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Pop Secret 400 from Rockingham

This was a very competitive race, but, unfortunately, I felt a lack of continuity through the middle portion of the race because of the constant interruptions for commercials. I was dreading the return of TNT, but I had no idea that we would miss so much of the race because of commercials. Another complaint I have with the broadcast involved Allen Bestwick revealing the results of the Truck Series Race before it was televised.

Pre-Race

The show was of the expected high quality, but I just couldn’t understand why we needed an hour long pre-race show this week. I guess TNT just didn’t have any recycled movies to fill that extra half hour. Bill Weber came on the air with lots of good information on the points chase. There were live interviews with rookies, Jamie McMurray and Greg Biffle, and veteran Bill Elliott. This was followed up by a taped feature on Kurt Busch, who has won the last two races. The Golden Benny remains a silly gimmick to place Benny Parsons in the pits. And it seems this week’s recipients on the 97 team felt the same way. But it was quite humorous to see Jimmy Fennig and the rest of the crew refuse the award, saying that it seemed to jinx previous winners. Dave Burns explaining the possible points scenarios during the next three races was interesting, but the blackboard was kind of silly, The pre-race show continued to drag on with feature on the frustration suffered by drivers and problems with concentration. Bill Weber had a list of the 10 pivotal points in the 2002 race season. He had some good points, but for some reason number 10 concerned Tony Stewart’s last place finish at Daytona and so did reason number 1. Benny Parsons had a very interesting illustration on the 360 car on trailing arms, explaining how their use was started by Junior Johnson many years ago. Weber ended the pre-race show with an interesting statistic on how many drivers got there second win at Rockingham and how the two drivers on the front row for this race were going for their second win.

The Race

At the start of the race, Benny pointed out how the drivers don’t all have to dive for the low groove because of the multiple racing grooves at Rockingham.

In the early portions of the race, it seemed like TNT spent an awful lot of time covering Stewart racing in the pack. I understand he is the points leader, but there was a lot of action going on up front during this time as well. When they finally showed the leaders, I was surprised to see that Kurt Busch had moved up to second place. Fortunately for the fans, when Stewart fell off the lead lap, TNT did not focus on him so much and showed us the other fine racing among the leaders and throughout the pack.

TNT was quick to show a replay of the incident involving Bobby Hamilton and Mike Wallace, which brought out the first caution. In the ensuing pit stops, the pit reporters were quick to tell us that Stewart had contact with Ricky Rudd on pit road and may have some damage to the grill of his car. Much later, TNT showed a replay of the contact. Allen was in the middle of the segue to this highlight and quickly told us that Mark Martin was passing Jeff Green for second place. Unfortunately, TNT was in commercial when Green got back by Martin and they both passed Ryan Newman for the lead.

As I mentioned earlier, I was really upset when Allen told the viewers the results of the Craftsman Truck Race from Saturday. For someone who is suppose to be a race fan, I’d think he’d check this stuff out before spoiling the race for the viewers. Mike Joy did the same thing earlier this year on Fox. Perhaps, Allen didn’t know that ESPN would not be televising the race until Sunday evening, but there needs to be a little more cooperation between the networks on stuff like this. The fans should not have to pay the price of this lack of coordination by finding out the results of a race that they did not yet have the opportunity to see.

There were several "Through the Field" segments during this broadcast and during each the pit reporters did an excellent job of giving updates on each car. Unfortunately, the bubbles are still unnecessary and actually covered up Mike Skinner and Todd Bodine’s cars during the first rundown. On the first "Through the Field," the pit reporters covered the first ten cars and there was a short pause to update us on the leaders, then they continued all the way through twentieth place. I really appreciate when they show more than just the first ten cars. They also gave us an update on Stewart who had fallen to 33rd position by this time.

There was an excellent replay of Dale Jarrett and Greg Biffle getting together and Jarrett’s save of his car. Next, TNT immediately switched to Green passing Martin for the lead.

There was excellent coverage of all the teams during the first round of green flag pit stops and Allen also gave us a rundown of the top ten after the stops as TNT went to commercial.

Another time when TNT was breaking for commercial, they stopped to show Martin putting Stewart down a lap. Unfortunately, Allen felt the need to tell us every time the producer chose staying with the racing instead of breaking for commercial or coming back early from commercial. I honestly appreciate when the producers do this, but do they have to keep patting themselves on the back every time? It seems like the fans should be thankful that we actually got to see some racing. Perhaps that the case today, because the commercials just got worse and worse over the time frame between 2:00 until 3:30.

When they returned from one commercial, they showed a replay of some tense racing between Robby Gordon, John Andretti, and Kyle Petty when Martin was trying to lap them.

I got really tired of the booth personnel constantly telling us that Tony Stewart had never finished worse than 12th at Rockingham. What they neglected to mention was that this was during his long three year history of racing at the Rock.

Unfortunately, it seemed like the viewers saw much of the racing action during the middle portion of the race through replays. There were so many commercials that I felt like I was watching a highlight show and not a race. During the hour between 2:00 and 3:00, I counted at least 8 commercial breaks. This was ridiculous! Between two of these breaks, Allen told us about something available for fans to spend their money on at NASCAR On-Line, which was just another commercial. During this time, I have to give Wally Dallenbach credit that he tried to interject some information about what was happening on the track, but he was soon was pushed aside for another commercial. When there were three cautions after 3:00, the commercials accelerated so much so that I lost count. Other things the viewers only saw in replay included missing Busch passing Martin for the lead, with the obligatory "While you were away..." Hey, I wasn’t away, but still missed many passes for the lead all day, but, ah, I did get to see when Stewart pitted (even though he was laps down). TNT never mentioned when Dale Jarrett went a lap down or why Dale Earnhardt dropped to 37th position at one point. During the next round of green flag pit stops, there were three separate commercial breaks, each time with Allen telling us they’d be back in time to see the leader pit. Amazingly, we at least got to see that.

When NASCAR called a caution for debris, TNT never even made an attempt to explain or show whether there was actually debris.

Finally, the producer seemed to get all the commercials out of the way and the viewers got to see some of the race. Benny told us that Kurt Busch appeared to be trying to stretch his fuel. Marty told us when Jimmie Johnson made his first unscheduled pit stop because of loose lugnuts and there were brief follow-ups when he went behind the wall because of further problems. There were good replays of both Todd Bodine’s cut tire and subsequent accident and when Ward Burton had contact with Brett Bodine and hit the wall.

At the end of the race when Johnny Benson and Mark Martin were racing for the win, we got to see more extended coverage of Stewart running back in the field. I know I’ve said I don’t enjoy seeing the leader running alone on the track, but when the top three were racing close together for the win, I’d think TNT might stay with the battle.

TNT had post-race interviews with winner, Benson, and most of the top ten finishers. Oh yeah, we got a taped interview with Stewart, thankfully with his expletives deleted. I get kind of tired of the use of the word "posse," as in the way Marty Snider referred to the "Roush Possee" when interviewing Jeff Burton and Kurt Busch. I guess this is NBC/TNT’s attempt to be as hip as Fox.

Overall, it was a very disappointing broadcast and subpar for the NBC/TNT broadcast team. Not really because of anything done by the pit reporters or commentators, but because of the excessive amount of commercials that seem to be the norm on TNT and too much emphasis on the championship battle. Obviously the commercial time sells for a lot of less on this cable network than on the broadcast network of NBC, therefore, the fans an inundated with a lot more commercials. I can only be thankful that the last two races of the year are on NBC and hope that next year, the powers that be will put less races on TNT. I know I’m being overly optimistic because for some reason, NBC does not seem to understand that places like Bristol, Richmond and Rockingham provide the best racing for viewers and chose not to show them on the over the air channel.

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

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