The view from my couch

NBC Coverage of the EA Sports 500
by Cheryl Lauer
October 6, 2004

I think Bill Weber did a very good job filling in for Allen Bestwick in the booth and the pit reporters of Matt Yocum, Dave Burns, and Marty Snider did their usual excellent job despite the loss of Weber on pit road. Overall, this was a good broadcast and I'm very happy that the races have returned to NBC. The commercial breaks appeared to be down a bit this week and that's a real good thing. Unfortunately the on-screen ads seemed to be up, so I guess this is how NBC is choosing to fit more commercials into their broadcasts. Yes, this is better than being away at break; however, I felt on-screen ads were particularly disruptive to this race. Many times, they covered of the action on a track where there was always something happening on Sunday. As a viewer, I found this very frustrating.

Pre-Race Show

I have just a couple of items from the pre-race show that I'd like to mention. Overall, I think NBC was down on the hype for the so-called "the Big One" during this broadcast, which is really a good thing. That said, they did find a way to show Elliott Sadler's barrel-roll from last year's race at least three times during the pre-race show as well as showing Bobby Labonte's frightening wreck from a few year's ago more than once as well. I guess NBC felt some viewers needed to see them over and over to get the point. Well, this viewer felt seeing the wreck footage once was enough to remind me.

NBC provided an excellent graphic of "running-mates" the ten contenders for the championship. Throughout the pre-race, the pit reporters talked to each of the ten as well as the pole sitter, Joe Nemechek, second place starter, Ricky Rudd and Dale Jarrett who was starting fourth.

When NBC went to the announcers in the booth, Bill explained that Allen Bestwick was absent because he had broken his leg playing hockey. Bill and Wally Dallenbach made some interesting comments about Allen. I think Weber was trying to be funny when he said "the most difficult part of his recovery will be watching the race from the couch." Unfortunately, to many of the viewers, watching the race from home can be painful because of commercials, etc. But Wally's comment about Allen playing in a peewee hockey league and "those kids are tougher than they look" truly made me laugh.

As the cars were on their pace laps, Marty reported that Greg Biffle's car had been stopped on pit road because of a random spoiler check in which it didn't meet the minimum height. Later, Marty told us that Biffle would be sent to the end of the longest line. Benny pointed out that he would now not have the opportunity to check pit road speed on his tachometer like the other cars who had the advantage of all the pace laps. Good point!

The Race

As with the on-screen ads, I noticed the NBC scoring ticker covered up a lot of the action at the beginning of the race. If we must have this scroll, why does it have to be so far down on the screen?

Throughout the race, NBC sure did a good job of keeping everyone updated on Dale Earnhardt, Jr. At the start of the race, Bill also told us that the plan for DEI was for him to lead and Waltrip and Kenny Wallace to "push" him; something I would have never guessed!

At lap 10, NBC went to their first commercial, but Bill reminded us that NBC would break out of it if "anything happens on the track." Yes, they did break out of commercial twice when accidents occurred on the track, but at least twice I noted that significant lead changes happened and NBC didn't even tell us about them if they occurred while they were away. I understand that there are a lot of unofficial lead changes at a restrictor plate track; however, a least once there was a spirited battle where the lead changed during commercial and then that driver fell way back in the pack. I know this from listening to MRN, yet when NBC returned, they acted like it never happened. Yes, most times, they would show us a replay, but in this one instance, they simply ignored it because they appeared to have better things to show us or tell us about.

NBC did a very good job with their numerous Through the Field segments, which had to be a challenge when the drivers were jockeying around so much each lap. Again, I commend the remaining pit reporters for pulling this feature off seamlessly even though they were down a man because of the loss of Weber. On the down side, I feel that producer, Sam Flood, is beginning to rely on TTF way too much as all he does in between commercial segments or covering green flag pit stops.

There were the usual excellent replays of all incidents of the day up until the end of the race. I felt NBC was more concerned with showing us yet another replay of Sadler's wreck from last year than showing us what happened with Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle. In addition, they never told us if Biffle was okay. Never should sensational replays take the place of assuring us competitors are alright.

NBC did a very good job of telling us about various tire strategies during the day and covering mechanical problems experienced by teams. They also provided timely reports on pit road incidents such as when Kevin Harvick slid through his pits early in the event and crew member, Mike Scearce, had to jump out of the way, and when Casey Mears slid into the grass getting onto pit road. NBC also told us when competitors received penalties for pit road violations.

The inevitable "If the Race Ended Now points graphics were significantly down this week. Thank you! The first one was not shown until lap 36 and it was only repeated a few times during the day, not every few laps like the last couple of weeks. I was surprised that NBC barely covered Chase contenders Jeremy Mayfield and Ryan Newman throughout most of the race. I understand they were running at the back of the pack, but they are top drivers, so I would have liked to have heard if they were having problems or just cruising.

One time when the racing was very intense, the producer chose to break away from it to show us the Virtual Garage. I understand this is really just another commercial, but it particularly annoyed me this week because of what we were missing while they were showing it.

When Rusty Wallace took the lead, Bill actually mirrored my words and surprise when he said "Rusty leading at Talladega????" The tone of his voice was so funny!

There were some good pictures from Robby Gordon's in-car camera when someone was putting fluid on his windshield. What I found a bit confusing was that NBC mentioned it might be Ricky Craven in the 11 car, but then they switched to telling us about some issues that Sadler was having instead. They never adequately explained who had put the fluid on the track and I think they could have done a better job following through on that story. I appreciated hearing about Sadler's numerous problems with his alternator, battery and overheating, but I'd like to have known about who was putting so much fluid on the track that it brought out a caution.

There were the usual interesting replays from driver radios. I particularly enjoyed the one from Robby Gordon's when his crew told him his voice had gotten very high when he was telling them he couldn't see out of his windshield. To which he replied, "well, I'm suppose to be a choir boy for the next two weeks." I also enjoyed Jimmie Johnson's comments about what a good drafting partner Kurt Busch proved to be.

Around lap 69 in the race, there seemed to be a loss of continuity for me. There was just too much babbling from the commentators and on-screen commercials. I had a real hard time following what was actually going on on the track during this time. Thankfully, the extraneous things eventually settled down a bit.

With the amount of the time NBC spent on covering certain cars, it would have been nice for them to mention Sterling Marlin running near the front a little earlier. The same thing with Ken Schrader. Not to mention pole sitter, Joe Nemechek. After he lost the lead, we pretty much never heard a word about him the rest of the race. Personally, I'd like to know why he fell so far back in the field. These drivers don't run this well very often and it would be nice for their sponsors to get more airtime when they do. During this race, NBC did what many drivers and the fans have feared all year. If drivers aren't a factor in the Chase, they are pretty much being ignored.

Around lap 110, NBC showed the 32 car of Bobby Hamilton, Jr. behind the wall from "earlier damage." I may have missed it, but I don't remember them telling us Hamilton had a problem earlier in the race.

Around lap 115, there was a pass for the lead, but the viewers at home couldn't see it because NBC was covering up the screen with two pages of graphics of how well "the Coke Family of Drivers" were running. The lap 129 restart was nearly missed while NBC was busy showing us another billboard. Not too many laps later, Bill told us about "the battle up front," and then told us "we'll be back..." as they broke for another commercial. I really do understand commercials are a "necessary evil," but what's the point of broadcasting the race if you are either covering up the action or leaving it just when it is heating up? This was some of the best racing of the day and the NBC producer broke away from it because he had more commercials to fit in. I will give him credit that he broke out of the commercial at lap 143 because of an accident involving the 43, 02, 19, and 4 cars.

NBC returned to commercial during this caution and came back to show us the repairs being made to Mayfield's damaged car as Matt interviewed the driver. Later, Bill told us that Jeff Green, who took the hardest hit, had been treated and released from the in-field care center. I always appreciate when the announcers quickly assure us everyone is okay.

At lap 154, NBC went away again for commercial, but Bill assured us this would be the last "green flag" break. While they were away, I switched over to MRN and there appeared to be some great racing going on for the lead, yet NBC never even mentioned it when they returned. To the other viewers who didn't have MRN, it was like it never happened.

In the waning laps of the race, NBC kept us updated on problems experienced by Kenny Wallace, Elliott Sadler and Jimmie Johnson. They also showed us the 97 and 24 crew chiefs supposedly making a deal on pit road to come in together on their final pit stops.

NBC did a good job of covering the accident that occurred with Martin slowed entering pit road and Brendan Gaughan got into Marlin. Marty mentioned that Marlin had been planning to going the rest of the way on fuel when this incident occurred. This was great information, but it would've been nice to hear it a little earlier. At this time, I was wondered aloud if the drivers who had not yet pitted could go the rest of the way because of running these laps under caution. Right after this, Bill voiced the same question. Did he have my living room bugged?

Bill pointed out that since there were less than 10 laps remaining in the race, no one would get the free pass this time. I don't specifically remember if NBC told us who had gotten it during prior caution, but I may have just missed it.

NBC covered the final pit stops of the day and told us that Gaughan had stayed out, so he was the leader. They also showed that Scott Wimmer had to get a push off pit road because he had run out of gas.

On the restart, someone said "Uh-oh, Ricky Rudd is passing before the start/finish line," but then they assured us he made it back in place in time to avoid a penalty. As we were told Kevin Harvick was going for the lead, NBC continued to show the 8 car.

At this point, I got more interested in the ending of the race, so I didn't take a lot more notes about the broadcast. I was very disappointed that the producer chose to show another replay of Sadler's wreck from last year before providing a replay of what happened to Kahne and Biffle. Also, I don't believe anyone ever told us that Biffle was okay after a very hard hit before NBC left the air.

As always, I believe the NBC production team is trying to do a good job with the broadcasts. Unfortunately, the absurd number of commercials, on-screen promos, etc. get in the way of that. The result is the viewers at home miss a lot of the racing action and become very frustrated. Again, I think Bill Weber did a very good job "pinch-hitting" for Allen Bestwick in the booth. He added some different insights along with a change in the dynamics between the anchor and Parsons and Dallenbach. But overall, things went very smoothly. I'm sure Weber's loss on pit road was felt by the other pit reporters, but they still did a fantastic job picking up the slack and the results were seamless to the viewers at home.

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