The view from my couch

NBC Coverage of the EA Sports 500
by Cheryl Lauer
September 30, 2003

NBC did a pretty good job with this broadcast. Unfortunately, they spent way too much time hyping the "drama" and the chance of high-speed wrecks for my taste. Personally, I took exception to Allen Bestwick's comment, "Big packs racing is great for us to watch." This may be true for the broadcast team, but somehow the drivers and the announcers need to understand that most of the fans really do not enjoy the current rules that have all the cars running together in a large, dangerous pack. Also, I want to get this off my chest now and I promise not to harp on it anymore throughout this review: NBC seemed to forget there were 43 drivers out there in their zeal to cover Dale Earnhardt, Jr. all day long. I understand that he had the chance to win five in a row at Talladega and this was a "story" for NBC; but some of the viewers get tired of so much emphasis being placed on one driver throughout the entire race.

The Race

As NBC started to break for their first commercial at lap 10, Wally Dallenbach yelled "CAUTION" and the producer stayed with the race and showed us what happened when Jeremy Mayfield lost a tire and several other cars were collected in the wreck. I continue to applaud NBC staying with the race or breaking out of commercial to cover this type of thing.

During the ensuing pit stops, NBC showed the damage to the 8 and 32 cars and provided a replay to show how the cars stacked up on their entry to pit road. The pit reporters also told us that Casey Mears overshot his pit stall and Bill Elliott was having problems with his radio. There was also a good replay of Kevin Harvick hitting Mike Wallace as they exited the pits. Allen told us which cars went behind the wall after being involved in the wreck and that Larry Foyt was being transported to the hospital. Dave Burns had quick interviews with Mayfield, Jimmy Spencer and Johnny Benson who were also collected in the accident.

Around lap 22, Allen told us that David Green was back on the track and which cars involved were able to continue running. He also mentioned that Jason Jarrett had cut down a tire during the caution. There were some good radio bites from Jimmy Johnson's team and Marty Snider told us that Jeff Gordon had switched over to Johnson's channel during the caution and discussed that he thought the top groove was weird so far. There was also good coverage when Mike Skinner slowed down dramatically entering the pits in order to get single file with the 24, 42, and 38 cars.

NBC made timely use of radio communications where Jamie McMurray told his team that he needed four tires, and then told us that he had made of up 1/2 second deficit to the leaders after hooking up and drafting with the 12 and 00 cars.

At lap 73, NBC did a 'Through the Field' segment which presented a bit of a challenge with so many cars changing position all the times, but the pit reporters remained flexible and did an excellent job in keeping up with everyone.

NBC showed a quick shot of Skinner's car smoking, then switched to the green flag pit stops of Matt Kenseth and Michael Waltrip. They eventually got around to telling us that Skinner had hit Earnhardt who got into his pit sideways. Next they showed us Ryan Newman was having a tire problem and were quick to queue up his radio to confirm the problem. Next we saw that Buckshot Jones also had a tire problem which blew his entire fender out. Wally jumped in and speculated that maybe this was caused because teams were only changing two tires, even though the drivers were probably flat-spotting their tires slowing down rapidly when entering the pits. This was an excellent insight as we have come to expect from Wally this season. When the caution came out, Allen told us that Robby Gordon was the leader even through he had just come into the pits. This really confused me at the time, but Monday night on Inside Winston Cup, Allen explained this anomoly was due to the new rules about freezing the field during a caution. It would have been nice had NBC really explored this issue during the race itself to help the fans understand.

Next we saw the 42 team taping up the fender of Jamie McMurray's car after he had some contact with another car. Allen told us that Earnhardt and Joe Nemechek had both been warned by NASCAR about getting below the yellow line.

At Lap 101, Allen told us that Skinner had been two laps down and had one back at that point because he had passed the leaders. After returning from commercial, NBC showed us some side-to-side bashing that had occurred between Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick while we were away. Unfortunately, they didn't tell us right away that Sterling Marlin had gone behind the wall. This really bothered me a lot that a former winner and car that always runs well at Talladega blows up and the viewers didn't find this out until he was listed on the "Lowes' Snoozers" list. Eventually, Marty did have an interview with Sterling, who told us that his car had a hole in the radiator and the engine blew up.

It wasn't until this point in the race that someone pointed out that Dave Blaney's team was using a Dodge this week instead of their usual Ford. This is the kind of information that I would've like to have heard in the pre-race or during the starting grid.

When one of Marlin's other teammates, Casey Mears, also blew an engine, Wally mirrored my words about that being "two of Ganassi's cars." Dave Burns commented that it must not have been the engine because the team reported the temperature had dropped in Mears' car, but Wally pointed out that when the temperature goes down rapidly, it means the engine is out of water. Another excellent point, Wally.

At one point, when NBC returned from commercial, they helped us catch up on a lot of action that had occurred while they were away. They showed us replays of Kenny Wallace going below the yellow line, but Allen explained that NASCAR had posted him, but decided not to penalize him because he dropped back behind the cars he had passed. We also got to see McMurray and Ken Schrader get together, but thankfully, no wreck occurred. Next the producer queued up some really good scanner bites from Jeff Gordon and Johnson about working together.

Matt Yocum speculated that Matt Kenseth though he had a flat tire and a quick switch to his radio confirmed this to be the case. Allen quickly pointed out that this might not hurt him too bad because they were coming up on green flag pit stops at this time anyway (which proved to be the case). At lap 131, Marty told us that Dale Jarrett had had to switch to a back-up radio. I found this particularly interesting to know that the teams are installing two radios for this type of situation.

I was disappointed that there were a lot of cars running in the race that we never saw all day long. These included Jason Jarrett and John Andretti. We never saw David Green, except when he was being lapped by the pack and Jason Keller, who was running the Pennzoil car this week was almost never mentioned. I understand that these were all "one-off" deals, but it would've been nice for the drivers and their sponsors to be shown at least once during the day. NBC showed Ricky Rudd's car off the pace and Dave reported that he dropped a cylinder during his last pit stop. Again, this would have been nice to hear about when it first happened.

There were good replays of all the incidents on pit road and on the track. This included when Elliott Sadler hit Jeff Green and knocked him into some of his pit crew. Matt immediately reported that Archie Kennedy was the crew member knocked down, but that he appeared to be okay. Allen told us that Waltrip had been penalized for not having his catch can attached to the car during the entire pit stop. Bill Weber jumped in and explained the situation and that Waltrip would have to start at the end of the longest line on the next restart. NBC also caught when Johnson got hit by the 8 and 15 cars and his subsequent spin.

At 40 laps to go, Allen told us that McMurray was the first lead lap car to top off to try and make it the rest of the way on fuel. NBC showed us when Johnson fell off the pace and the commentators speculated that he may have damaged his engine when he got spun earlier. They played the radio when Kenseth dropped of the pace and we got to hear him say "motor's broke." Someone reported that Ward Burton had radioed to his crew, saying "They're running all over me in the corners," and that his crew had directed him to pull the rev limiter chip to try and help. NBC also showed us when Jeff Burton's car started smoking and played his radio comments to his crew.

When a caution came out because of Jeff Burton's oil on the track, Allen quickly told us that Bobby Labonte was the leader, that Newman would get his lap back, and there were now 24 cars left on the lead lap. Weber reported that the 8 team had said that Earnhardt did not plan to pit; however, this didn't end up being the case because of a last-minute change in plans by the team. Right before NBC went to commercial, they showed us that Kurt Busch was the leader of the race because he didn't pit. At lap 175, Allen told us who else did not pit and who came in again to top off with fuel.

After this commercial is when NBC went over the top in the hype department for me. Twice during this period, Allen had to tell us that we were getting ready for a "dramatic finish." I guess he didn't think we heard him the first time.

NBC caught the frightening accident where Elliott Sadler got wrecked. We got to see numerous and varied replays of his car flipping down the track. During the first replay, I was very grateful that Wally spoke up quickly and pointed out that Sadler had taken his steering wheel off the car as soon as it stopped. This made me feel a lot better after such a horrible accident. Allen pointed out that Sadler had reacted to the 8 car turning left so quickly.

Benny speculated that the 16 car would get it's lap back this time, but Allen reminded him that the "free pass" did not occur if less than 10 laps were left in the race. This was good to know as I have a hard time remembering the nuances to this silly rule.

During the red flag, the pit reporters had interviews with crew chiefs of several of the top cars. Busch's crew chief, Jimmy Fennig, stated that they would have to come in and fix the damage to their car because of the accident. Dave gave us an update on Sadler and we got to see the medical team putting him in a helicopter to take him to a nearby hospital to be checked out.

Allen told us that NASCAR would have a "quickie yellow" once the red flag was lifted and that the race should restart with 4 laps to go. Marty reported that Jeff Gordon had gotten rid of the rev limiter on his car for the final few laps. Again, I was very disappointed at Allen's comments as the race was about to restart, when he said "do they all make it back around?" This is really not the kind of thing I want to hear after just seeing such a violent wreck involving Elliott Sadler. I know comments like these add to the "drama" and make good television for the WWF crowd, but long-time race fans really don't like to hear this type of thing.

I was also extremely disappointed that NBC followed up these comments by not showing the viewers that Bobby Labonte, Mark Martin and Kenny Wallace were alright after they wrecked after the checkered flag. While I really enjoyed the post-race celebration and antics of Waltrip, I think it would've been nice to know that everyone was alright. I think the choice to show this before assuring everyone that the other drivers were okay, especially on the heels of Sadler's horrible accident, showed really bad judgment. Thankfully when NBC returned from commercial to show the Victory Lane celebration, Bill Weber assured us that "everyone drove away from the wreck."

As usual, I think the NBC team is really trying to do a good job covering the race, it's just that occasionally they get a little too caught up in the hype and "drama" and forget the long-time viewers feelings. I, for one, am sincerely glad that this is the last restrictor-plate race of the year. The drivers that we love to watch don't have to play "Russian Roulette" as Jimmy Spencer called it, again until next February.

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