The view from my couch
by Cheryl Lauer
February 17, 2004
We had our annual Daytona 500 party on Sunday. With a houseful of people, I didn't get to take my usual notes during the race itself. I had to go back and review the tape so I could do an honest review of the NBC broadcast. What I was also curious too see was if NBC did a better job with the entire broadcast than I thought they did while watching it live on Sunday. Unfortunately, it was really hard to watch the entire race again in one sitting, so that's why it took me so long to get my review done this week.
I'm not sure if NBC was trying to go out with a bang for their last broadcast until July or what, but an hour and half pre-race show was just too much for me. Thankfully it's excess gave me a lot of time to talk to friends I hadn't seen for a while and grab a snack before anything really meaningful happened at Daytona. In reality, the pre-race show seemed to be a "season preview" and review of last season for many drivers. NBC came on the air with a tribute to the Daytona track and the 500, with film clips from past races all the way back to the beach course. There were also a lot of quotes from today's drivers about the importance of the Daytona track and the history of the 500. I did think there was a little too much hype with dramatic statements like "the power of the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series" and "history is waiting." To me, it seemed like the intro was trying to fluff up what would probably end up being another lackluster restrictor plate race and to kick off a lackluster season.
Bill Weber had a brief interview with Tim Donahue, President and CEO of Nextel, the new series sponsor, welcoming him to the sport for NBC. Donahue talked about "enhancing the experience" for the fans, but really this piece seemed like more fluff to me without any real substance. There were lots of human interest pieces on drivers and a silly staged poker game between Jeff Gordon, Jimmy Johnson and their crew chiefs illustrating how the crew chiefs bluff each other during the races. We got to see an actor ride around with Wally in the pace car, saw a ridiculously elaborate pre-race extravaganza at the track, ending with the President giving the command to start engines.
I was surprised that when the actual race broadcast came on that NBC didn't mention that this race was being shown in High Definition. With so much going on at my house, I'll admit I may have missed this, but thought NBC should have done a better job of promoting the first HD broadcast of a stock car race. I know I appreciated their efforts, since I have an HDTV, as did my guests.
It was good to see the NBC announcers Allen Bestwick, Wally Dallenbach and Benny Parsons return for one last race for a while. They did a better job than usual in going down the starting line-up, until they got back to the last few rows, then they went into their usual silly thing with Benny Parsons trying to talk to a driver during the pace laps. They told us for the third time that pole sitter, Greg Biffle, would be moving to the back of the field because of an engine change. They also told us that Ryan Newman, Ricky Craven, and Derrick Cope would be moving to the back as well. The commentators did an excellent job of showing us where the drivers had to be single file and slowed down to 55 to enter pit road. There was also a graphic with information on race length, pit window, and last red flag lap (195). At the start of the race, Wally Dallenbach reminded the viewers that it took a lap or a lap and half for the cars to get fully up to speed with restrictor plates.
The broadcast team was on their toes and quickly showed us when Mark Martin's car starting putting out smoke when he blew his engine at lap 7. There were good replays of other cars avoiding him and radio transmissions from Martin to his crew. Then coverage of Kevin Harvick and the few cars who took this early opportunity to pit. NBC caught that a tire got loose on pit road and then showed a replay of how it occurred after commercials. Matt Yocum told us that John Wallace, a crew member from Mike Skinner's team was injured when he tripped over the tire. Dave Burns had a timely interview with a disappointed Mark Martin. Allen told us that Matt Kenseth came in twice to repair damage he got while trying to avoiding Martin's car. Allen also pointed out that most of the cars at the front of the field chose not to pit under this caution.
After the restart, NBC played some radio communications between Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his spotter discussing Tony Stewart's spotter relaying that Stewart wanted Jr. to stay in the lower groove so others could not pass them. NBC was quick to point out when Biffle brushed the wall and Bill told us the driver was already having some problems with his car overheating. During a replay of Biffle hitting the wall, Wally mentioned that it appeared he didn't have enough grip in his front tires. Wally also pointed out that cars which were not handling well would cause drivers to have to lift off the throttle early until they pit and adjust the handling.
During the early portion of the race, NBC seemed to be trying to keep us updated on a lot of drivers throughout the field. For instance, they told us that Jimmy Spencer had moved into the top 10, but had now fallen back to 20th place. The producer showed Casey Mears slowing and down on the apron and Bill Weber told us that he'd reported he had a tire going down. Later Bill updated us that the team had checked all four tires when he came into pit and found that none were flat. Benny and Wally discussed that it might have just been a case of the car just not feeling right to Mears.
Allen alerted us to Jeff Burton's car blowing up at lap 26. He also made sure to mention that Burton's car was sponsored by "the NBA Allstar Game on TNT" (no nepotism there). NBC used Burton's bad luck as an opportunity for their third commercial break during the race and then came back and covered green pit stops. NBC showed a replay of Bobby Labonte hitting a cone at the entry to pit road and taking a detour through the grass, which slowed down his pitstop and caused him to fall off the lead lap. "Cut out of the herd" seemed to be cliche that the broadcast team liked this past weekend and Allen used it to describe Labonte chances of winning after this happened. Marty reported on Labonte asking his crew chief how bad was it and how Michael McSwain told him the valence was rolled under a little, but they should be fine. Allen told us that Harvick and some who pitted during the early caution would stay on the track longer before pitting. This was right before Allen yelled "TROUBLE, TURN 4" and told us that Derrick Cope had hit the wall and was bringing out a caution. Wally pointed out this was a great break for Harvick and the others who had not pitted yet. Allen followed this up by explaining that Earnhardt and the others who had just finished pitted would remain on the lead lap by getting off pit road just in front of the leader as the caution came out There were several replays of Cope's accident and Allen pointed out that he had bounced off of Scott Riggs and they could see some damage on his car. Unfortunately, NBC has continued to use their silly term "Lucky Dog" to describe the driver getting a free pass back to the lead lap during caution. They told us that Ward Burton was the recipient of the first pass for the day.
It was good to see that the NBC producer saved the highlights of the pre-race show and accompanying music for a segue to the commercial during caution. This was a good change from using them during green flag racing earlier last year. After the commercial, NBC showed a replay of Stewart getting into pit lane faster than Earnhardt and getting ahead of him as they exited back onto the track.
Just before the restart, Allen told us that there were several cars on the tailend of the lead lap because they had pitted earlier than new leader, Tony Stewart. Benny told us that Larry Foyt was slow on the restart. After this there was an inset of Kasey Kahne in the 9 car slowing on the track. Matt reported that his crew chief told him to try the back-up ignition, but the car was smoking and it looked like he had big problems. During this time, NBC showed some good in-car footage of Stewart bump drafting Craven. Then Allen yelled that there was another car smoking on the track and everyone pointed out it was another Roush car (Kurt Busch), but Benny said it just looked like a fender rub on the tire, rather than another blown engine. NBC followed this up by showing a replay of Earnhardt. Jr. hitting Busch and causing the problem. Dave had good coverage of Busch's crew trying to beat out the fender during the resulting pit stop. To follow on this, Marty had an interview with his teammate, Jeff Burton, who had blown his engine earlier.
During this broadcast, I was delighted to see that NBC only used bubbles a couple of times such as when Martin slowed and pointing out Stewart on a restart. They used a graphic in the corner of screen to show intervals between leaders and selected cars. This was so much less obtrusive to the race, while still providing useful information.
NBC returned from commercial on lap 53 and told us that there was a new leader as Junior had taken the lead from Stewart while they were away. Then they showed Johnson fighting him for the lead on the outside. Allen told us that Busch had come out of the pits after repairs and was now nearly two laps down. During this time there was some discussion about Bobby Labonte sticking with the leaders to try and get his lap back and that he was currently in 30th position. Also the pit reporters told us how several cars were handling and how Gordon and his teammate Brian Vickers were trying to run together.
NBC caught the tailend of the lap 60 accident involving Rusty Wallace, Jeff Green, and Ken Schrader. Benny told us that Busch would get one of his laps back by being ahead of the leaders and that Bobby Labonte would get a free pass back to the lead lap. There were a lot of good replays of the accident with good analysis of what appeared to cause it by the commentators and excellent pit stop coverage by the pit reporters. There was a good replay of the pit out camera showing the order the cars got back on the track. After commercials, Marty interviewed a frustrated Schrader who explained that the 42 car started the wreck. Bill then explained that Ryan Newman had some damage while trying to back up during his pit stop and that some of his crew members were slightly injured as well.
After the caution, Allen explained that there were now 27 cars now on the lead lap. After the restart, NBC stayed with a battle for the lead on the track and had an interview with Wallace in an inset. Allen later told us that Sterling Marlin came off pit road in 5th position, but gave up that position because he had to make a second pit stop. NBC caught the "big" accident involving a number of cars. Allen began telling the viewers which cars were involved and then focused of telling us how many times Michael Waltrip's car rolled over. When it was all over, Wally said, "Well, there's the big one, right there." What is this fascination by the TV guys with what appears to be just waiting so they can say "the Big One?" That really annoys me; like they aren't happy if a frightening wreck doesn't occur at Daytona or Talladega. Next, while the camera focused on Waltrip's upside down car, we heard his crew members asking if he was alright. NBC remained focused on the safety workers trying to get him out of the car while Wally discussed how hard it is to get out of a car today due to all of the safety devices. Then they showed that Vickers was out of his car after being involved in the accident. Benny, wisely, pointed out that the best thing the safety workers could do was to turn Waltrip's car over to help him get out. Next they covered pit stops while Dave told us that the word had come that Waltrip was okay. During some replays of the accident, Allen pointed out that his car lost a tire and the remaining rim dug into the grass and that's what sent Waltrip's car tumbling. Wally also pointed out that it appeared that Johnny Sauter was the one who set the initial accident in motion. Allen said he counted at least 12 cars involved in the wreck and then they showed some in-car views from cars involved or just missing the accident, and lastly from Waltrip's camera before it cut out. I was impressed that NBC stayed with the efforts to get Waltrip out of his car, without breaking for commercial until it was clear he was out of the car and fine.
After NBC returned from commercial, Marty had an interview with Vickers, Dave had an interview with Marlin, concerning their impressions of the wreck. NBC went to another quick break and got back in plenty of time to show the restart. They pointed out that Sauter's car was smoking when he got up to speed and later told us he had to pit because it had cut down his tire. Next Marty had an interview with Waltrip who told the viewers about his frustrations with the safety workers trying to get him out of his car. There was also a nice discussion about how well Dave Blaney was running in a second Bill Davis car that didn't have sponsorship after this race. Later, Allen told us that NASCAR had delivered a warning to Greg Biffle about blocking. When NBC went to commercial around lap 85, Allen said "I feel safe in saying the best is yet to come..." Uh, I think you would be wrong on that, Allen, but that's just my humble opinion.
NBC finally got a chance to do their wonderful 'Through the Field' beginning on lap 99. The pit reporters covered the top 10 cars. It just would've been nice to hear about more the cars (at least those on the lead lap). At lap 106, NBC did a good job of covering green flag pit stops. Unfortunately after this Allen fell into the old "if you are new to NASCAR racing..." which was followed by an explanation of restrictor plates and a Home Depot sponsored virtual garage. There was a little bit of catering to the "new fan" with some of the detailed explanations, but it wasn't too bad.
At lap 117 as NBC returned from commercial, Bestwick pointed out that the lapped car of Busch was fast enough that he had pulled the second pack up to the lead pack. He also pointed out that if Busch could get past the leaders he wasn't going to wait to get a free pass back to the lead lap. This was a great observation.
During this period of the race, things settled down a bit as the field started getting spread out, so NBC managed to fit in a lot more commercials. They went to commercial just around lap 120 and then again at lap 129. As far as commercials, I have to speak out now about how irritating all those Levitra commercials were the past two weeks. After Speedweeks, if I never hear Levitra again, it would be too soon. Can't NBC and the Speed Channel find a better sponsor for their broadcasts? Okay, obviously not, but must they inundate us with their annoying commercials constantly???
It seemed like NBC did a better job with coverage of more of the drivers during the first part of the race when the cars were still running in a large pack, rather than the breakaway at the end of the race. I know that NBC is notorious for forgetting about anyone but the leaders in the latter portion of the race, but the second 100 laps of this race it seemed like everyone except the lead pack had disappeared from the track unless they were being lapped.
After NASCAR issued a warning to leader, Tony Stewart, for blocking, Allen explained that it's a very fine line between putting a blocking move on someone to protect your position and risk causing a big wreck. Wally went on to explain that sometimes you have to do it. When they returned from commercial at lap 134, Allen named several drivers involved in earlier accidents who had returned to the track, but that Marlin had been blackflagged for not being able to maintain a minimum speed.
During green flag pit stops which began at lap 137, NBC covered Sauter passing everyone entering pit road and blasting through the pits at full speed. They also told us when he was penalized for doing this as well as Kyle Petty for taking a catch can off of pit road, and Ward Burton for a missing lug nut. Bill explained that Biffle had an equalized tire that had been causing some chassis problems during the last run. After just a few laps after covering pit stops, NBC went to commercial again at lap 144.
One thing that I really appreciate about NBC is that they actually tell us what lap of the total number of laps it is up until a certain point. During this race they only went to "XX laps to go" when there were 50 laps left in the race. This sure makes it a lot easier to follow where we are in the race until there is such a small amount of laps left. Unfortunately during this time, NBC started focusing almost entirely on the lead few cars. The announcers in the booth did try to keep the viewers entertained by supplying a lot of interesting information during this time as well as the pit reporters providing good stories, such as one on the engineer on the Scott Wimmer's car. Wally make a good observation that Busch would probably still be upset with Earnhardt for pushing in his fender which caused him to lose a lap earlier, therefore, he might help Stewart to win the race.
NBC went to commercial so that they could show the last round of green flag pit stops. As the cars exited pit road, the announcers pointed out that Wimmer's team was the only one that chose to take two tires only and got the lead off of pit road. They also covered the fact that Biffle has been penalized for speeding when entering pit road. NBC followed the progress of the 20, 8, and 97 cars who quickly drafted up to Wimmer to get past him. They showed how quickly the interval between them was disappearing since Wimmer had no drafting help. After Stewart got the lead back, the announcers had a long discussion about how Earnhardt's spotter would probably ask Busch's spotter to help him draft past Stewart. The pit reporters interviewed their crew chiefs and Jimmy Fenning, Busch's crew chief, said his driver wasn't going to help the driver who was responsible for putting them two laps down in the first place. At 20 to go, NBC finally showed the second pack of cars, but quickly switched to the leaders when Jr. tried to pass Stewart for the lead. At 18 to go, NBC showed the 29 and 48 passing Gordon for 5th position. At 13 to go, Allen pointed out that the second pack was 8 seconds behind third place Wimmer. Dave reported that Wimmer was asking that Busch get out of the way since he was a lapped car and was preventing Wimmer from getting to 2nd place Stewart. Bill said that Busch said he would drop back with 3 laps to go. All of this information provided some great insight to the scenario that was being played out by the four cars in the lead pack in the last 10 laps.
At the end of the race, NBC provided a lot of coverage of the Victory Lane celebrations and interviews with a lot of the top finishers. I'd have preferred more coverage of drivers outside the top five at the end of the race, but overall, I think this was a very good broadcast. NBC made a real effort to try provide interesting information to keep fans interested during the long caution-free last half of the race.
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