The view from my couch

NBC Coverage of the Checker Auto Parts 500
by Cheryl Lauer
November 4, 2003

Again, I'm late with my review this week. I'm not sure if it is the "season ending soon" blues or the the announcement about Pontiacs this past week causing my lack of enthusiasm lately. If you get a chance, check out my article on Brand Loyalty. Okay, on to the broadcast. I'll have to say NBC made a valiant effort to make a boring race at a boring track interesting. I was really surprised that the Winston Cup race at Phoenix didn't have more action since the truck race started the weekend off so well. It just seemed like the premiere division had a harder time making two grooves work on Sunday than the trucks did on Friday. I also noticed a distinct increase in focus on the "championship leaders" by NBC this week, which proved a bit disappointing to me. Otherwise, it was a pretty good broadcast.

Pre-Race Show

The lead-in had a kind of silly Halloween theme, but after that things got better. Bill Weber proved us with a lot of scenarios under which Matt Kenseth would clinch the championship and this was interesting. For those not up on the most recent news, Bill also reported on the issue of NASCAR pulling Kurt Busch's "hard card" as a result of the sanctioning body's displeasure with him after the Martinsville race. When they went to the announcers in the booth, Allen Bestwick had a nice explantation on the changes to the Phoenix track (for those who had not followed the rest of the racing there over the weekend). He also told us that the "500" in the race title was kilometers and that the length of the race would actually be 312 laps. I appreciated this bit of information as I find the practice of using kilometers to be rather misleading to the fans. I guess there's no point in complaining about the announcers talking over the introduction of the starting grid. They're obviously going to do what they want, regardless of what the fans would prefer. Perhaps though, NBC could at least give us time to read the names on each page for ourselves without hurrying through them so quickly.

The Race

As with last week, the fans got to see the Home Depot commercial illustrating "tight/loose" during green flag racing again, this time on lap 26. We got to see another such illustration later in the race as well. I'm guessing NBC feels they need to show these more often to explain the sport to the mainstream crowd they are attempting to attract to the races shown on NBC.

At lap 35, NBS started to break for commercial but the producer quickly changed plans as Allen told us that the 19 car was going up in smoke. Again, I can't commend the network enough for this practice. It somewhat makes up for showing the virtual garage during green flag racing. NBC also broke out of commercial later in the race when Ricky Craven hit the wall.

As we have come to expect, the NBC announcers and pit reporters did a superb job of covering pit stops all day long and telling us which teams changed two or four tires each time. Almost every pit stop, we were shown a replay of the race at the line leaving pit road. NBC caught the actual wreck or the tailend of every incident all day long and the producer queued up numerous replays each time, showing the wrecks from a variety of angles. The pit reporters had interviews with most every driver after he fell out of the race. When certain drivers gave up a position to pit when others stayed out, NBC was always on top of that and told us how many positions the driver lost. The pit reporters did an excellent job letting us know about different drivers and how far they thought they could go on fuel near the end of the race. They also provided informative interviews with the crew chiefs of the top few cars near the end as well. The producer also played pertinent radio comments from several of the top drivers throughout the day.

There was good coverage of some side-to-side bashing between Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. early in the race. Wally Dallenbach mentioned that the crinkled fender on the 8 car might actually help him by providing more downforce. NBC's had their first Through the Field segment at lap 82 and they broke away after the 8th place car to show us the pass for the lead. At lap 92, Marty Snider told us that Newman had reported that he was experiencing a rise in engine temperature because of some debris on his grill and it was good that Marty pointed out this increase had just occurred since they had covered Newman's car 10 laps earlier.

It wasn't until lap 108 that NBC mentioned that GM would be withdrawing Pontiac from racing after this season. I thought this information ought to have been covered in the pre-race show along with other breaking news. Yes, it's a sensitive subject with me, but it still seemed like something that should have been mentioned at the top of the broadcast.

As I mentioned earlier, it seems like each week as the season nears the end, NBC spends more and more time covering Kenseth, the points leader, as well as Harvick and Earnhardt behind him. This is fine and I understand why they are doing it, but sometimes, it seems like coverage of other drivers and incidents gets lost in there somewhere. For instance, near the end of the race, I thought Dale Jarrett was in front of Jeff Gordon on the lead lap. When I saw the final results on Monday, they showed Jarrett as finishing in 21st one lap down. Then today, I finally read on the Internet that Jarrett had cut a tire down and had an unscheduled pit stop. NBC didn't bother to cover this story at all and that's very disappointing. Jarrett was having a top-10 run and they never mentioned him or his bad luck. It seems like as the race gets near it's conclusion, NBC can only concentrate on the leader and a few other cars. What about the fans of the rest of drivers or at least the guys running in the top 10 like Jarrett was on Sunday?

When a late caution came out because of Jeff Green losing an engine, we were told about it after we came back from a self-promotion commercial by NASCAR. I guess NASCAR commercials are exempt from breaking away from them to show on-track incidents. Rather than ever showing us a replay of what happened, though, at this time we got to see a recap of the race. And just when I thought the viewers watching the entire broadcast might be saved from the recaps for just one week. We also got to hear Allen Bestwick say "for those of you new to the sport" at least twice during the broadcast. I'm sorry, but as a long-time fan, those words just make me cringe every time they say them.

On a more positive note, NBC did show us some of the battles for position within the top five near the end of the race. They also kept us informed of Kurt Busch's progress up through the field after he stopped during a late caution for new tires, including how far he was behind the leader at various times. I appreciate it because Busch had been a strong car earlier in the day. But, overall, I was disappointed that they didn't give all the drivers having good runs the credit they deserved.

I'm sure NBC covered Victory Lane thoroughly after they interviewed several of the top finishers in the race. I saw the interviews with the drivers finishing behind the winner, but our local NBC affiliate in Baltimore cut away from the race after that to go to the local news. Again, I think NBC needs to try and schedule the races with sufficient time slots so that they do not infringe of local programming. I understand that the affiliates control the blocks of time for local news, so this seems to be a network scheduling issue. Just because the network executives are hoping that a race will be uneventful and have few cautions, that simply won't make it so, and I'm sure there were fans in the Baltimore who were irate at not seeing the Victory Lane celebrations this week.

I do think NBC did a good job with this broadcast, it's just that they are returning to a trend I noticed last season where they spend more energy on the championship chase late in the season than the rest of the race. Hopefully, they will cover more of the drivers and the action next week at the action-packed Rockingham track.

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