The view from my couch

NBC Coverage of Sirius at the Glen
by Cheryl Lauer
August 15, 2005

I think NBC did an excellent job with the coverage of this race. The commercials did not seem excessive and were very well placed for the most part. I also like that NBC came back a couple of times for a quick update under caution and then went back to commercial. This is similar to the updates you hear on MRN and I really like that. It may mean more breaks, but at least the viewer doesn't feel like they've totally lost track of what's going on with the race during a long block of commercials. Granted a road course race does provide the opportunity for less intrusive breaks, but the NBC producer still did an excellent job with the commercial placements this week. The exception was one missed restart, which always seems avoidable to me, especially on a road course where the producer has several minutes notice when the field is getting ready to go back to green.

Pre-Race Show

As we always see from NBC, the pre-race show was well-organized, professional, and relevant to racing. NBC showed highlights from Tony Stewart's win last week at Indianapolis as the lead-in to the show. When they went to Bill Weber in the booth, he immediately told us that NASCAR was in "hurry-up mode" because of a forecast for showers. He also told the viewers that the green flag was scheduled to fall at 1:35. I particularly appreciate that NBC tells the viewers this kind of thing up front, instead of stringing them along for 30 minutes or more as Fox did many times this year.

NBC told us Stewart qualified on the pole, but since the qualifying session wasn't completed because of rain, he would would still start up front because he was leading the points. While showing the current points standings, the announcers mentioned this was the first time Stewart had led the points since the last race in 2002. That was very interesting and something I didn't realize.

NBC told us about Sterling Marlin's father, Coo-Coo, passing away early Sunday morning and how Sterling had gone home on Thursday to be with him. Marty Snider also told us that it Rusty Wallace was celebrating his 49th birthday.

NBC's "story" this week was about the "road course ringers". We were told that there were eight of them running in this race and last time one won was in 1973. Thankfully, they really didn't totally rely on this story too much during the race.

Matt Yocum updated us on the big news story of the week concerning Kurt Busch signing to drive for Roger Penske in 2007. He also had a live interview with Busch and asked a good question about how he and the 97 team could avoid becoming "lame ducks" while he fulfilled the remainder of his contract this year and in 2006.

The intro to the actual race broadcast was a montage of highlight videos featuring Stewart at Indy with a Spiderman theme and song. Personally, I thought it was kind of silly, but I guess every network likes something splashy at the beginning of the actual broadcast. I did find it interesting that NBC never mentioned Sirius was the race sponsor at all.

Wally Dallenbach told us about the paving of the run-off area in turn one and that he saw a lot of guys being pushed in after running out of gas after the checkered flag in the Busch race. He speculated that fuel strategies might also backfire during this race as well. Throughout the day, I thought Wally brought a lot of good insight from running in the Busch race on Saturday.

I still think Wally's World would be a lot better without the celebrity ride-alongs, but this week's guest at least seemed to really be getting into the spirt and enjoying the ride.

The Race

It was great to hear nothing but the sounds of race cars for most of the first lap! This is by far one of NBC's best features! Also great is the fact NBC actually shows you a graphic of the starting grid in the normal way and does not relegate it to a scrolling ticker.

Bill told us that he thought Robby Gordon had passed about 10 cars on the first lap. I really enjoyed seeing the tread cam at the chicane on the first lap. Wally pointed out that the track was in really good condition and he saw more passing during the Busch race than he'd seen at Watkins Glen in a long time.

On lap 5, Allen Bestwick had a report on how Rusty Wallace was running, including where he is in the points and how close he is to the 10th place driver. Matt Yocum also had a report on Jamie McMurray who is in 11th. These were probably the "final thoughts from pit road" that they missed because of the quick start of the race, but this was still interesting information. Wally told us that Mark Martin was a little bit loose and that his car wasn't getting very good fuel mileage.

At Lap 6, they told us Robby was up from 37th to 24th. Obviously Gordon was a primary story for NBC, but I can understand that since he was a former winner here and ran so well in the Busch race on Saturday. Unfortunately, someone in the production truck felt the need to use a silly pointer to show us where he was at this time when his car was clearly visible. After Robby passed someone in the chicane, Wally pointed out you couldn't do this last year because there had been a curb there. Another great insight! Dave Burns pointed out Robby's team was not going to gamble on pit strategy because they were so far down in the points and were trying to get into the top 35.

When NBC returned from their first commercial at lap 9, Bill told us that Stewart had a four second lead at this point. Throughout the day, NBC had good replays of all the on-track incidents, beginning when P.J. Jones' spin early after contact with Boris Said. Bill pointed out that because the curbing had been shaved down in that area, you really couldn't get two-wide. Wally said you could, but you had to be really careful.

Around lap 14, Benny started screaming "DALE JARRETT SLOWED DOWN" but it looked like he was fine when they showed him. Matt reported that Carl Edwards said his windshield was covered with oil and his team suspected it was from Jarrett.

Some teams began their pitting strategy around lap 15, including Casey Mears, so NBC showed his team topping off with fuel in an inset. This was good. At lap 16, the announcers pointed out something appeared to be wrong with Greg Biffle's car. Marty Snider said Biffle's crew chief, Doug Richert, had asked him what was wrong, but the driver didn't respond. The announcers speculated maybe it was an ignition problem like he had at Indy, because he appeared to be back up to speed.

At lap 18, Allen reported that Ryan Newman said his pedal just went to the floor a lap earlier. Benny said he saw raindrops on the camera lens and Bill jokingly said it was probably the same thing Edwards had seen on his windshield earlier.

When Martin and Earnhardt, Jr. came in for their first pit stops, NBC went to full screen to cover them for some reason. They also mentioned that Martin's poor fuel mileage was because of a "tall gear" and Bill asked Wally to explain what that meant. His explanation that the car stayed in a certain gear a long time was very interesting. I've heard that term a long time, but never really heard what it meant.

When Stewart pitted at lap 23, NBC had their silly "NEW LEADER" flash on the ticker. I guess they thought we weren't paying attention. At lap 24, they told us Terry Labonte was off the pace and Bill said he had just been on pit road a couple laps before. We never really heard about what was the problem with Labonte's car though.

While showing pit stops, Bill told us there was a spin on the track and the camera switched to show show Jarrett with damage to his right rear. Benny told us Robby Gordon, who had not yet pitted, was the leader at the time. NBC played the radio from Jarrett as well as a replay that showed Earnhardt had spun him. NBC tried to play a lot of radio chatter throughout the day, but the announcers talked over much of it. The producers need to let the announcers know when they are going to in-car audio or else cut their mikes to avoid them talking over the audio.

As they broke for commercial, Bill told us Johnny Miller would get the free pass back to the lead lap. They returned in time to show yellow flag pit stops. Dave told us Biffle almost hit Robby leaving pit road. Allen reported on Newman's brake problems and we saw the team opening the hood to put in fluid for master cylinder. Benny said 15 cars pitted and 15 stayed out, so that would help Robby have less cars to pass to try and get back up front.

Unfortunately, NBC never told us who was leading before they went back to commercial. They came back to catch the lap 28 restart and showed us Michael Waltrip was the leader at that time. They also pointed out he had pitted at lap 12.

Bill told us Robby restarted 29th and that Biffle had received a pit road penalty for "non-compliant fueling." Now, what exactly does that mean, Bill??? He went on to say that since he had to start at the end of the longest line, the team brought Biffle back on pit road to top off with fuel.

During this time, the cameras showed the racing up front and Wally and Benny did an excellent job of telling us about passing between other cars in the top 10. At lap 32, they told us that Terry Labonte had taken his car to the garage, though we still never heard any specifics about the problem.

The camera was following Waltrip falling back from the lead, including an inset of his in-car camera. You could see the 31 car go completely sideways in the background of the in-car shot. Even after the announcers told us Jeff Burton had crashed, they stayed with the shots of Waltrip's car for a long time. This didn't make any sense, unless it was a sponsor obligation, but doesn't Burton's sponsor buy a lot of air time on the broadcasts as well? When they finally got around to showing Burton and you could see he took a hard hit, they went to his radio immediately and we heard him tell his crew, "that was my fault." Next, they showed his live in-car camera and you could see he was upset at wrecking. NBC stayed with the shot while safety workers began helping him get out and we heard him tell them he was okay. When they went to a replay of the accident, Wally walked us through it, pointing out Burton was loose coming through the corner and then got up on the rumble strips which turned him into the guardrail. More good observations! Much later, Marty interviewed Burton about the incident.

When NBC returned from commercial, Bill told us that Jarrett got the free pass (which is now sponsored by a hot dog company - how absurd!) and he was back in 41st position. They showed Newman pitting and Allen reported his team was now working on the the brake line for the rear calipers. NBC went to another commercial and came back in time for the lap 35 restart and Bill gave us a rundown of the top five as they took the green.

Allen asked Wally about the pavement in turn one and if it made him more brave in the Busch race. He said the reason he was asking is because he saw a lot drivers being a lot bolder in this race. Wally said the new pavement "absolutely" gave you a new sense of confidence.

NBC showed Kurt Busch pitting after they noticed his car was leaning over a lot and dragging the skirts. As they showed the pit stop, Benny said it looked like he had a flat. Allen reported that Kurt thought he had a tire down, but Wally saw a broken sway bar on the rear of the car. They speculated that's why he leaned so much in the "S" turns because he had no anti-roll bar. NBC played Kurt's radio, but at first you couldn't hear it because the announcers were talking over it. Later, Kurt said he wanted to bring the car in because he couldn't drive it. Wally said there was a drop off on both sides of the inner lop and if you dropped a wheel down there, it could really mess up the car. Later, Allen reported that the sway bar mounts were sheered off, so they were taking the car to the garage to fix it. Benny pointed out this could really hurt Kurt in the points standings. At lap 39, NBC showed a graphic of the "points as of now" illustrating that Martin would gain a spot on Busch. Also that McMurray would move into top 10 and Jarrett stood to drop out of the top ten and lose five positions. This was interesting, but NBC dwells way too much on the Chase points. Later, Marty talked to Busch while his team repaired his car.

The camera showed Bobby Labonte and the announcers said he was close to being lapped by his teammate, Stewart. Dave told us the 25, 1 and 18 got together on the last restart. It would've been nice to see a replay of this incident.

Another good thing about NBC is that when they showed the Cingular poll question, at least they don't cover up all the racing to do it. Also, they only had one of these questions during this race, which is even better. Too bad they can't get rid of that silly duck.

NBC started to go to commercial at lap 42, but the director stayed with the action because P.J. Jones had wrecked. We heard the radio from Jones where he told his crew that his brakes exploded and you could clearly see pieces everywhere. Wally first thought he tried to turn the car into the wall to slow it down since there was no longer any kitty litter in this area to help slow it down. We saw a good replay of the incident. Wally pointed out that when one rotar explodes, the other one grabs and that will sometime turn the car. I continue to be impressed with the amount of current knowledge Wally brings to the broadcasts. He seems to get better and better every season.

NBC returned from commercial just as the field got to the pits. They told us that Edwards in 13th was the first car to pit. After this, they went back to commercial. This is what I mean about NBC at least coming back to give us a quick update, then using the caution time to get in the required commercial breaks. Before the commercial, they had a video montage of race highlights. What bothered me was that this montage contained one incident we hadn't actually seen before - Scott Riggs getting into the wall. I noticed this because I had wondered why he was back in 43rd early in the race. Why is it NBC can find time to run these montages, but not show us the incidents when they actually happen?

When they returned from commercial, they showed some shots of the treadcam which had gotten turned over by being hit so often. Later, Bill told us that NASCAR had allowed them to go out and fix the camera.

At lap 45, NBC played Jeff Gordon's radio after he was quickly passed by two cars. We heard him say he thought he had a flat right front tire. After the pit stop, we also heard his crew tell him that the tire was indeed going down. Dave quickly showed us the 2-inch cut on Gordon's tire in an inset, and the announcers speculated he might have run over debris from Jones' brakes. Bill pointed out that despite winning here four times, Gordon has had bad finishes the last 3 races here. They also told us that he was now running in 39th place, 55 seconds behind the leader.

Marty Snider had an interview with P.J. Jones to explain what happened to his car. At lap 47, Bill told us that Busch had returned to track, but was 9 laps down. NBC went to commercial at lap 48 and came back at lap 51 to show Waltrip's pit stop. Bill told us Mears was too fast exiting pit road and would receive a penalty. He also explained Ricky Rudd got black-flagged for not getting equipment across the wall during pit stops. (In the video montage at the end of the broadcast, we finally saw that it was the catch can they were talking about.) Wally pointed out how pitting under green is so much better for the teams here because of the small size of the pit stalls. They also mentioned the pit road speed here was 35.

At 34 to go, Bill told us Stewart had clinched most laps led and had led most laps in six out of the last eight races as well. When Stewart made his next green flag stop, I noticed that the ticker didn't seem to keep up with the changes in position during green flag stops. If so, why not just take it off the screen until the field gets sorted back out? I've noticed this all season long on both Fox and NBC. Why do the networks feel the ticker must be on the screen at all times? Wouldn't it be more important to have it provide accurate information to the viewers?

When NBC returned from the next commercial, they showed Jeff Gordon on pit road, saying he darted into the pits when he saw Biffle stop on the track. They explained Biffle had stopped because he had a problem with his transmission. We then saw a replay of Biffle breaking the transmission from his in-car camera along with the accompanying sounds. The announcers said it sounded like the gear exploded and all the teeth broke out. They showed a replay of Gordon coming in to pit and the announcers pointed out the caution light was already red, so it didn't help him get an advantage on the field. Marty interviewed Biffle, who thought something broke off in his shifting linkage.

During the caution, NBC again mentioned Sterling Marlin's father passing away and pointed out Scott Pruett was driving the Coors Light car for Marlin this week. Later, there was good coverage of Pruett racing with Wallace. During this time, Marty told us the car had been set up for David Stremme to drive with a more conservative set-up. Since Pruett's car didn't make the race, Chip Ganassi put him in Sterling's car instead, so the set-up up was not as aggressive as Pruett would have liked; however, he just told the crew the car was very good and "let's make Sterling proud"

Around this time, our over the air high definition (HD) signal from just disappeared for quite a while. Fortunately, we had another NBC channel over the satellite; however the picture was not nearly as good since it was not HD. I switched back and forth during commercials to see if the HD channel was back. To me, it appeared to be a problem at the network as the the signal came back sporadically for a while and only during commercials. Every time, they went back to Watkins Glen the signal would disappear again. I also noticed some glitches on the satellite broadcast which seemed to be originating at the race. Perhaps the bad weather moving in was affecting it. Once the audio repeated itself on that channel as well. Eventually, I got a signal back on the HD channel, but after 4:00, it was no longer in widescreen. Did someone turn the widescreen switch off? I noticed the same thing happened with the widescreen disappearing late in the Busch broadcast on Saturday.

At 28 laps to go, NBC missed the restart. Soon after, they told us Newman only had 1st and 4th gears now and that's why he was losing several positions.

NBC showed a lot of smoke coming from Travis Kvapil's car and played his radio, but you couldn't hear what he said (and we never heard what happened to him). They also pointed out Mears missed the inner loop, but he slowed down not to advance his position per NASCAR rules.

NBC attempted two Through the Field (TTF) segments during this race, but both times they were interrupted by incidents on the track. At one point, Bill gave us an update on where the road race experts were running: Said in second, Pruett in seventh, and Robby Gordon in third.

Dave told us the temperature had dropped about 10 degrees on pit road so Robby Gordon's crew chief told him a storm was coming and that Robby said he would drive it as hard as he could. NBC also showed the interval between Gordon and the leader, Stewart, at that point.

At 19 to go, NBC showed that Waltrip had wrecked and Wally pointed out that was a strange place to wreck, right before the inner loop, so he wondered if he got turned. Replays showed that Kasey Kahne had in fact gotten into Waltrip.

When NBC returned from commercial, the pit reporters talked to the crew chiefs of the top three drivers and also Ryan Pemberton, Nemechek's crew chief. Bill told us that Ron Fellows would receive the free pass this time. They also told us who was off the track and that Biffle had returned to the race before going to another commercial. Bill told us Waltrip was treated and released from the infield care center, and Marty interviewed him about the wreck.

At 13 to go, there was another points rundown. NBC went to commercial with 12 laps to go and when they returned, we were told that Kyle Busch had spun, but it didn't bring out a caution. There was a replay and the announcers thought he had been a victim of wheel hop.

With 8 laps left in the race, NBC tried to show a graphic of speeds a line, but it didn't work and Bill said "you can't blame it on the camera in the inner loop." That was funny! At 6 to go, NBC was trying to do TTF of the top 10, but it was interrupted when the 37 car, Schrader and Newman spun. Bill pointed out that would have brought out a caution a year ago because they would have got stuck in the sand pits.

At 3 laps to go, the announcers told us Bobby Labonte making an unscheduled pit stop. When a caution came out because Goeters and Kurt Busch were in the sand trap, Marty said there was a puddle of oil as they pushed Labonte's car past him in the pits. He thought maybe that car put down oil that contributed to the spin There were good replays showing the drivers going into chicane and also a replay from Biffle's in-car camera.

Bill sounded a bit preachy when he explained the green/white/checker procedures. I felt like he might as well have prefaced it with "for those of you new to the sport."

Matt reported that everyone on the 20 team was up on pit cart because Stewart had reported the alternator on his car was going south. Matt talked to the crew chief who said Tony reported the alternator had failed about 8 laps ago, so they'd told him to turn off the brake fans. The team figured the back-up battery would be good for the remaining two laps.

The announcers told us Said had complained that Stewart had brake-checked him on the last two restarts, so NBC showed replays of those restarts, but their conclusion was that Boris just spun his tires.

I was a bit disappointed that NBC did not show the interval between first and second until the final lap and then it was a quick graphic. It would've been interesting to see how close Gordon was to Stewart at the beginning of the run.

NBC showed a pylon of the top 10 cars as they crossed the finish line and this was great! They also stayed around to show Stewart's entire cool down lap and Victory Celebration, including several drivers congratulating him as they drove by.

Bestwick did the Victory Lane interview with Stewart saying that he had won five out of the last seven races as a lead-in. There were also interviews with the top five finishers, with a ticker of the finishing order scrolling at the bottom. I do like that NBC also shows a graphic of the finishing order before they go off the air as well as the points standings. It did seem like the announcers went a bit overboard talking about the "impressive" runs of Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt, Jr. The broadcast finished up with a video montage as they went off the air.

Despite a few minor things, this was an excellent broadcast by the NBC crew. The announcers in the booth continue to work extremely well as full partners with the pit reporters. The result is that they provide a great deal of information about things happening on the track and in the pits. My biggest complaint was a lack of camera coverage of much of the field on the track. The director and producer seem to focus on the top five drivers to the exclusion of almost everyone else. I was surprised when we heard drivers were involved in incidents as I'd actually forgotten some of them were in this race, since they were never mentioned until that time. NBC really needs to work on showing more of the field and not concentrating on the Chase contenders or certain drivers (in this case the road course specialists) to the exclusion of the rest of the field. Not seeing or hearing about their favorite drivers is a sure way for viewers to lose interest in the broadcast.

Also, it's too bad the next two races will be relegated to TNT because the viewers will be subjected to a significant increase in commercials because it is a cable network. This will particularly affect the continuity of the race on the short track at Bristol.

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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