The view from my couch

NBC Coverage of the Pepsi 400
by Cheryl Lauer
July 4, 2005

With very few exceptions, I think that NBC did an outstanding job in their return and with the coverage of this race. Despite being faced with a two and one-half hour rain delay, the pit reporters and announcers didn't attempt to make themselves the show, instead interviewing almost every driver in the field to fill the time. This is always something I enjoy as it is more low-key and the drivers seem more relaxed. The commercials during the actual race did not seem excessive and were all well-placed by the producer. Bill Weber did a good job in his new role as anchor and Allen Bestwick did an excellent job the pits. It was also quite clear the production team made a real effort to remain focused on the race or race-related material during the pre-race show. They didn't digress into rambling about themselves or their past glory.

I'll be honest and admit I missed the first 15 minutes of the pre-race show. I was enjoying the nice weather outside and lost track of time. From the point I picked up the broadcast though, it was obvious that the NBC team worked hard to produce numerous features on drivers and teams. There was none of the silly gags that comprised the pre-race shows all season on Fox. There was a good mix of taped features segueing into live interviews with drivers in many cases. The pit reporters asked relevant questions to drivers approaching retirement or those just starting their careers. Wally's World doesn't always thrill me with the celebrity rides, such as this week's Lisa Marie Pressley and Jamie Foxx (although the segment with Foxx where they were forced to drive through the garage area because it was raining did make me laugh). I enjoyed Wally demonstrating how to signal to get onto pit road during the race and how you needed drafting partners to help get back to speed after pitting. This turned out to be extremely relevant after what happened later in the race. About the only thing I didn't like about the pre-race show was the NBC team making analogies between racing and baseball. I still fail to see why racing must be compared to other sports.

Again, I'll admit that I did switch away from the extended delay about 9:00 p.m. and watch the USAR race on SPEED. I had been dying to know what happened in that race from last weekend, so the rain delay came in handy. But I switched only after Bill Weber told us that NASCAR was hoping to start the race around 9:30-9:45. Then I checked back during commercials on SPEED to see what was going on at Daytona. Because the track was taking so long to get dry, I was able to watch all of the USAR race before the cars actually started racing at full speed at Daytona. I was happy to skip the concert by Lisa Marie, as I caught the "sound check" and it didn't sound like anything I would be interested in seeing in lieu of the exciting short track racing on SPEED. I did pause the Tivo for about 15 minutes after the Cup cars started running under a green/yellow situation and then went back and watched that portion after the USAR race ended at 11 p.m.

NBC had some good comments from Dale Jarrett while the cars were running laps to dry the track. But I was surprised that NBC did not tell us the field was going to start under caution because we didn't hear it until Jarrett mentioned it ( (unless I missed that). I thought Jarrett's comment about getting the race in by daylight was particularly funny! Also, the announcers made some good observations about the possibility of the shadows from the lights making the backstretch still look wet.

One of the best differences between the broadcasts on Fox and NBC was that NBC showed the full starting grid for the race, including a graphic with the driver's name, number, crew chief's name, and manufacturer. It was so nice to see that NBC could take the time to do this as we've traditionally seen, unlike Fox relegating it to a ticker while talking about other things. We were also shown a graphic of who failed to make the field and which drivers had to start in the back because of working on their cars after the impound. This included the Mike Bliss team whom Benny told us were allowed to check their engine and though NASCAR would not allow them to change it, they still had to start in the back of the pack.

Benny read a statement passed out by NASCAR at the drivers meeting about going below the yellow line or forcing someone down there and then NBC showed a replay from the Busch race where Martin Truex went below the yellow line to block Kevin Harvick from passing him.

It was good use of time for the producer to break for commercial while the cars were running at caution speeds while continuing to dry the track, rather than early in the real racing action. It would have been nice to know what speed the cars were running during this period though. I think in the past I've heard that pace speed was 70 at Daytona, but I'd like to know if that's how fast they were actually running during the green/yellow laps on Saturday night.

The Race

Another outstanding thing about NBC is that the viewers don't have to suffer though silly phrases as the field takes the green flag. Bill Weber simply told us when the field was going full speed and then the announcers were quiet the entire first lap. This was excellent! Again, this is just the traditional way a race should be started, but it's nice to know that the NBC announcers don't try to draw the attention away from the start of the race and to themselves like their competitors do. When the ticker came on after the first full speed lap was completed, it showed us that it was lap 13 of 160.

Early in the race, NBC was showing racing between Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, and Matt Kenseth when Benny screamed that Robby Gordon was going three-wide while passing Boris Said. Unfortunately, the director stayed with what he had been showing and never switched to what Benny was talking about. Things like this are frustrating to the viewers.

NBC did at least two of their wonderful Through the Field segments during this race, with the first one being at lap 26. They covered the top 20 drivers which was great! The director also did an excellent job of panning the camera out so you could see several cars, not just the one they were talking about at the time. Anytime the cameras show more cars instead of just one is good as far as I'm concerned! I know I'm greedy, but it would be nice to see the entire field just once during the race. We never seemed to see drivers like Sterling Marlin or Travis Kvapil during the entire race. During the first TTF segment, Matt Yocum told us that he'd heard Harvick say that someone in front of him was losing the rear end and putting liquid on the track. Later, the announcers speculated that it could only be Tony Stewart or Jimmie Johnson since they were the only ones in front of Harvick at the time. NBC stayed with the live racing action until lap 30 before they broke for their first commercial, which was great!

The biggest complaint I had about the NBC broadcast was that they seemed to have designated Dale Earnhardt, Jr. as a top "story" before the race started. Early in the broadcast, they had to keep telling us about him moving up a few positions from his starting spot back in the high 30s. To me, it didn't seem worthy of noting as he hadn't moved up that much at the time. In contrast, they did show us a graphic pointing out that Matt Kenseth had moved up from 38th to 10th position, which I found more meaningful. But the coverage of Earnhardt seemed particularly overdone when the first incident of the night happened around lap 35. Rather than showing us the damage to all the cars involved, the announcers seemed only worried that Earnhardt got through and about the minor damage to his car. We did get to see numerous excellent replays of the incident, but we really only saw Mark Martin's damaged car. We never saw or heard about the repairs to Bobby Labonte's car or many of other top drivers involved in the incident. NBC seemed only concerned about how it affect Earnhardt, which just didn't seem right to me, when so many other drivers had severe damage and spent a long time behind the wall. NBC did quickly provide a graphic of everyone involved though, and later Marty Snider interviewed Mark Martin, Kurt Busch and Scott Riggs.

As usual, we got numerous good replays of this first incident (and all others). The announcers quickly mentioned that they saw Jeff Gordon trying to signal that he was slowing down and coming into the pits. They included several replays also from the in-cars of the 31 and 8, and one from the 24 showing that he was waving to come in. The announcers speculated that Jamie McMurray who was directly behind him slowed. Then Riggs moved up towards Martin who bounced off the wall and then came down tp collect Busch and others.

Allen reported that Greg Biffle pitted before the pits were open since he went down pit road to avoid the wreck. Also that when he came out, he had a bad vibration, so he had to come in again. Later, we were told that Biffle had to start at the tail end of the longest line (in 31st position) because he pitted before the pits were officially open.

Marty also reported that fuel was already an issue and Kyle Busch had radioed in that he was out of gas and down off the banking just when I noticed Kenseth was down there as well. Next, they showed Elliott Sadler out of gas and a tow truck pushing him. This was great coverage of a lot of things happening at the same time!

It was so refreshing that NBC didn't go to commercial until after they'd shown pit stops. They also showed a triple split of the top three drivers pit stops, including timing along with an overview of pit road on the right side of the screen. No silly 9-way split of stops that is too busy and confusing to follow. There was a HUGE graphic of car number before the triple split though. That needs to be reduced or eliminated all together. Once they start showing the cars, it's obvious who it is without the need for a graphic.

The producer got back in time to catch the restart at lap 42 and every other restart in the race. This is something the viewer should expect, although it was turning into a rarity the last few weeks on Fox. Bill also made a point of telling us every beneficiary of the free pass during the race, starting with Brian Vickers on this restart.

My husband brought up the question of why the NBC ticker doesn't go all the way out to the left top of the screen? I remember commenting on this last year myself and wonder the same thing. The viewers miss so much information by cutting it off like this. I can only think it has something to do with the widescreen broadcast, but that really doesn't make any sense to me. Unless they can't do it on a 4 X 3 broadcast and widescreen at the same time. Either way, it needs to be corrected.

Sometime after the restart, Michael Waltrip was pulling out to pass for second position and the director switched to Jeff Burton's in-car camera showing nothing in front of him so they could show you the sponsored poll results. Couldn't they wait until a lull in the action? Speaking of lulls, I noticed that NBC did every one of their "race recaps" during caution periods, so that the viewers didn't miss any action while they were being shown. This was another big improvement over what Fox had been doing all year.

At lap 63, Bill told us that Bobby Labonte had returned to the track. He was good about telling us when anyone came back after being involved in an early wreck. But I never heard why Kerry Earnhardt dropped out. Was it because of mechanical issues or was he involved in the early wreck as well?

When NBC returned from a commercial right after this, we heard the field was under caution because of debris and the director quickly showed us the debris. He even replayed a shot of Mike Wallace running over it before the caution came out. This was very good. During this caution, NBC used their new feature Pit Window for Benny to analyze Johnson's pit stop. I'd heard an NBC official tell about this new feature on XM earlier in the week, and I'm kind of neutral about it. It was good as long as time is only taken for it during caution periods. If it begins interfering with green flag racing, I can definitely live without it.

When Waltrip wrecked and collected a lot of people, Benny quickly pointed out his tire was flat as he went into the turn on restart. NBC quickly played Waltrip's radio conversation between he and his crew chief. They showed Biffle coming onto pit road to get repairs from all his damage. NBC also showed pit stops of the 8 and 24 and told us Stewart did not pit, so his tire concerns (that they mentioned earlier) were obviously not warranted. When they returned from commercial, they showed a good replay from Waltrip's in-car. Later, one of the pit reporters interviewed him as well.

After the lap77 restart, Bill told us the top nine cars did not pit. We were also shown (in an inset) when Biffle went to the garage. Later, the announcers pointed out that 14 Roush crew members were working to try and get Biffle's car back into the race, which was very interesting. At lap 78, we got a graphic of the "points now", all the way back to where Earnhardt was in points. I guess the points leader having problems early was significant, but it seemed kind of early in the race (and the season) to be worrying about this kind of thing to me. At lap 84, Bill told us that Nemechek was involved in the last wreck, but was able to continue on and was now the last car on the lead lap running in 32nd position.

Sometime right after halfway, Bill yelled "TROUBLE", but the director was again very slow showing us what had occurred. Eventually we were shown that Bobby Hamilton, Jr had hit the wall and were told it was caused by his right front tire going down. Allen was quick to point out that this was a huge break for the eight cars who were on pit road and that they got out without losing a lap, and would now be the leaders.

After pit stops, there was a good graphic showing that Johnson got out 5th, Stewart 6th, and Ryan Newman 7th. The announcers told us that Sadler was leading and Jarrett was now second since they were two who pitted just before the caution came out.

There were good replays of two incidents involving Boris Said. On the lap 117 restart after the next caution, Bill told us that Stewart, Sadler and McMurray did not pit. With 27 laps to go, Allen relayed a funny incident when Sadler had an unscheduled pit stop and his crew chief called for only two tires and Sadler apparently squealed "HOW MANY TIRES?" which prompted them to decide to give him four tires after all.

At 21 laps to go, Marty reported that Kenseth would probably be 7 laps short on fuel. Fortunately for him, another caution came out for the second spin for Said. Bill told us that Sadler would get his lap back via the free pass. NBC also showed Brian Vickers with damage from a collision when Newman stopped coming off pit road. At the 17 laps to go restart, we were told that Kasey Kahne was the leader and a lap later, NBC showed Newman coming in to repair damage to his car and because he had a tire going down as a result of the pit road incident.

NBC caught some great action when Stewart went four-wide to retake the lead. At 15 to go, the announcers pointed out Kenseth had some smoke and they speculated it was from getting a fender pushed in when Stewart squeezed past him a lap earlier.

When Harvick got hit by Jeff Burton and the last caution came out, the in-car camera from Jarrett's car showed him going down pit road to avoid the wreck. The announcers reminded us that as long as he slowed down once he entered pit road, he would not get penalized. With just 10 laps remaining in the race, the pit reporters talked to Stewart, Johnson, and McMurray's crew chiefs on whether they could win.

After the checkered flag, I was impressed at how long NBC stayed around before going to commercial. They showed Stewart's victory celebration including a shot of him climbing the fence from a camera at the flagstand and his getting the flag as a souvenir before doing a victory lap.

I was a bit dismayed by the need to say "Other winner's tonight" and cut to an interview with Earnhardt who finished third. I understand NBC's incessant need to hype the Chase and the media fascination with the possibility of both Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt not making it, but as far as I'm concerned, there can only be one winner each week. I also continue to wonder why both networks interview Earnhardt before higher finishers (in this case the second place finisher McMurray).

Next was Allen in Victory lane with Stewart and finally they got around to Matt Yocum interviewing McMurray. I was impressed that Matt asked him about not waving to the car behind him when he saw Gordon was motioning that he was pitting (McMurray said he did wave but on the backstretch). Fourth place finisher, Rusty Wallace and fifth place finisher, Jarrett, were both interviewed before NBC broke for commercial. Then it was only a brief commercial before they came back to interview Johnson who regained the points lead. I was again very happy to see NBC showed a graphic of the race results, rather than relegating them to a scrolling ticker during all the interviews. The announcers made a point of highlighting guys who had good runs, such as Schrader who finished in 10th place. Before they went off the air, they showed the points standings and mentioned that Jarrett's strong run had moved him into the top 10 in points and that Gordon was now within 400 points of the leader again.

I know as a fan watching at home, it was difficult to stay up until 2 a.m. to see the race run to its conclusion. I can only imagine how hard it was for the NBC broadcast team to fill that long rain delay and then be "on" to do such a superb job during the 3+ hour race broadcast. In my opinion, they did an outstanding job and I look forward, with relief, to having them back for many more great broadcasts through the rest of the year. Thanks!

This season, I won't be reviewing every single race. It's just too demanding to do a thorough job every week, and my heart's just not into NASCAR as much as it used to be. I will try to do a review at least once a month because I still feel it is important to give feedback to the networks. In the meantime, I encourage other fans to visit the Speedcouch Forum www.SpeedCouch.com/forum to review the races themselves and exchange their thoughts with other race fans. Read the RULES, sign up now, and jump into the discussion to let the networks know your thoughts about the race coverage.

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