The view from my couch

TNT Coverage of the New England 300

The NBC/TNT broadcast team provided another week of consistently good coverage. Again, the biggest complaint I have has to deal with the number and frequency of commercials during the race, although this race had decidedly fewer breaks than the Busch broadcasts on TNT so far this year. The team's strength continues to be their obvious primary agenda of keeping the viewers informed about what is going on in the pits and on the track. No one person on this broadcast team tries to take over or further personal glory during the race.

Pre-Race Show

I'm learning to expect an informative and relevant pre-race show now every week and under Bill Weber's leadership, this show was no exception. He interviewed Ryan Newman live and had a very good taped feature with several driver comments on the current hot issue of the 'Gentlemen's Agreement'. There were also some very good clips from Jerry Nadeau's press conference earlier in the weekend and it was great to see the driver back at the track and looking so well. Dave Burns had a very good demonstration of what the drivers face when trying to quickly get out of their cars with all of the current safety equipment. Benny Parsons did a feature on Trent Davis, the tire changer on Sterling Marlin's car, whose regular job is as a Deputy Sheriff in North Carolina. Bill had a very good interview with Gary Nelson, who now serves as director of the NASCAR Technical Research Center. Nelson had some interesting illustrations concerning the testing and implementation of SAFER barriers. This was excellent. There was a cute spin on Wally Dallenbach's weekly trip around the track. He and Bill did a humorous take-off on the Dale Earnhardt, Jr. commercial where he takes a news team for spin in his race car. The bit would've been even better if Wally's driving had resulted in Bill screaming his head off like the guy in the commercial.

Right before the race began, TNT showed a commercial touting the availability of tickets to this weekend's races at New Hampshire. Are the people selling commercial time on TNT so out of touch with things that they show commercials that are already outdated? I noticed the same thing happened during the Pepsi 400 weekend and afterward. Or is the network so desperate for the income that they are running such untimely commercials? Either way, it was really silly to waste the viewers' time on these commercials (especially when the NH ticket commercial ran again later in the race.)

During the starting grid, TNT added the crew chief's names this week and I found this very interesting. Now, if the commentators could just restrain themselves from talking to drivers on the radio during the rundown, I'd be happy. I guess I'd like to try to concentrate on one thing at a time and since neither Fox nor NBC seem to want to read the entire field, it would just be nice to have the time to read it myself without so much other input at the same time.

The Race

Not too long after the start of the race, pole sitter, Matt Kenseth, went high on the track and lost several positions. Marty Snider reported that Kenseth explained to his crew that this was the result of his car chattering.

When the first caution came out because of John Andretti's wreck, TNT gave us a replay that showed he'd been hit by Jimmy Spencer before going to their first commercial. When they returned, Allen Bestwick told the viewers that none of the leaders pitted during this caution. His choice of words had me wondering if any of the cars in the back of the pack had pitted or not. If there is anything missing from the NBC/TNT broadcasts, it's that I still see very little coverage of the cars in the back of the pack. As always, I think the TV networks need to remember that every driver out there has fans who would like to hear about their favorite driver at least once and a while.

During the caution, Bill told us about a problem Bobby Labonte was having with a carbon monoxide filter he was testing for NASCAR. On the restart, TNT covered when Marlin went real high and slowed down, and Wally correctly identified that he had a right front tire going down. The director stayed with the 40 car as the caution came out and showed us it's speed as it decelerated because of the flat tire.

It was great to see that the producer saved the video montages from the pre-race and other race highlights for segues to commercials during cautions this week rather than green-flag racing. Please keep up the good work! I also noticed there were no bubbleheads, rather the telemetry was in the bottom right corner of the screen again this week. A few times when there was an accident, though, the car number was floating above the car. Really, when the car number is clearly visible, this becomes redundant. But I still see dramatic improvements over last year and over Fox in the lack of pointers and bubbles in general. Thanks! Just please try to avoid the on-screen ads for TNT shows, at the same time you have the telemetry on the screen.

During the second caution, Dave had an interview with Andretti so the viewers could hear his views on what happened with Spencer. Allen updated us on Marlin, saying he'd made a couple of pit stops, but was able to stay on the lead lap.

During the day, I noticed a few video glitches. This included pixelization of the signal from the track, while the TNT logo remained on the screen, so I knew the problem was with the network and not my signal. Also, there were some strange yellow lines on the pit road once, which might have been some sort of bleedover from the Pit Out line. Lastly, the picture went entirely away one time, but thankfully for only a few seconds, while the sound stayed on.

TNT continued with several of their wonderful 'Through the Field' segments this week, with the first one coming on lap 47. This time they went as far back as 20th place. The pit reporters got a tiny bit confused when Johnny Benson was passed during this time, but the team quickly explained their mistake. Someone had an interesting tidbit about Ricky Rudd passing a message through his spotter to Terry Labonte. This concerned water spitting out of his car and Terry turned on his fans and the problem stopped. I counted at least three field rundowns during the day, which was great.

At this time, we got the first of several commercials for NASCAR on TNT. These really bothered me a lot. Why do the viewers need to see 30 second promotions for what they are already watching? Again, these are a waste of green-flag racing time and I can't believe the network actually profits from these kind of commercials. When TNT returned, the field was under caution because of Marlin having another tire problem, and this time hitting the wall. As always, each pit reporter had interesting tidbits on several of the cars pitting, particularly the fact that Earnhardt was experiencing a vibrating brake pedal. By the way, I was really impressed that TNT did not provide extended coverage of Earnhardt today since he neither led a lap nor was he running near the front of the field for most of the day.

On this first round of pit stops and throughout the day, again, the TNT crew did an outstanding job of keeping the viewers informed on who took two, four or no tires. During these pit stops, there was also a good replay of the 48/24/15 race at the line while leaving the pits. Allen told us that Spencer had initially stayed on the track to lead a lap, but just before the restart, he followed up by telling us he eventually came in to pit, so Kevin Harvick was leading at the restart.

At lap 76, Allen also pointed out that because Harvick had taken only two tires while Johnson, who quickly started racing him for the lead, had taken four tires. After Johnson took the lead, TNT made excellent use of on-board telemetry to compare Johnson's lap speeds to Mark Martin, who was running in 21st position, and later to Rusty Wallace who had taken only two tires.

At lap 93, Allen told us that 36 cars were still on the lead lap. At lap 101, TNT broke from commercial early because of a caution for debris on the track. The director quickly got a shot of the debris and Benny circled it on the telestrator. The producer next queued up the radio from the leader so that we could hear he and his crew chief's discussion on pit strategy.

During this caution, TNT showed a replay of Earnhardt hitting Kenseth's tire carrier on pit road, but it appeared the man was uninjured since he was able to continue with the stop. Benny pointed out that since they were not using inner liners this week that the tire was easier to maneuver because it weighed 30 pounds less.

There was a replay of Earnhardt hitting Rusty Wallace to bring out the next caution and timely radio comments from Rusty. The producer next showed a replay of Greg Biffle showing his displeasure towards Gordon for not letting him get his lap back. The producer was on his toes again, keying the radio when Mike Wallace got wrecked. I noticed there was never any interview with Wallace afterwards though.

Later, they were showing Rusty Wallace and Earnhardt racing in an inset and I thought I saw smoke, but the announcers never addressed it. My husband figured it was Wallace showing his displeasure about being wrecked earlier by rubbing Earnhardt's car.

During the middle portions of the race, the commercials seemed to increase significantly. I noted that we only got to see a few laps of racing after one commercial before TNT left again around 3:45 p.m. Also, the producer showed the inevitable Virtual Garage during green-flag racing this week. As they went to it, we heard Wally alerting us that "someone is smoking." When they returned to the race, we saw that it was Jeremy Mayfield who had a flat tire. TNT then showed us a replay of him getting together with Todd Bodine. In this instance, it seemed that the viewers would've been better served to delay the Virtual Garage in favor of the action on the track.

At lap 136, Allen told us that Andretti was out of the garage and back on the track, but that Mike Wallace had retired his car for the day. At lap 144, Benny speculated that Kenseth's team had probably changed their left side tires for the last time for the race, but that Gordon and Johnson still needed to come in for a four tire change at some point.

Just prior to the next restart, we got to see Allen's high school yearbook, with someone else in the booth telling us this was his "hometown." Everything I've read says Bestwick is from Rhode Island, but I guess that's close enough for TV, so they could have a nice human interest story.

When Kenny Wallace hit Jeff Burton, we got to hear some good radio comments from Wallace, where he said he had blown a tire. There were also several very good replays of the wreck. On the restart on lap 158, the ticker was apparently showing MPH from the last caution lap, with the speeds shown in the 50s. Whoever chose to display this information wasn't on their toes. I think most race fans would agree with me that there's nothing thrilling about seeing the entire field's speed during caution, especially since they were back up to full speed by this point.

TNT had excellent replays of Tony Stewart hitting Rusty Wallace and knocking his bumper cover off, as well as the retaliation from Wallace afterwards.

They missed Jamie McMurray's frightening crash because they were in commercial. Allen explained that they cannot break away from local commercials because they are controlled by the cable or satellite providers. We were told we'd see replays of what happened to McMurray after pit stops were completed, yet someone decided a replay of Stewart's problems on pit road was more important. I think this was a bad choice, as it could've waited until the viewers saw what brought out the caution. After this, Bill had a timely feature with more illustrations from Gary Nelson concerning the escape hatches on which NASCAR is currently working. This was very appropriate after McMurray's car ended up driver's side against the wall and it took the safety crew a long time to get him out.

TNT had excellent coverage of the fuel spill that happened in Terry Labonte's pits and brought out another caution. Around lap 215, Allen told us who they thought could make it on fuel from there and later who came in to top off just before the restart. They came back from commercial and showed us a replay of Stewart knocking Casey Mears up the track. The pit reporters talked to the crew chiefs on the 12, 88, and 48 cars about whether they could make it the rest of the way on fuel just before the lap 240 restart. Allen told us that the 24 was starting in 28th position and the 18 in 23rd since they had to come in one last time for fuel. TNT missed the 48 passing the 12 for the lead, which, I believe, turned out to be the pass for the win. The announcers and pit reporters were right on top of things at the end of the race, telling us which cars ran out of fuel in the last couple of laps.

After the checkered flag and Johnson's burnouts, TNT went to commercial. They came back for just a second and we saw that Johnson was in Victory Lane, but still inside his car. The producer made a very bad decision at this point and went away to yet another commercial. This forced the winner of the race to remain in his car so we could have the obviously staged exit when the network got back from commercial. During Johnson's interview and others, TNT ran the finishing order and the points standings along the bottom of the screen. Again, I find it very had to listen to what is being said and follow these kind of statistics at the same time; and I want to know these kinds of things. Thankfully, TNT did show a full-page graphic of the points standings before quickly signing off from the broadcast. It seems the powers that be at TNT only allowed until 5:30 for the race and it had already exceeded that timeframe. Someone needs to tell these folks that races are unpredictable and they ought to allow a bit more time.

Overall another great broadcast for the NBC/TNT team, with just a few minor glitches. Otherwise, the broadcast and production team continue to provide a tremendous amount of interesting information and updates to the viewers throughout the day.

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