The view from my couch

NBC Coverage of the Bass Pro Shops 500
by Cheryl Lauer
October 28, 2003

I'm sorry my review is so late this week, but with the race being delayed a day and it being a very eventful race, it took a while to get the review written. Also for those of us who work full-time, watching this race had to be a delayed pleasure on Monday night. Thank goodness for Tivo! But I have to say the wait well was worth it as the viewers were rewarded with both an excellent race and a very good TV broadcast of it. NBC did a commendable job of covering the aborted attempt to run the race on Sunday. On Monday, the race was moved to their cable partner, TNT.

Sunday's Pre-Race Show

The show started out with a fond reminder that Atlanta hosted the last race of the season for 14 years. This was accompanied by clips from many of the Winston Cup Champions celebrating their championships at Atlanta during that time I really enjoyed this bit of nostalgia, narrated by Bill Weber. The other notable feature of the show involved Dave Burns demonstrating the changes NASCAR made this week to their rule involving giving a lap back to someone under the yellow. To be honest, I'm already really tired of hearing the term "Lucky Dog" overused by the NBC team; however, I had to admire whoever thought up using a real dog to help Dave illustrate the changes to the rule. While my husband was watching Dave and the dog's antics with the sound down in the kitchen, yelling "What is he doing?", this feature brought a smile to my usually cynical face.

Sunday's Portion of The Race and the Rain Delay

The NBC team was right on top of things and pointed out that Casey Mears was being penalized for passing on the wrong side at the start of the race. They also were quick to note when Dale Jarrett fell off the pace on lap 3 and Matt Yocum reported that Shawn Parker was bringing him in to pit for two tires. Before that could happen, Allen Bestwick told us that the caution was out because Jarrett's car had shed the outer tire onto the track. NBC followed this up with replays of Mears' jumping to the outside at the start of the race and Jarrett losing his tire. After a commercial, Allen informed us that Jarrett had stayed on the lead lap despite his pit stop.

Bill reported that Brian Vickers was having trouble on the start and restart of the race because his car was not geared the same as his Busch car had been on Saturday. Soon after the restart, I noticed Vickers listed as last on the ticker, and eventually it showed him off the track. Finally at lap 31, we were told that he was off the track. Marty Snider interviewed the young driver who said that a stack-up in front of him on the restart had caused him to run into the back of Bill Elliott and debris from the 9 car had gone through his radiator.

Not too soon after this, Allen reported that there was chatter on the NASCAR channel concerning raindrops on the track, and then that the caution was out for rain. During this time, NBC showed a replay of how Vickers' damage occurred. During pit stops, Marty reported that Tony Raines had been hit by Kurt Busch while attempting to enter his pits and pushed past his pit. NBC quickly showed replays of this and another incident involving the 17 and 77 cars in the pits. After this, the NBC crew had an interesting discussion about how tighter pit road was at Atlanta.

For about the next two hours, the NBC pit reporters did an outstanding job interviewing a lot of drivers and entertaining the viewers, without resorting to silly antics like toilet-papering drivers' motorhomes. I always enjoy the more relaxed and candid interviews that drivers provide during rain delays. Marty Snider had two of the best and funniest interviews with his rapid-fire questions with Elliott Sadler and Jeff Burton. There were also interviews in motorcoaches with Michael Waltrip and Tony Stewart, with Stewart showing some humor in chiding the booth announcers about the color of their attire for the race. We also got to see a feature that was probably meant for the pre-race show where Dave Burns accompanied Jimmy Johnson driving a cab around New York City. This was really funny, but I didn't really understand why actor, Jack Black, was included. I guess there is some tie-in to NBC or something.

As I said earlier, NBC stuck around a long time, waiting out the rain from just after 1:00 until almost 6 p.m. When they started showing Talladega race from last month, I switched over to the Baltimore Ravens game, with NBC in the picture-in-picture. The broadcast team came back with live pictures from the track from time to time to keep us informed of the weather and track-drying progress. After Talladega, they showed us the Brickyard 400 from August as well. As usual, I don't know why NBC chooses to show races that recently run over showing us last year's race from the current track. Something I have not just seen would hold my attention a lot more and I'm pretty sure I would have stayed with NBC, rather than switching to CBS for the next few hours. When it became clear the rain was not going to abate by 6 p.m., NASCAR decided to reschedule the race to Monday. I realize that the drivers and fans had been waiting out the delay for almost five hours by this time, but I couldn't help but feel the local news at 6 p.m. was a higher priority with NBC executives. After all the talk by drivers and the broadcast team that the Atlanta track had lights, I was surprised that more of effort was not made to run the race into the night. But then, I wasn't there, so I don't know when and if the rain ever cleared out.

Monday's Broadcast

As soon as TNT came on the air Monday, the pit reporters provided some good stories and updates on several of the cars, including the repairs made to the fender of Kurt Busch's car. Allen told us that Benny Parsons was not with them that day because he went home to be with his ill father. Allen also asked Wally Dallenbach what it was like for the drivers to come back and continue a race on Monday. Wally explained that in a lot of ways it was better because there were not so many people in the garage and things were a bit calmer.

When the race resumed, there was a major incident on the first lap involving several cars. TNT caught the tailend of the wreck which started when Michael Waltrip got into Todd Bodine and sent him into the wall. TNT had numerous replays of the accident and the other cars that were involved in the aftermath. Allen told us that Todd was treated and released from the in-field care center, and later Marty interviewed Todd.

After the restart, TNT showed the viewers a lot of racing throughout the pack, as they did all day long. This was great! Early on, we got to see some great mid-pack racing between Schrader, Mears, Kenseth, Jarrett and Busch. They also showed Gordon passing Harvick for third place and Mayfield passing Earnhardt for sixth place. The only downside was that with the move of the race to TNT, it appeared to be a few more commercials than we might have seen on NBC. Also, TV reverted to their old habit of showing everyone an explantation of tight and loose during green flag racing, which in reality, was just another commercial for Home Depot. Fortunately, the broadcast team seemed to catch all the incidents throughout the day and I don't believe any restarts were missed. This was a major accomplishment with such an action-packed race.

All day long, TNT kept the viewers informed of where points leader, Kenseth, was running. Many times, they also showed the changing points differential between Kenseth and second place, Harvick. This was quite interesting as the difference fluctuated between 95 points when Harvick was up front and Kenseth buried in the pack and returned to 200+ points when the positions were reversed.

The pit reporters of Snider, Yocum, Weber, and Burns really outdid themselves this week keeping the viewers informed of problems with cars and covering pitstops. Bestwick continued his excellent practice of keeping us up-to-day on who pitted, their tire and fuel strategies, and how many cars were on the lead lap at various times during the day. The caution that came out when Ricky Rudd spun into the grass presented a real challenge for the teams, NASCAR, and the broadcast team. Allen, Wally, and the pit reporters did a superb job informing us on what was happening during this caution. This included showing various replays of the leader at the time, Busch, as well as Jimmy Spencer, Jeff Gordon, and others who were racing around him at the time. I thought TNT responded very well to a constantly changing situation where NASCAR confused many teams with their calls. TNT showed Busch's crew chief, Jimmy Fennig, arguing with NASCAR officials because of their penalty and later had an interview with him. They also told us that Gordon's team had not been allowed to fuel their car during their initial pit stop and showed us Spencer's crew chief, Tommy Baldwin, arguing because of confusion on NASCAR's part as to who was actually the recipient of the free pass around the leader. When NASCAR finally sorted out the field and restarted the race, Allen told us that there were 32 cars on the lead lap, but that seven of them were ahead of the leader, Earnhardt, on the outside, with another group of tailend of the lead lap cars lined up on the inside of that group. I really appreciated this information, as I would have assumed those starting on the inside were not on the lead lap. On the restart, TNT used the floating number to point out where the leader, Earnhardt, was on the track, which was good at first. Unfortunately, they kept the floating number above his car for a while when the viewers could clearly see his number This seemed a bit unnecessary and distracting with so much else going on.

After things settled down a bit and Tony Stewart took the lead, he began lapping many of the cars that had been on the tailend of the lead lap. I was a bit disappointed that TNT totally ignored the fact that pole sitter, Ryan Newman, was among the cars that got lapped. Sometimes it seems like if a driver, no matter how successful, is not leading, TV ignores them. Yet on the other hand, they constantly follow the points leader or other popular drivers no matter how badly they are running.

TNT did their first Through the Field segment at lap 137, with the pit reporters easily keeping up with passes among the cars they were covering. They went as far back as 14th position at this time. Allen told us that Stewart had a 4 second lead on the second place car as they went to commercial on lap 143.

At lap 152, Allen reported that NASCAR had just called for a caution because of debris on the track. TNT immediately showed the debris for the viewers. I really appreciate that Allen monitors NASCAR race control so he can quickly inform the viewers of what is happening. During this caution, we were also told that Spencer was the recipient of the free pass back to the lead lap and that Johnson had managed to stay in front of the leader and earn his lap back. TNT also finally told that Newman had been lapped during the last segment of the race. Allen mentioned a cute sign he had seen a lady in the grandstands holding which read, "TNT: Today NASCAR, Tomorrow Work." This was cute.

The TNT announcers spotted some smoke from Steve Park's car long before he cut a tire down and hit the wall. When Newman became the recipient of the free pass, TNT followed his pitstops closely, with Dave reporting that the 12 team came in twice to make wedge adjustments to both sides of the car, but that Newman was not allowed to top off the fuel each time. This was a nice follow-up to Dave's feature on the rules change from the pre-race show on Sunday.

During the next caution, Dave again reported on Newman's pitstops and how he felt a vibration after changing tires, so came back in and got another set of tires before the green flag waved. Bill mentioned that Jeff Gordon had reported a fuel stumble when shifting to high on restarts and advised us to watch the 24 car as they went back to green. Providing this kind of heads-up information is where the NBC/TNT crew really excels.

TNT was quick to report when Mark Martin's car blew up and when Michael Waltrip blew his engine and laid down oil collecting Ricky Craven. There were also replays of the Waltrip incident. During this caution TNT showed a replay of the last restart and Wally pointed out that it appeared that Stewart brake-checked the field and Gordon got into the back of him on the restart. I noticed this when it happened and appreciated the replay and explanation. Marty interviewed Waltrip and Craven after there mishaps. I was disappointed that we did not hear about Terry Labonte being behind the wall for seven laps repairing his radiator until he returned to the track. Again, it seems like certain drivers get lost in the shuffle sometimes and this is a shame.

At the lap 179 restart, Allen told us that Robby Gordon got the free pass this time and there were now 20 cars on the lead lap. I really appreciate the constant updates on how many cars are running on the lead lap. Other interesting information provided during this green flag segment was that Bobby Labonte was 1.8 seconds behind the leader, Stewart; that Earnhardt had moved up to eighth position after pitting and falling to 14th; and that Kenseth was in 15th position. TNT also caught the 24 passing the 18 for second.

TNT started another Through the Field at lap 199, but it was interrupted by Dave Blaney's accident. TNT quickly reported that Harvick's car had been clipped during the incident as well and followed up on repairs to the 29 car. Matt reported that the previous leader, Stewart, had a lugnut fall off his tire during pitstops and had been slow to get out of the pits.

After the restart, TNT showed an excellent battle between Rusty Wallace, Ward Burton, and Johnson, where they were racing three-wide to be the first car a lap down. There were some in-car shots from Joe Nemechek's Army car and Allen told us how Joe's mother had found his old G.I. Joe and put it in his car this week to celebrate his move to the 01 car. He also reminded us that Joe had finished second in this race last year. Around lap 225, there was some excellent coverage of the 17, 49, 10 and others racing three-wide.

During the next caution, Matt again reported on a bad pit stop for Stewart because of jammed lugnut. Allen followed this up by telling us that Stewart came out of the pits in 16th position. After the restart, TNT showed us the battles up front between the 8 and 18 and 24 and 48 cars. They also updated us on the 20 car working his way back up through the field. Marty had an interview with Steve Park after his wreck and told us that Steve had some soreness around his ribs. TNT had one final Through the Field segment at lap 255, featuring the 22 cars on the lead lap. Wally pointed out that Harvick was close to going a lap down at this point as well because his handling had gone away because of his earlier damage.

At lap 265, TNT showed the speeds at the line and we saw that Stewart was the fastest car on the track. TNT stayed with the great battle between the 24 and the 18 for the lead for many laps and Wally pointed out how each was varying his line to get an advantage. After Labonte got passed for the lead, TNT also reported that he said the handle had done away on his car as he dropped to fourth position.

TNT had excellent coverage of the last set of pit stops and we were told that Robby Gordon received a drive-through penalty for speeding on pit road. At 26 laps to go, there was a silly Ford promotion showing the 97 car, who was running alone on the track at the time. During the last few laps, TNT did an excellent job of alternating between the battle between the 8 and 12 for 7th position and the 20 catching the 24 for the lead. Wally pointed out the Stewart was better in turns 1 and 2, but that Gordon appeared to be better in 3 and 4. Someone mentioned that Greg Biffle had brushed the wall and the camera switched to showing him running slow on the track. Unfortunately, during this time the 8 car and the 12 got together and the Newman hit the wall. Allen immediately told us that race was past the point where NASCAR would red flag it. He also reported that NASCAR was on the radio urging Newman to try and get his car off the track quickly, so they could restart the race. Unfortunately, it was damaged too badly for this to happen, so the race ended under caution. TNT showed us replays of the 8 getting into the back of the 12 car and the ensuing wreck. The producer played some radio conversations from one of the cars involved, but the announcers were talking at the same time, so it was difficult to hear whose radio it was or exactly what they were saying.

During the post-race interviews, Matt was able to get a quick comment from a disappointed Tony Stewart, but Kevin Harvick clearly didn't want to be interviewed and the pit reporter did not push it. In addition to the winner, there were also interviews with other drivers finishing in the top 10, including Johnson, Elliott, and Labonte, as well points leader, Kenseth.

As usual, the NBC/TNT crew did an excellent job covering a lot during a very eventful and exciting race. They really seem to be hitting their stride lately and it's a shame that they only have a few more races to cover before Fox returns in February.

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