show.

On the restart, there was a bottleneck and several cars got together. NBC was quick to show us a replay of how this occurred. They also played some radio exchanges between Jeff Green and his crew when he thought he had a flat tire.

The next caution was brought out by Michael Waltripís wreck and, as usual, NBC had some excellent replays of how it happened. Dave also had an interview with very unhappy Waltrip.

There were excellent replays and in-car communications when Rusty Wallace had some problems. There were also some excellent replays of Jeff Gordon and Wallace bashing each other a few times.

Bill reported when some problems developed on Earnhardtís car and relayed some comments he made to his crew about the carís engine. Someone in the booth reported Earnhardt asking his team to get him a pepperoni pizza and then Bill made some comments about this being a "code" between he and his team. Wally and the guys in the booth seemed skeptical and so was I. Perhaps if his car had been running better at the time, it might have made more sense.

There was a "Through the Field" segment around lap 127, complete with the useless bubbles. As has become the custom, the pit reporters covered the top 10 cars, Allen gave us an update concerning the leaders, and then the rundown continued. The crew covered all 24 cars on the lead lap and Johnny Benson, who had just lost a lap for the second time.

During the next round of green flag stops, NBC was quick to show us a replay of Mike Skinner running into Jeff Gordon on pit road. Allen gave the viewers a rundown of the top five after the stops. This was excellent because the ticker seemed to be stuck on the rundown before pit stops were completed.

Bill explained that since Bobby Labonte was running so poorly that he was testing tire pressure set-ups for his teammate Stewart.

Unfortunately, each commercial featured a lead-in which including rap music, highlights or videos of fans singing to the songs. One time, when Jarrett had just passed for second place and was closing in on the lead, NBC wasted time on one of these montages, instead of staying with the on-track action. Yet on the next commercial which came during a caution, there was no music video lead-in. I donít understand why the producer chooses to waste time on this kind of thing during green flag racing, instead of during cautions.

Matt explained when Jimmy Spencer fell from second place to sixth that he thought he had a tire going down. This proved to be true when Spencer had a frightening crash a few laps later. NBC stayed with the crash until Jimmy was safety out of his car; then showed us several replays.

Allen pointed out that a few cars were stopping to top off with fuel right before they went back to green. Matt reported that the engine builder on Nemecheckís car (who was leading the race at the time) said he could not make it until the end without another pit stop for fuel. Marty Snider told the viewers that Jeff Burtonís crew chief thought they could make it without stopping again for fuel.

Wally and Benny pointing out that the jet dryers were taking some extra time after the Spencer wreck to blow the rubber and debris building up off of turn four.

On the last commercial during the race itself, NBC missed the restart. I guess I can excuse this since this was the last commercial we saw for well over an hour. I had to wonder if Home Depot paid a huge sum to bring us this commercial-free segment, because they had a very long commercial at the end of the race.

During the next caution, caused by Matt Kenseth blowing an engine, Allen told us which teams took two or four tires and that Ryan Newman did not pit at all. Wally reported that Jimmie Johnsonís team took fuel only and later Matt interviewed his crew chief, who explained that not taking any tires was Johnsonís decision. Bill explained that Jarrettís team had a problem with their jack on their pit stop and it had dropped him from the top three to fourteenth or fifteenth.

Unfortunately after the last restart, NBC only stayed with the battle up front for a short while, even though a lot of the cars in the top five were fighting hard for position. For the remainder of the race, we were treated to watching nothing but Stewartís Home Depot car. We got to see him running alone on the track around twentieth position alternating with in-car camera shots from his car. Occasionally, NBC would switch to a shot of other point contender, Martinís car, running alone on the track, or some useless in-car shots from his car. All the while, there was were cars up front racing for the win. At one point Allen explained "While weíre keeping our eyes on the championship contenders, Busch is still stalking Newman for the lead." To me, showing nothing but Stewart and Martin was a little more than "keeping an eye on them," especially when there is racing going on up front. They finally showed us when Busch passed Newman for the lead, but then went back to their own agenda. In the end It seemed like NBC concentrated exclusively on Stewart, with some three-wide racing among Gordon, Martin, and Newman only being shown in picture-in-picture. Martin actually gained four positions during this time and NBC was still only showing us Stewart. We only got to see the race winner when he was coming out of turn four on the last lap. We were told that Nemechek finished second, but never got to see him. I was also completely surprised to see that Bill Elliott finished seventh and Bobby Hamilton tenth, and only in the field rundown at the end of the broadcast. Obviously, a lot of positions changed hands in the last segment of the race, but the fans at home didnít get to see the racing.

After the checked flag, we got to see some more of Stewart doing a victory lap, then an interview with second place in the points, Martin, and Stewartís car owner. Finally, the race winner, Kurt Busch, was interviewed quickly by Matt. Then Dave talked to Gordon and Bill handled the rest of the championship celebration with Stewart and the Home Depot team. Is it me or did Home Depot get a whole lot of sponsor exposure from the commercial-free hour of racing? Okay, I guess Iím just skeptical.

NBC showed us the final race results and the points rundown, then more of Stewartís celebration before Allen quickly signed off. This surprised me, but I did like the low-key way NBC signed off again until next July. It showed a lot of class.

Iíll have a season-ending comparison of two networks against each other in a week or two. Right now, I think Iím gonna rest up from a long 36-race season! But stay tuned; theyíll be a lot more coming up on this site during the off-season.

You can send me email at cheryl@speedcouch.com.

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