The view from my couch

NBC Coverage of the Ford 400
by Cheryl Lauer
November 24, 2004

I know the folks involved with this broadcast were working hard to do a good job and many of the details provided by the announcers and pit reporters were good; however, I couldn't believe there was almost exclusive coverage of the top five drivers in points all day. I was not surprised that NBC chose to focus on the Chase rather than the race itself, but it was still very disappointing. At one point near the end, the race for the lead was relegated to a small inset while NBC followed Kurt Busch in the main picture. Something about this just seems wrong to me. While there were still a lot of commercials in the broadcast, there appeared to be less than last week, which was definitely an improvement. Also, NBC stayed with the last hour of the race without any breaks at all and this was great!

Pre-Race Show

NBC had an hour-long pre-race show this week and it was packed with lots of information and features. I was pleasantly surprised that the Homestead race (and of course, the Chase) was the lead story on the NBC Sports Update on Sunday.

Bill Weber came on the air with an elaborately prepared lead-in involving dictionary definitions of champion, pressure and opportunity. This was somewhat interesting and a common thread in Weber's comments throughout the day.

NBC showed some highlights from the speech by Mike Helton during the drivers' meeting where he told everyone to make sure and show respect for those involved in the Chase.

We got lots of highlights from each of the drivers' results throughout the Chase and the entire system. Dave Burns had a very interesting bit where he discussed different scenarios where each of the top five could clinch the championship in this race. We were also told that the top 10 drivers had won 32 of the 35 races run so far. I hadn't realized this and found it enlightening.

The really low point in the pre-race show was Bill Weber calling Mark Martin "The Senior Citizen of Chaseville." I'm not a Mark Martin fan, but this really incensed me! Over the last 4 seasons, it's become quite clear that TV is promoting the "young guns" over the veteran drivers, but to call a man who is only 45 "a senior citizen" is ridiculous! I also didn't think it was necessary for Bill to tell us that Kurt Busch's crew chief, Jimmy Fennig was 51-years old. How exactly is this relevant to anything?

Wally's World continues to digress more and more every week. This week, we first saw Wally Dallenbach driving a boat in Florida. Then showed highlights of all his celebrity rides throughout the year. This added nothing of value to the broadcast if you ask me.

It was refreshing to see drivers like Joe Nemechek, Brian Vickers, Bobby Labonte and Ricky Rudd interviewed during the pre-race in addition to the drivers involved in the Chase.

When the actual race broadcast came on at 1:00, NBC used some of the same highlights they'd just used as a lead-in to the pre-race show. As usual, I guess the network doesn't expect everyone to watch the pre-race show, but for those of us who do, it's pretty redundant.

When they went to the announcers in the booth, Wally made some good observations based on his run in the Busch race the day before. He pointed out that everyone was starting with low air pressures which was very dangerous and when cars got under another one, they tended to take the air off the spoiler and made them both unstable.

The Race

As we have seen the last few weeks, NBC played the radio communications from right before the green flag from one of the points contenders. This week we heard Chad Knaus giving a pep talk to the 48 team.

Allen Bestwick told us about Steve Hmiel's suspension for making disparaging remarks towards NASCAR during the truck race. I would've thought this would've been part of the pre-race show, but I guess NBC had already scripted what would be included in that show. I also think felt it would have more impact to point it out right before the green since he was Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s spotter.

When there was a multi-car accident on the first lap, the emphasis by NBC was only on how it might affect Jimmie Johnson. They didn't seem to care much about the drivers involved. There were a few replays where we were told "somebody" got into Hermie Sadler, but NBC didn't seem to care who it was since Sadler wasn't a Chase contender. We never heard what damage Sadler or Bliss incurred or if they had lost laps. This was to be the tone for the rest of the day. If you weren't in the points battle, you didn't seem to matter to NBC. I guess it was just too bad for those of us who want to know about ALL the drivers and what happens to them.

After regular commercials, we got to see the results of a contest by Ford, the race sponsor. For the first half of the broadcast, I felt like I was watching the 400 Ford Commercial Show instead of a race broadcast.

NBC showed the battle between Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne for 4th position and quickly switched to show Greg Biffle passing Kurt Busch for the lead. When another wreck occurred at lap 6, Wally quickly told us Johnson was on the apron and may have gotten tapped in the rear. There were good replays and analysis of the accident, but we never saw the damage or repairs made to Casey Mears, Boris Said, Robby Gordon, or Jeff Burton. Instead all NBC cared about was showing us Johnson pitting. This was ridiculous! When they broke for commercial, I switched to MRN and they were updating us on repairs to these drivers' cars.

When they returned from commercial at lap 10, the race had already restarted. We got more coverage of Johnson and a replay of his radio telling his crew chief he needed to get him out of the back of the pack. Wally pointed out that a lot of guys were slipping in the corners.

At lap 15, we got the first of the dreaded "points now" graphics. Yes, it was interesting to see the way the points jumbled up during the day, but at the end of the race, there was really only one position change in the top 5. To me, this graphic was even more overused during this broadcast than in the last few weeks. We even had Allen in a condescending voice telling us "if you are not familiar with how the points are awarded..." I guess NBC really wanted to cater to those fans who they hoped were tuning into racing for the first time.

NBC was at commercial from lap 19 through 27. When they returned we saw a replay of Martin getting loose under Jamie McMurray and going towards the wall. Then we went back to coverage of Johnson. It was interesting when Marty pointed out that teammates, Gordon and Johnson, had chosen to pit next to each other to work together in getting in and out of the pits without incident. Back to commercial from lap 36-42.

NBC did the first of their Through the Fields when they returned, but the feature was less frequent than past week, which was good. The bad was that we didn't even get to see most of the drivers on the track during TTF since that would have taken away from coverage of Busch, Gordon, and Johnson. This segment was interrupted when a caution came out for debris, but NBC was quick to show the viewers the debris and tell us they thought it had come off of Ryan Newman's car.

I appreciated that the announcers reminded us that the drivers could go as fast as they wanted on the pit access road under green, but only 45 mph when entering the pits under caution. NBC covered pit stops and then went to commercial. When they returned, Marty showed us the shredded side from Biffle's tire. They later told us that Biffle must've been running a more aggressive set-up than his teammate, Busch, who was told by Fennig that his tires looked fine after this run.

After the restart, NBC also showed us a flapping fender on Robby Gordon's car as he passed the 29 and Benny told us he'd been blackflagged by NASCAR. I'm assuming the damage had something to do with that lap 6 wreck, but since NBC never followed up on any of the damaged cars, I guess we'll never know.

There was some good coverage alternating between Jeff Gordon and Newman for 3rd position and Martin and Earnhardt for 9th position.

NBC went to commercial at lap 62 and returned to show us the dreaded Virtual Crew Garage explaining camber to us yet again. They returned to actual racing around lap 71 and gave us another critical points update at lap 73. Around this time, I noticed Jeff Burton on the ticker as "off," but never heard why and then later saw he was back on track. More commercials from lap 79-86.

At lap 88, NBC showed Dale Jarrett making a unscheduled stop for a bad vibration. They told us he'd been in 13th position before this happened. At lap 91, NBC went back to commercial after showing us the points yet again, and Allen blithely saying "The Chase continues..." It seemed more like the commercials continued to me. Producer, Sam Flood, did break out of commercial to show us Busch's tire problem. We immediately heard his radio that it was a right front tire and NBC caught his wheel coming off as he entered pit road. This was great coverage! The announcers pointed out the center had come completely out of the wheel and Benny said he thought the caution kept Busch on the lead lap. Benny also speculated as to what damage dragging the right front onto pit road might have caused to the brake rotors. Allen told us that Busch was now in 28th place and then we heard Busch on the radio saying "I told you that right front was going to blow." Bill spoke up and said Busch hadn't liked the feel and thought maybe it was loose lugnuts. After covering the other drivers' pit stops, NBC showed us a replay of the Busch incident and another angle that showed just how close he came to hitting the pit wall when the tire came off. This was great!

Right after this, Allen told us that NBC had cameras of all five of the points contenders at all times. I guess this explained why the viewers missed so much of the rest of the race.

As the race restarted, Benny pointed out that Jarrett had passed all the guys who pitted, but was still 2 laps down. At lap 107, we again saw the points as they broke for another commercial. While they were away, I heard on MRN that Kahne had cut a tire. When NBC returned at lap 113 and told us that Jeremy Mayfield had blown a tire and hit the wall. They also mentioned that his teammate (Kahne) had just come to pit road with a similar problem. During pit stop coverage, the announcers explained that Biffle's team was trying a different strategy where the tire was caught by the gas man. They quickly switched to Busch's pit stop where they were trying the same thing, but had a lot of problems resulting in a very slow stop. NBC told us that Elliott Sadler and Newman were quickest off pit road and might have taken just two tires.

After pit stops, NBC went back to commercial while MRN interviewed Mayfield and told us that Newman took fuel only. When NBC returned, they simply focused on the bad pit stop by Busch's team. They also pointed out there were raindrops on the windshields. Allen seemed happy that this would extend the caution and give them time for another commercial. When they returned, the pit reporters talked to the crew chiefs of each of the five points contenders' teams.

During this long delay, we saw another points now graphic and were shown a race recap (thank goodness it was done during yellow for once. ) NBC also covered an unscheduled stop by Jeff Gordon who had a tire going down. Matt Yocum told us that he'd radioed to have his teammate, Johnson, look at the tire and let him know if it looked like it was going down. When he came in, we were told that the 24 team had just changed rights during the prior stop. Later, Matt followed up on the story by showing a small washer which Gordon's hot tire had picked up and caused the cut. Great follow-up!

After more commercials because the restart was waved off, we were told that Gordon came in about to make a spring rubber adjustment. While they were away, MRN told us that others (besides the Chase drivers) had come in and topped off on fuel. It's nice to know somebody was covering the rest of the 38 drivers.

On the restart, for some reason we were seeing a view out the back of the pace car. The director stayed with this shot even after the pace car pulled in and the cars on the track were blocked by the pit wall. This made no sense. Marty told us that Biffle had been told to do anything to keep Johnson from leading a lap. During this segment, NBC did show Newman and Sadler racing for a bit since they were up front (and coincidentally two of the original 10 Chase drivers). They also showed when Chase driver, Matt Kenseth, had to make an unscheduled stop for a flat tire. The announcers pointed out he came in abruptly and so his team was not ready and the stop was very slow. Later, Allen told us that Kenseth's problems were even worse as he got a pass-through penalty for not coming in on the access road.

NBC was showing the Cingular poll (commercial) when Mike Bliss hit the wall and then never showed a replay of what happened to him. Again, it seemed like if you weren't among the Chase contenders, NBC didn't seem to bother with you. Okay, after commercials, they did tell us that Kevin Harvick got fuel only on this pit stop and Bobby Labonte took right side tires only, and they thought Tony Stewart took fuel only as well and beat them both out of the pits.

On the restart, NBC told us that Kenseth "nudged" Harvick to get by and try to get one of his 3 laps back. They queued up a replay of this incident as well. Next they showed Gordon passing Earnhardt and told us that the 8 was going backwards in the pack.

NBC had replays of Sadler's wreck. They played the radio from Busch where he told his crew he thought he might have the same problem with his right front, but then he said maybe he was just imagining it.

At the lap 166 restart, they told us Sadler was in the garage. NBC caught the tail end of accident involving Kahne and Travis Kvapil. After telling us Kvapil's window net was down, as usual, the commentators next thought was of the championship contenders, with someone exclaiming "Did Junior get a piece of that?" The replays showed that the 8 car actually spun Kvapil when he slowed down because of Kahne's spin. The announcers told us that one of the views was the "Kurt-cam," which was just a little too cute for me. After this Dave reported on the damage to the 8 car's nose after he made sure to assure us "it was accidental." Aren't most of these things accidents? What about a report on Kvapil's car since he was the one with so much damage he was knocked out of the race?

Marty had an interview with Kahne and told us that Sadler asked to have some time to cool down before any interviews. What about some interviews with all the other drivers who had been knocked out of the race?

When NBC returned from commercial during this caution, they showed us some on-screen ads and the lap leaders, and then went back to commercial.

On the next restart, Allen was quick to tell us that NASCAR had put out a black flag for leader, Stewart. Wally explained that they had waved off the restart the previous lap because they felt Stewart was bringing the cars down too slowly. This time, NASCAR felt he was weaving too much when coming out of turn 4, so they blackflagged him. NBC showed us a replay or the restart and explained he had three laps to obey the flag or his scorecard would be pulled. Luckily for Stewart, before the three laps had gone by, NASCAR called a caution for debris. Allen questioned where Kenseth had been with relation to the leader before the caution came out and told us that Jarrett should get the free pass this time. The announcers went on to say that they'd have to figure out Stewart's penalty if everyone else pitted, but they never really explained what penalty Stewart served. Did he get held 10 seconds, go to the end of the longest line or what? This really bothered me as it was kind of a sticky situation for NASCAR since he would've lost a lap had he served the penalty under the green. It seemed like NBC didn't want to explain it thoroughly because it was obvious that NASCAR minimized the penalty because of the caution.

When NBC returned from commercial, they showed us that the caution was because of a cover off one of the caution lights had fallen on the track.

When the race restarted, NBC was busy showing us Johnson instead of the race leader, Bobby Labonte. They did tell us that Mears was trying to get under the Labonte, but it would've been nice to see the leader even though he wasn't involved in the points chase. Next, NBC talked a lot about the sun glare in the driver's eyes and showed it from Martin's in-car cam. They finally got around to showing the leader about lap 184, but only when Newman was passing him for the lead. Then they kept the camera focused on Newman running alone. This was ridiculous!

At lap 189, they told us Mears was in the wall because of a flat tire, but that no caution had been called. Allen also told us that Stewart "served his penalty and then came back in." I still didn't know what this meant, but assumed he was only held in the pits for a few seconds.

Someone said there was another car off the pace and Wally explained it was Jeff Burton (when did he come back on the track?) Eventually, NBC showed him and then told us that Rusty Wallace was flying and had just passed the 24 and 18 car. Then we were told a caution was out because of debris from Burton's car.

During the caution, the announcers told us that Martin stayed out, but rest of the top five came in and Benny told us that they couldn't make it on fuel. Allen told us that Wallace got just right sides and then NBC went to commercial. When they returned, they showed us a replay of what brought out the caution (Mears hit Burton trying to get to pit road). Allen told us the positions in which the 48, 97, 24 and 8 were running after pit stops. He also pointed out that the first four cars on the track had not pitted (including Truex, Marlin, and Martin).

Around lap 199, you could clearly see another light cover fall off just as Wally pointed it out. When the caution came out, NBC showed us a replay of it falling off and the 8 car running over it. Then they showed repairs being made to the 8 car and Benny told us Martin was pitting as well. He also pointed out that the 24, 48, and 97 stayed out to take advantage of clean air. Marty reported that they would be 6 laps short on fuel, or 12 laps under caution, but that Martin must feel he could make it from here.

NBC told us that NASCAR was keeping the cars under caution so that they could check all the remaining light covers. They told us that Martin was in 23rd after pitting and then they went to commercial. When they returned they showed everyone else coming in to top off with fuel. I believe this was the last commercial break until the race ended. This mean NBC did show over an hour of racing and the last 60 laps or so without any interruptions. This was great!

Next was another race recap ending with Allen exclaiming "what a race!" Was he watching the same race I was watching or was it just that he actually got to see more than just the points contenders?

We were told that Wallace was in front of the field with 63 laps to go. Bill had an interview with Brad Parrott to try and find out what happened to Busch wheel hub earlier. Parrott explained that the wheel spacer appeared be worn and tightened up the hub. Benny said he now knew why the 97's pit stops had been slower after the problem; because the team was making sure the lug nuts were tight.

After the restart, Benny said that if the race goes green to the end, there would probably run out of fuel. During this segment, there was some good coverage of the 24, 48, 97 and 6 coming up through the field. Matt told us that the 24 had gotten sticker tires on his last stop instead of scrubs as they had been running. We were told that the Martin was experiencing some problems with noise on his scanner and that it distracted him so much that he'd unplugged his earpiece.

The pit reporters checked with several top running cars crew chiefs on the fuel situation. Marty told us that Biffle couldn't make it on fuel, but the 12 and 18 thought they could. In the middle of this, the caution came out when Jeff Green's car blew up. One of the announcers pointed out how much oil his car had laid down in the high groove.

Benny told us that Newman stayed on the track, but the first 5-6 cars pitted as did Earnhardt in 20th. We were told that they were putting right sides only on the 8 because it was too tight. Wally said he didn't understand this as four tires would be what was needed to loosen it up. There was some discussion of this strategy and the announcers suggested maybe they didn't want to give up the track position. Eventually, a pit reporter talked to the crew chief, Tony Eury, who explained because of the damage on the car's front, it made the car tight, so they thought two tires would work better for them.

The announcers told us that the 12 was leading, 20 was second and 88 was up to third (after getting back on the lead lap with the free pass earlier). Marty reported that Martin had a left rear going down and would have to pit. Benny pointed out that Busch was now back in the points lead but by only one point. Matt reported that Gordon was 2/10s faster than Harvick and Jarrett before the caution.

With 32 laps to go, NBC showed Stewart and Newman racing for the lead. At 28 to go, we were told that Gordon said his car was pushing and his crew chief asked if it would help to get Joe Nemechek out of the way. Unfortunately, right after this was when the race for the lead was relegated to an inset while we watched Busch or one of the other Chase contenders in the main picture. If NBC felt they had to show this, why not a split screen with the leaders getting as much exposure rather than only the small inset?

At 19 to go, Dave reported that Jarrett was really close on fuel. Allen pointed out that Newman had also last pitted at lap 192 and Stewart at lap 200. Bill told us that Newman's team said they felt they could make it on fuel. When Biffle passed Busch for position, we were told that he wanted Biffle in front.

When Truex blew a tire (and the entire quarter panel), the caution came out. NBC showed the 97 crew and we heard Jimmy Fennig on the radio tell Busch to stay out. Then NBC covered Martin and Earnhardt who did pit. We also got to hear Robbie Loomis on the radio to Gordon telling him that he had to win the race to beat Busch in the points.

NBC first told us that it would be a single-file restart, but then corrected themselves saying the race would restart with more than 10 laps to go. Wally said he couldn't understand why they didn't wave off the start so that there would be no lapped cars interfering with the leaders. At first I thought this comment was unreasonable as I didn't think there should be special rules just because of the Chase. But when Wally pointed out that Nemechek was two or more laps down and the only other person on the same lap was Truex and he had just dropped out, it made a little more sense. Later we were told that NASCAR was on the radio to Nemechek reminding him to "be respectful" to the leaders.

Since he might soon become a championship crew chief, Bill told us about Jimmy Fennig's background in racing, which was very interesting.

With three laps to go in the race, the leader, Newman cut a tire and hit the wall. As the caution came out, NBC got a good shot of the frustration on Fennig's face when he realized the race would require a green/white/checkered finish. Unfortunately, right after this Allen launched into his preachy voice with "...if you're new to NASCAR..." and called it "overtime." Why must NBC try to change the names of things to make it more palatable to non-race fans. I'm sorry, every time Allen has said "overtime" this year, it makes me cringe!

Dave told us that Jarrett had reported his fuel pressure was beginning to drop and Allen said that Gordon and Johnson would not want to be behind him if he ran out of fuel. Next the producer queued up Jarrett's radio where he told his crew chief that the pressure was down to 3 lbs. and he was going to pull his car off the track. Then we heard is crew chief tell him the 41 car was coming up to help push him off the track.

NBC did a good job of covering the action up front on the restart between Stewart, Biffle and Gordon (although I was surprised to read this week that Stewart had a fuel pickup problem on the restart - NBC never mentioned that at all).

After Biffle took the checkered flag, NBC seemed to forget him for quite a long time. This seemed inherently unfair to a guy who'd raced hard for the win. They never even showed a replay of Biffle's exciting pass for the win. Instead they focused on Busch and his team only. We heard Kurt tell his crew something like "come on the track and push me" which didn't make a lot of sense as the next thing we saw he was doing victory burnouts with a championship flag out the window and getting a high five from his teammate who had won the race. Bill had a nice interview with Fennig though.

Dave interviewed Johnson who finished second in the race and in the points and Matt interviewed Gordon. Finally they got around to showing Biffle in Victory Lane and it was nice that he dedicated is win to the late Randy Dorton. After this, Matt interviewed Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

When Busch finally got to the celebration area for the championship, Bill launched into his play-by-play of his activities. You know the golf whisper-type thing about how he was greeted by his brother and then took a deep breath. I did find it quite humorous that when Kurt exited his car, there was no one else around, so he hugged Weber. As I said earlier, I was impressed that NBC stayed with the last 60 or so laps of the race and all of this post-race celebration before breaking for commercial. And this time, it was kind of appropriate that it was a Sharpie commercial, Busch's sponsor.

When they returned, we got to see Mike Helton presenting the championship trophy to Busch, but Bill seemed to feel the need to prompt Busch by saying "go ahead, hold it up there." Has the TV reporter now taken the place of Bill Broderick, who used to orchestrate victory for NASCAR? Lastly we got to see the president of Nextel present a giant check to Busch as well as a fan who picked him to win the championship.

When they went back to the booth, Wally proclaimed how people were against this format when it came out, but "...they've got to be crazy about it now..." Uh...excuse me, Wally, who are you speaking for, NBC? NASCAR? Because you certainly are out of touch with the fans. I've yet to talk to more than a few fans who love the Chase. I couldn't help but feel that this was NBC's way of feeding their own egos about their part in bringing forth a new points system to further their ratings.

After this, we saw a montage of highlights from the day and then NBC was gone. There were no credits for the production folks behind the scenes or anything, they were just gone. No replay of the pass for the win as I mentioned earlier either. I realize that the broadcast was an hour over the alotted timeslot, but you'd think NBC wouldn't have left so abruptly. Oh, but they had to get on to bull riding, I guess. As always, I wish I could say more positive things about the broadcast, but the focus that NBC chose to take during this race just didn't sit well with me as a fan of racing. Yes, I wanted to know about the championship contenders, but not to the exclusion of the other guys running up front and contending for the win. I've heard that there were 27 updates on "the points now" during this broadcast. Doesn't anyone at NBC realize this is just absurd? At the end of this broadcast, I just felt like I was glad the season was finally over, something I've never felt in my 16 seasons of following NASCAR.

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