The view from my couch

NBC Coverage of the Tropicana 400

Again this week, NBC had a very good broadcast. The only thing marring it was the frequency of commercials during the race. I apologize for being so terribly late with my review this week. After returning from a 7-day vacation, it was hard to get back into the swing of things. I had to tape part of the race and it took me a couple of days to get through it all and make notes.

Pre-Race Show

Bill Weber led another good pre-race show, with a lot of substance and information provided. I was surprised at the baseball tie-in at the beginning of the show though. I understand the All-Star Game was coming up in Chicago, but I've always failed to understand TV's need for cross-sport promotion, particularly in this case since the game was being televised on Fox.

Bill updated the viewers on the penalties and fines levied after the Daytona race and I appreciated this since I'd been without any racing news for the last week. He pointed out that Michael Waltrip's 25 point deduction had dropped him a position in the points. Benny Parsons used the NBC car to illustrate the intake manifold and where Waltrip's team likely made modifications to get more air to the carburetor.

Bill also talked about the hood flying off of Robby Gordon's car during the Pepsi 400. He updated viewers on the fan that was injured, saying she had been released from the hospital and was doing well. There was also a taped interview with Mike Helton where Bill asked him if the problem with the hood might affect NASCAR's decision to let damaged cars return to the track in the future. This was an excellent question.

Dave Burns covered the change in rules being instituted this week. This concerned NASCAR requiring teams to stop tossing their gas cans over the wall during pit stops. Benny and Bill aided Dave in illustrating the differences in the handling of the cans.

Benny had an interesting feature on a woman who works in the engine tear-down department at DEI. Next we had Wally Dallenbach doing his weekly drive around to show us the track. Why he had an old Chicago football player along with him was again totally lost on me.

When NBC went to the announcers in the booth, Allen Bestwick led a very good discussion about the possibility of the groove widening out at the Chicago track. Just before they went to green, the NBC pit reporters each had the kind of tidbits we've learned to expect (and enjoy) about a few of the top teams.

The Race

I can't say enough about how wonderful it is for NBC to just let the viewers enjoy the start of the race in silence. This week, they even remained silent for most of the first lap. NBC was quick to show when Mark Martin got out of the groove and slid up the track. Wally pointed out how slick it is at the top of the track and Marty Snider interviewed Martin's crew chief, Ben Leslie. He told us that Martin hadn't said anything on the radio, but Leslie thought maybe the car was loose.

After 10 laps of racing, NBC broke for their first commercial as they did last week. As they went away, Allen told us that if anything happened on the track during commercial, they would break away to cover it. I thought this was a great policy and hope that NBC keeps it up. When they returned from commercial, the race was on lap 17. I noticed the producer chose to load a lot of commercials into the early part of the race. While this was annoying at the time, we didn't seem to miss anything and appeared to get a few less commercials in the mid and later portions of the broadcast.

I also noted an almost complete absence of the silly bubbleheads this week. They were never used during the numerous 'Through the Field Segments'. Instead, NBC had the driver's picture appear next to the track graphic in the right bottom corner of the screen, along with his position and interval to the leader. This was a fantastic improvement! Only twice did NBC use the bubbleheads on the track and both times, they were gone quickly and only used to show a particular driver's speed. Please keep up the good work!

At lap 22, Benny pointed out that the leader would begin lapping the first cars in about two more laps. This was the kind of information I like to hear. I also noticed that Allen and the entire crew worked hard to keep us up to date on how many cars remained on the lead lap later in the race and the various pit strategies each team tried during pit stops. This was challenging since many teams varied between two tires, four tires, or fuel only, but the pit reporters and announcers in the booth were on top of this all day long.

At lap 23 on the ticker, NBC broke for another commercial, yet showed us a graphic of the top five drivers, which said it was lap 22. When they came back at lap 30, we first had to see a stupid duck walking across the screen and accompanying quacking for an Aflack commercial. I could have lived without this. In addition, NBC only stayed with the race for two laps before going away to commercial again at lap 32. This time, the producer wasted the viewer's time on a video montage from the pre-race show. What is it with NBC's insistence on showing stupid stuff like this during green flag racing? It adds nothing to the broadcast and frustrates the viewers to no end.

At lap 40, the pit reporters did their first 'Through the Field' summary and showed through 9th position, then broke away to show us a battle for 2nd position. They also showed us when Joe Nemechek's car broke and we got to hear some of his radio comments to his crew. Unfortunately, we didn't hear when or why Derrick Cope went behind the wall, which occurred sometime earlier. NBC picked back up with the field summary at 10th position and went back as far as 19th place. During this time, the director showed Jeff Gordon passing for position in picture in picture. Again, this was a great attempt to show more than just the leaders, while still keeping us informed on racing at the front of the field. NBC covered an unscheduled pit stop for Bill Elliott. Marty told us that he came in early because of concerns about fuel mileage, and the commentators pointed out that all of the Dodges seemed to be coming in earlier than the other car makes. While they were covering pit stops, Allen made sure and kept us posted on which cars Tony Stewart had lapped on the track and told us that 19 cars were now a lap down to the leader. He also told us that Kyle Petty had received a drive-through penalty for speeding on pit road. They also told us about Bobby Labonte's penalty for leaving pit road with a wedge wrench still attached. NBC showed a triple-split on pit stops and added an unusual feature to the expected pit times. They showed each car's position as it changed while they were on pit road. This was interesting. After the first round of pit stops were completed, NBC went back and showed a replay of how Labonte's penalty occurred and someone pointed out that having to hold on to the gas can caused someone to leave the wedge wrench in the car. This was excellent.

Another thing I noticed about this broadcast was that NBC only showed us brief in-car shots, rather than the extended (and meaningless) shots we seemed to be getting all the time during the last few races on Fox. I really enjoy in-car shots when they're not overdone, but it's much better to follow side-by-side action from the normal view outside the cars.

The director was quick to catch Larry Foyt hitting the wall and queued up the replay of how it occurred. In fact, all day long the camera work was excellent and the people in the production truck were on their toes in giving the viewers numerous and timely replays. This particularly was important during the frightening crash involving Bobby Labonte.

NBC made good use of radio conversations between drivers and their teams throughout the race. In addition, the director covered several drivers pulling up alongside someone else to express their displeasure, such as Stewart and Michael Waltrip. Also Allen telling us about Jimmy Johnson humming the Jaws theme when he was catching Jeff Gordon was humorous. The producer also played back Johnson's conversation with his crew chief at the time. I did think the pit reporters were trying to create a little controversy when interviewing Johnson and Robby Gordon's crew chiefs after Johnson raced Gordon back to the yellow flag.

NBC saved the 'Virtual Garage' until a caution period this week, so it didn't interrupt green-flag racing. I also noticed the pleasant absence of any "mid-race recaps." NBC chose to show them on the tickers from time-to-time, so again, we did not miss valuable racing coverage. My only complaint is the information on the tickers (as with Fox) is getting larger and larger and up to 3-4 lines at a time. Again, the viewable space on my TV keeps getting smaller and smaller due to this increase. I was disappointed that NBC did not follow the lead of Fox by showing the race in widescreen and I don't believe they were broadcasting in Dolby Digital either. But these are minor things I can live without if the commercials would decrease and the broadcast team sticks to the race and provides a lot of good information, as NBC has done so far.

Matt Yocum reported on the problem with the brake duct rubbing against the tire on Sterling Marlin's car. Later NBC covered when Marlin had to make an unscheduled pit stop because of a cut tire. Matt followed-up saying that the team had apparently not corrected the problem earlier and it had resulted in the tire problem.

Dave interviewed Foyt after he fell out of the race and Earnhardt after he hit the wall. He was also on-hand to get comments from Labonte and Mike Wallace after their accident. I was a little disappointed that Dave seemed to push Labonte, by asking "Tell us your emotions when you pounded the ground" Personally, I though that was a silly question as Labonte's frustration was quite obvious at the time. Right after the wreck, Wally was quick to point out that Labonte got caught on his radio cord and that's why he fell after exiting the burning car. The funniest comment of the day came [unintentionally] from Allen when he was telling us which cars were involved in the Labonte wreck. He said that "Bill Elliott is in the pits getting some crash damage." This was hilarious! I'm sure he meant he was getting some crash damage repaired, but it still gave me a good laugh.

Throughout the day, the NBC crew kept us informed about things happening on the track and in the pits. This included a replay when Stewart almost brushed the wall and Bill telling us that Rusty Wallace had missed his pits when coming in for a pit stop. Matt reported the Ryan Newman thought he had a tire going down under caution, but that he'd radioed and asked his spotter to relay a request to Jeff Burton to check out the tire. It turned out that the tire was fine. Benny told us that Rusty's team had replaced his transmission and he'd returned to the track though many laps down. Bill showed us a washer that the 12 team was using to secure the hood tethers and how NASCAR was considering adopting this item after the problem the week before. NBC also continued color-coding the ticker to show which cars had made green flag pit stops. There was an interesting graphic showing the four tracks at which Jeff Gordon had never won.

NBC had a second 'Through the Field' at lap 152 and the pit reporters covered back through 18th position, which included all of the cars on the lead lap. I'd really like to see them cover the entire field at least once during the race. I also remember that Allen told us which cars were lapped and which were on the lead lap on one restart. I enjoy this kind of information a lot.

In the waning laps of the race, the announcers made sure they told us the interval between second-place, Kevin Harvick, and leader, Newman, as well as between Stewart and the leader. Around 10 laps to go, Allen explained what NASCAR had said that morning about how late in the race they might throw a red flag if there was an accident. The director also kept the cameras focused on some good racing between Johnson and Stewart near the end. I enjoyed this rather than just seeing the leader running alone at the end of the race. Benny alerted us when Harvick ran out of gas and the director provided the radio comments between Harvick and his team at that time. As last week, NBC used a "pilon" to show us the finishing order of the cars as they crossed the line. Since the race finished early again, the pit reporters had time for post-race interviews with lots of different drivers.

As last season, the NBC crew continues to work very well together and it's quite obvious they strive hard to provide every bit of information they can to keep the viewer at home informed of what's going on with many cars during the race. No one person tries to dominate the broadcast, which is a sign of true teamwork. As usual, my only real complaint is the number of commercials during this race.

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