The view from my couch

NBC Coverage of the Sirius at the Glen
by Cheryl Lauer
August 10, 2003

The was a very good effort by the NBC team on the whole. There were less commercials than the last couple of weeks and very solid coverage of the action on the track and in the pits. Still a few too many commercials in the middle of the race, but overall, they were much better spaced than we've seen in recent broadcasts. Perhaps the fact this was a shorter race than normal caused NBC to sell less commercials. Whatever the cause, it was good to see less time away from the action on the track.

Pre-Race Show

When Bill Weber came on the air, he quickly explained that there was a possibility of rain this afternoon, so NASCAR had moved the start of the race up a bit. I really like that NBC always comes right out and tells the viewers this type of thing as Fox seemed to tell us as an afterthought. Next, Bill told us that Ryan Newman had been very vocal about the delay of assistance from safety workers after he spun off course during practice Friday. This provided a smooth lead-in to a very good feature on whether NASCAR ought to establish it's own traveling safety crew as utilized by the open wheel series. Wally Dallenbach narrated this feature which included interviews with Mike Helton, defending NASCAR's decision not to have their own safety crews, comments from Dr. Terry Trammel, head of CART's safety crew, and opinions on the subject by several of the WC drivers. As Weber was transitioning to the announcers in the booth, he used a very humorous play on words saying "Here are three guys whose job is to keep us out of the kitty litter today." Personally, I thought this was really funny! There were some very good overhead shots of the winding road course at Watkins Glen so the viewers could get a feel for the track. Lastly, there were some humorous in-car shots and conversation as Robby Gordon drove Wally's Mountain Dew car around the course on Saturday. Both seemed to be really enjoying taping this bit.

The Race

As I have come to expect every week now, Allen Bestwick, Wally and Benny Parsons continued to work together very well and kept us informed of the action on the track, with the help of pit reporters, Weber, Matt Yocum, Dave Burns and Marty Snider. There was a lot going on around the road course all day long and the production team rose to the occasion and provided a lot coverage of cars spinning off the track or beating and bumping between drivers. This began when Greg Biffle wrecked pole sitter, Jeff Gordon, on the first lap of the race. At the same time, Kyle Petty also got sent hard into the foam barriers, and the production truck had quick replays of this wreck as well as catching the fact that Sterling Marlin's car was smoking at the time. They did a great job queuing up a replay from Biffle where he told his spotter that he didn't mean to hit Gordon. Marty had an interview with Marlin and showed that it was a spark plug that had caused his problem and told us Marlin was out of the race because of it.

There were some good in-car camera shots during this broadcast and this week. I found them more interesting than usual, since there can be more action inside the cars on a road course, showing how the drivers' wrestle the cars through the turns. Wally provided some good illustrations along with some of these shots, explaining where Robby Gordon and Rusty Wallace shifted on the track.

The director was right on top of things catching when the fire broke out in Kevin Harvick's pit. Wally and Benny speculated that it was caused by a spark or the heat from the car's exhaust. Dave followed up on this when he reported that the team said it was because a fire in the rear brakes near where the gas was being put into the car. This was great information and quick follow-up by Dave. The producer also added to the story by providing the taped conversation between the crew chief, Kevin Hamlin, when he was explaining what had happened to his driver. On the restart, when Harvick bogged down and fell back, the producer was again right on the ball playing radio communications from Harvick telling his crew that he'd hit the killswitch on his car after contact with another car.

After the restart, the Matt explained a replay that we saw from the pitcam from the 32 team, which showed the unusual pitting conditions that led to Jamie McMurray pinning one of Craven's crew members between the two cars. Matt assured us that the crew member was okay. I found this very interesting.

Unfortunately, NBC was away at commercial when Dale Earnhardt, Jr. passed Jeff Burton for the lead. I know the producer can't control when things happen during commercials, I really do. It's just frustrating as a viewer to see so much of the action in replays all the time.

Through the day, the NBC crew stayed on top of the various pit strategies by teams on different pitting agendas, such as when Rusty Wallace went off track and Robby Gordon and several cars behind him quickly ducked into the pits before the caution came out. Wally explained how several teams had spotters in that area of the track and how that may have aided them in knowing about the wreck and take advantage of the situation. The announcers went on to explain that pitting at this time should aid that group in getting an advantage on the rest of the field (which it did). The producer also quickly provided comments from Rusty to his crew that he was "stuck in the mud." This was very interesting to hear and very timely. There was also a good replay of Earnhardt getting sideways in one of the turns right before the caution came out. This kind of thing gives the viewer a true feeling for what is going on all around the track and is where NBC seems to excel The entire broadcast crew clearly works very hard to give the viewers a complete picture of what is going on throughout the race.

When the rest of the field came in for pit stops, NBC used huge bubbles of the numbers pointing to the top three drivers' pits. These didn't need to be quite so big, but gave the viewer a good indication of where the pits were located. I appreciate this type of use of the GPS data much better than covering up the action on the track. This includes NBC's virtual restart line and "pit out" lines. They add some 21st century graphics to the broadcast, without covering up or interfering with my view of the actual racing action. Perhaps NBC has finally found the appropriate balance between computer data and the way viewers were used to following the racing in the past.

Dave told us that Bobby Labonte had stayed out because he couldn't make it on fuel from that point anyway and wanted to get the advantage of leading a lap. The producer chose this caution period to show the Virtual Garage segment. This is so much better than taking away from green flag racing. After this, there were a couple of minor glitches from the production truck. Right before the restart, Allen said "you see the 31 car lined up here..." when the shot went to an in-car shot from Ricky Rudd's car running in second place. Eventually, the director switched to the camera showing us Gordon. The second glitch occurred when Rudd dove under Labonte to try and get the lead on the restart and the director did not stay with that action, but rather showed the rest of the field passing by. By the time the director got back to the front cars, Rudd had dropped back. Other times when the camera focused on some passing in the back, Allen was quick to let us know that nothing had changed up front. I am very impressed that Allen really seems to try and stay on top of everything so that the viewers are kept informed about as much of what is happening as possible. This said, I still think the producer could show more racing throughout the field, and less reliance on the top 10-15 cars. Not everything exciting happens between the top cars in a race, but apparently the powers that be at the networks don't understand this fact yet.

Compared to all the annoying on-screen promotions during TNT broadcasts, I only remember the silly Aflac duck marching across the screen and making distracting noises during this broadcast. That and the usual on-screen Cingular commercials that are disguised as viewer polls. The producer had to get in one of those silly highlight reels on the way to commercial during one green flag segment. When will NBC learn that the fans don't care about this stuff unless it's during a caution?

Because of the action on the track, the NBC team didn't get to their trademark Through the Field segment until lap 65, but the pit reporters continue to do an exceptional job in providing pertinent information about each of the cars during this feature. Again, my only complaint is that every week, it seems like the viewers get shorted seeing more cars because the producer has to break for yet another commercial. This time, we only got to see back to the 21st position, which did not even include all of the cars on the lead lap. Just once it would be nice to just see all the cars left on the track, even if the pit reporters didn't have a lot of information on all of them. I can't stress enough that many fans feel shortchanged because they never hear their favorite driver mentioned at all during a race.

Near the end of the race, the pit reporters were right on top of things, as usual, getting comments from the crew chiefs of the top few cars on fuel issues, etc. This is always excellent and sets the stage for the end of the race for the viewers at home.

I think it was Wally that made the witty comment "Let's see if he can distinguish between the two Target cars; the one who hit him and the one who didn't." This was so funny! I notice that there are less of the fake insults between Wally and the rest of the booth guys this season and they seem to be settling down into more relaxed relationship that allows this type of natural humor to emerge.

Near the end of the race, Allen mentioned that the last time someone swept both road courses in a year was 1973. I find this kind of trivia very interesting.

Just a few seconds after I noticed Biffle going straight at the inner loop, Benny was quickly explaining that he has missed the turn and would get a stop and go penalty for this. I was just starting to question the penalty since I thought that you simply could not gain a position, when Allen jumped in and explained that NASCAR required that you come to a complete stop after missing the chicane. This was news to me, but obviously NASCAR has recently changed the rules and it was nice to have Allen clarify the issue. He explained that Biffle slowed down, but obviously not enough for NASCAR (maybe Biffle understood the rule the same way I did).

Around five to go in the race, I noticed on the ticker that several drivers were exchanging positions back in the high teens, yet the camera was focused on the leader, Robby Gordon, running alone on the track. We got to see both the outside view of Gordon's car and the in-car camera in picture-in-picture (PIP). This seems a ridiculous waste of PIP when there was obviously some passing back in the field. Eventually, the producer did go back and show us that Tony Stewart was gaining some positions. I guess it has to be a big star before NBC thinks the action is worth showing in the waning laps. This is very disappointing as many drivers who had run up front earlier in the race were racing hard for position mid-pack, such as Bobby Labonte and Casey Mears. Also, I noted that although Jeff Burton led the race in the middle portion, he dropped back to the last car on the lead lap and NBC never explained why.

On the last lap, when NBC reported that Jeff Gordon ran out of gas, they missed him getting passed by Earnhardt since they were showing Robby runny alone again. Eventually, they did get back to Jeff in time to catch him slowing down abruptly and subsequently getting wrecked by Harvick. After showing Robby's victory celebration on the track, NBC also caught Jeff making gestures when the ambulance stopped to pick him up. The pit reporters were on top of this last minute turn of events and Marty interviewed Harvick to hear his side of the story, while Matt interviewed Jeff. His first question to Jeff made it clear to the viewers at home what Jeff's gestures were about, asking if he had some comments about the delay in the medical crew getting to him. This was great follow-up and coincidentally fit right in with the pre-race feature on NASCAR not having a full-time safety crew.

The race ended about fifteen minutes short of NBC's alloted time slot and even though there was time to interview more than the top few finishing drivers, the producer chose to use the extra time to give us a recap of the entire race. I thought this was a really bad use of time as many fans like to hear expanded post-race interviews. Lastly, Marty told us that they were taking Christian Fittapaldi to the hospital and we saw him being loaded into an ambulance, after hearing that he was overcome by exhaust fumes because of damaged crush panels in his car. The producer showed more race highlights as NBC went off the air. I guess someone felt they didn't get enough video montages in during the rest of the broadcast. Overall, though, I do think this was a very good broadcast, with just a few glitches and questionable decision near the end of the race. This week NBC seemed to cut back on the commercials and cover a lot of the action on the track and in the pits.

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