The view from my couch
NBC Coverage of the Subway 500
by Cheryl Lauer
October 24, 2006
I haven't done a NASCAR broadcast review since back in March, so I figured I ought to at least do one during the second half of the 2006 season. With the announcement of the ESPN/ABC broadcast team for 2007, it important to let those networks know what the viewers like and dislike about race broadcasts.
Overall, NBC did a pretty good job with this broadcast. As always, the viewers had to deal with a high commercial count, but the fact that there were 18 cautions helped out a bit in that area. Unfortunately, NBC chose to put too much focus on the Chase drivers. But it was obvious the announcers and the pit reporters worked very hard to keep the viewers updated on a lot of on-track incidents and happenings in the pits throughout the race. With regards to the Chase, NBC seemed to backslide a bit from recent broadcasts I've seen on TNT. NBC seemed to have an almost obsessive need to focus on Jeff Burton in the early portions of the race. After taking a lot of criticism from fans about too much "Chase" talk after Richmond, TNT seemed to find a way to balance the coverage of the "Chasers" and the rest of the field very nicely. This is the first race I've watched on NBC this fall, so I can't say if there is simply a difference in philosophy between TNT and NBC or this focus was just a product of it being later in the Chase. Either way, I hate to see anyone have bad luck, but it was actually a relief when Burton dropped out of the race, because then NBC focused more on other drivers. Unfortunately, it was still mostly those drivers involved in the Chase. Everyone knows that the Chase was devised to help boost interest in the latter portion of the NASCAR season. I can only conclude that NBC's philosophy was to focus on the Chase drivers to almost the exclusion of everyone else. This is definitely not a popular move with the fans. What I did find particularly interesting was that when Matt Kenseth inherited the "if the race ended now" points lead, NBC barely even covered him. Okay, on to a review about the broadcast!
Having not seen any NBC pre-race shows since Daytona, I still didn't like having to sit through a general "Sports Update" when they first came on the air. When will NBC realize that the viewers tune in to see a race, not baseball or other sport highlights?
When they finally got around to racing, Bill Weber came on to tell us that there had been rain in Martinsville that morning and so NASCAR had moved the start of the race up 10 minutes. Next, we had two quick interviews by pit reporters with Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton. What I really liked about NBC is that they showed the entire starting grid in a traditional graphic and the announcers ran down the name of each driver. Note to ESPN/ABC - fans like to see this every week; not a silly scroll while the announcers go off on other stories. Each driver and team deserve to be highlighted this way. It serves both the seasoned fan and the new fan who can use this as an opportunity to see what the driver looks like, learn his car number, etc.
Even with the "hurry-up" start, NBC didn't save us from Wally's World this week. Yes, at least time the humorous skit featured a current driver riding along with Wally, but it's still a waste of time in my opinion. Again, if ESPN/ABC folks are reading, please realize the fans don't care about gags, skits or the "glory" days of the announcers. They tune into hear about today's racing, not what someone did 10-20 years ago.
I've really enjoyed the new feature NBC/TNT has used this season the Pit Map which shows the pit locations of the drivers each pit reporter will be covering. This also includes a few last minute comments by each pit reporter on one of the teams he's covering that day, such as the pit stall the 48 car chose and why.
When the first accident occurred on lap 3, the announcers were quick to point it out and tell us most of who were involved in it. Unfortunately, this began the over concern for "championship leader," Jeff Burton and how the wreck affected him. NBC queued up some good replays of the incident before going to commerical. It wasn't until I switched over to MRN that I found out that Ward Burton had been involved in the wreck and pitted to repair some damage. When NBC returned from commercial, they had a graphic supposedly with those involved, but again left off Ward Burton. It seems like he was the invisible Burton out there, because instead we heard more about the damage to his brother's car as well as showing the repairs to the Truex car. It wasn't until lap 188 that Benny Parsons noticed the damage on Ward's car and asked what happened to him. As usual, it seems like if TV doesn't show something or tell us about it, that it is not supposed to have happened.
Another note to ESPN/ABC, it's really not necessary to use pointers to show us the speed of the cars on restarts. This is something NBC did on the restart after the first caution. Okay, if I'm going to be frank, viewers never need pointers or excess graphics covering up the racing.
After the restart, we got more exclusive coverage of Jeff Burton for a while, but eventually Marty Snider reported that Joe Nemechek was having some overheating issues because of his involvement in the wreck.
At only lap 18, NBC showed the first of numerous "points as of now" graphics. I don't have the patience to keep tallies of numbers of or time away for commercials, but the points graphics really get annoying because they are particularly irrelevant early in the race. So this week, I did try to note when NBC showed the points during this race which was at laps 18, 60, 103, 152, 228, 289, 380, 399, once between lap 400 and 450, and at laps 474 and 482. Yes, it was interesting to see the points after Jeff Burton dropped out of the race and near the end, but it was just ridiculous to show the points 11 times during the day, starting at lap 18!
Early in the race, the director cut away from a shot of Kenseth getting sideways after another car got into him. Instead, the camera showed Denny Hamlin running alone because one of the pit reporters was talking about him. Yes, there was some interesting information being reported, but why do the networks insist on cutting away from racing action to feature a car running alone? In addition, during this entire segment, NBC mostly showed Jeff Burton and only went back to the leader as a quick shot as they went to commercial at lap 22. No, viewers don't want to see the leader all the time if he's running alone, but it's just as annoying to show the points leader all the time instead. During the time, there appeared to be some movement within the top 10, yet NBC never showed the racing, only Burton back in the field.
When NBC returned at lap 32, Benny Parsons told us that Jeff Gordon's team brought a completely different chassis setup than the one used to win at Martinsville in the past. The team was trying something that they thought would work better on the Car of Tomorrow next season and they had successfully used at Louden earlier this fall. This was interesting information.
An excellent improvement that I've noticed during the NBC/TNT portion of the season is that TV is updating the scoring ticker more frequently. I've noticed the positions change during the scroll. This makes it a lot more meaningful than it's been in the past when many passes would be made during a lap and the information displayed on the ticker outdated almost immediately. Thanks!
Also, in the last couple of months, I've noticed that TNT and NBC both have stopped showing so many in-car camera shots. In recent years, both networks and Fox have become too reliant on these shots. Myself and other viewers like in-car shots occasionally, but showing passes from these shots is just useless, not to mention annoying. TNT/NBC has begun an excellent practice of showing the in-car shot, but if a car begins to pass, they immediately move to the normal outside shot. This allows the viewer to see how the two cars are in relationship to each other. Fantastic improvement! Please keep up the good work! In-car shots are always more meaningful if they are used sparingly.
When the NBC crew discovered Burton had a loose hood pin, they showed a split screen of his car for a while, with one shot a close-up of the hood. This is where the obsession with the points leader became truly ridiculous. It's a short track! I'm sure there was some racing action somewhere that the fans at home might have liked to see in split screen.
NBC mentioned if Burton had to come in to fix the hood pin, he might go a lap down and it would be hard to get the Lucky Dog since the leader was starting to lap people. Personally, I would've found it interesting to see the leader negotiating lapped traffic around this time, rather than the constant coverage of Burton.
At lap 47, Allen Bestwick told us that Hamlin (who was running in second) thought he had a miss in his engine. As they went to the next commercial, they finally showed Gordon lapping Scott Riggs. And, oh yes, we got one of those really neat videos with Gordon right before the commercial. Fox started this practice 5 years ago and most fans still find it a waste of time when the TV networks could be showing racing instead.
When Casey Mears spun, Bill told us he had been running in 11th spot before that. NBC had several replays showing that Ryan Newman hit him. The production staff did an excellent job rolling back the video to show that the two drivers had been beating and banging each other a long time before the actual spin occurred. Later, the announcers told us that NASCAR had penalized Newman for rough-driving and put him at the end of the longest line on for the restart.
Each time NBC covered pit stops under caution, they normally featured three cars, but they were almost always the "Chasers" and we often saw a shot of Mark Martin coming the long way around the pit road. Granted many of the Chasers were running up front all day, but it would've been nice to occasionally see some of the other drivers' pit stops as well. Bill did a good job telling us who got the Lucky Dog after most every caution. NBC also frequently showed us a graphic of the race off pit road. Unfortunately, they didn't always tell us if cars stayed on the track until they returned from commercial. Late in the race, they did show who didn't pitted, but it was almost always when it involved the Chasers.
After the commercial, Wally told us that Greg Biffle had just pulled into the garage area. This was the beginning of very sketchy coverage of any driver not in the Chase. We didn't hear until much later what was the matter with his car or when Biffle eventually returned to the track. Later in the race when former champion, Kurt Busch wrecked, TV had no follow-up on the damage and didn't tell us if he was out of the race. This was just inexcusable in my book! But then, he's not one of the Chasers, so I guess TV didn't think he's important.
NBC told us when Tony Raines was leading the race on the next restart because his team only took two tires. At lap 85, Allen reported that Kevin Harvick said he had a bad vibration. When NBC returned from their next commercial, they showed J.J. Yeley's car and told us that he made an unscheduled pit stop because of a flat tire.
NBC showed that Jeff Burton was just four cars ahead of the leader and was about to be lapped. Dave Burns reported that his car was starting to overheat in traffic. At lap 108, Bill Weber reported that Michael Waltrip was being black-flagged for leaking something on the track.
Throughout the day, NBC had very good overhead shots of the unique Martinsville track. I always enjoy seeing these views.
At lap 119, NBC did their first Through the Field. In the past I really enjoyed these segments, but the last couple of years, they seem to interfere with actually covering the race at times, or many times are a substitute for coverage between breaks. Yes, I like the reports that each pit reporter gives on the cars and how they are running. But in this race while panning through the field, NBC missed when Jimmy Johnson passed Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for second. Yes, NBC told us about it after they went through about 20 cars, but it would make more sense to tell us at the time of the pass or use a split screen to keep and eye on the top five cars. Through the Field can be a great feature, but not at the expense of significant passes among the top five. Right after this, the leader was trying to lap Kasey Kahne and NBC just broke away for commercial. Again, their agenda just didn't seem to consider significant passes like this one.
Throughout the day, the pit reporters either shared what they heard in radio conversations between the drivers and teams or we got to hear replays of the actual conversations. For instance, Allen reported that Johnson's team asked Gordon to let him by to lead a lap. Later we heard Gordon saying that if Johnson wanted to work the lapped traffic, he was welcome to pass and do it. When Burton's engine woes started, we heard his conversation with car owner, Richard Childress, which was very interesting. We also heard Earnhardt, Jr.'s comments to his crew when he didn't get any response about whether to pit or not.
NBC either caught most spins or wrecks live or did an excellent job of quickly queuing up replays of them all day long. Unfortunately, right after the caution came out when McMurray spun Stremme, NBC missed the restart at lap 162. As always, I find it inexcusable that the production crew willingly misses any race restarts. Any fan knows that NASCAR gives the field "one to go" when they are about to restart, so the production truck knows it is coming. Fox started the practice of just simply missing restarts earlier this year, but TNT had done an excellent job of not missing restarts during their portion of the season. Yet, NBC chose to show two commercials before they got back to the race. Simply inexcusable in any situation! Perhaps, they could cut out one of those driver video montages in order to ensure the viewers get to see actual racing.
When Waltrip spun while NBC was on a later commercial, NBC showed pit stops and acted like they were going to show a replay of the spin, but went back to commercial instead and never showed us who got out of the pits first. When they returned for the lap 210 restart, they told us Blaney got the lucky dog, and that Sadler's team tried two tires on their pit stop. Bill pointed out this caution saved Kahne who was about to be lapped again.
Dave reported that Burton tried to change the ignition boxes before they showed him slowing down drammaticly when his engine starting going up. During this time, NBC played some good radio clips between the driver and his crew, but the announcers talked over some of them. As always, the producer needs to either tell the announcers the clips are coming or simply mute their microphones for a couple of seconds.
During the "crisis" with Burton, the announcers in the booth commented on something on the track, so they eventually went back and showed us that Bowyer got sideways on the track and Earnhardt got into him a bit, but both drivers saved their cars. NBC cut away from this quickly to catch Ward Burton spinning in turn 2. During the replay, Wally said that it looked like Gilliland bounced off the curb and got into Ward and Benny followed up that it looked like Ward managed to keep his car out of the wall.
When NBC came back from commercial, they showed us a replay of Jeff Burton's day and just got back to the live action as the cars went green on lap 228. Marty Snider was reporting on the 31 car in the garage and NBC quickly switched to a big wreck on the track; this one causing some damage to "Chaser" Harvick. NBC had several good replays which showed the cars just stacked up, Sorenson got spun and several others got collected. One of the in-car shots was from Biffle, whom they now told us was 13 laps down. This is when I actually realized he was back in the race.
After the restart, Bill reported that NASCAR had warned Johnson to maintain his speed during the restarts. Next, we saw McMurray getting into the wall and then Kvapil spinning not too far behind him. Replays showed that Ragan got into Raines and cut his tire and Benny speculated that when everyone started slowing down, maybe someone got into Kvapil.
During this time, the announcers started doing a better job of covering who pitted and who stayed on the track, pointing out that Johnson and Earnhardt came in, but Gordon and Stewart stayed on the track. During the caution, Dave interviewed Jeff Burton on his bad day. Right before they went to green, NBC told us that Stewart had a problem with a tire and decided to pit after all, and that the 48 and 8 were restarting in the 17th and18th spots.
NBC reported that Richard Childress had cautioned Harvick to take it easy on his engine because they were nervous after Burton's problems. NBC started another Through the Field, but cut away to show that Kenseth had been spun. Replays showed that Bowyer had gotten into him. Bill told us "while we were going through the field," Gilliland came in for an unscheduled pit stop and Wally told us Blaney was black-flagged for smoking. Yes, the joke that it was his car smoking, not the driver was pretty funny.
NBC told us that Johnson and Earnhardt did not come in to pit under this caution, and that Sadler had a problem leaving pit road when he had to stop to avoid Kahne coming into pit road.
After the restart, NBC told us that Gordon's car seemed to have less grip than earlier in the race and his crew thought the sun coming out had effected it. When they returned from commercial, they showed a distant shot of a 66 team member falling down and hurting his knee during the pit stops. NBC did follow up on this to tell us the man's name and the extent of his injuries.
When NBC returned from a commercial after the restart, they told us that Ken Schrader had wrecked. The director did a good job of showing an obviously angry Schrader quickly exiting the car and picking up a piece of bumper bracing. They stayed with the shot until he came into the pits and threw the piece of debris harmlessly towards his pit box. They showed a replay of the incident where Ragan got into him, and Marty interviewed Schrader who explained he had "moved" Ragan earlier and he guessed he got wrecked in retaliation for that.
At lap 383, they showed that Harvick's car was smoking and Benny speculated that he had made more contact with another car. Allen reported that the earlier wreck had knocked a fender brace out and so the fender was probably not as strong as it was before that. At lap 386, NBC showed Kvapil off the pace and going behind the wall, but we never heard what was the matter with his car.
NBC cut away not too long after the restart following Schrader's wreck. During this time, I heard on MRN that a lot of hard racing was going on while they were away, unscheduled pit stops, etc. When NBC returned from commercial, they didn't tell us why Nemechek was laps down and in front of the leaders, or the "contact" Gordon had that was described on the radio. It seemed more important to give us another points rundown.
NBC happened to catch Labonte get into McMurray and spin him. During the resulting pit stops, Marty told us that Earnhardt had lost a lot of spots because of a bad stop. When they returned from commercial with 94 lap to go, they finally told us that Labonte was now leading the race. They also explained that Raines took fuel only to gain track position.
Right after this, we are finally told why Nemechek was two laps down - because his "TV panel" was dragging the ground and NASCAR black-flagged him. Hmmmm...perhaps this happened during that hard racing in the field that MRN had described while NBC was away during a commercial?
With 88 laps to go, we were told that Sadler was very slow on the track and trying to make it to the garage, and eventually Dave told us that he had blown a motor.
Instead of showing Labonte and the leaders, NBC showed Johnson, Kahne and the other "chasers" coming up through the field during most of this segment. Around this time NBC also cut away from live racing to show us the same old lame Virtual Garage on keeping brakes cool that they've shown for several years now. Viewers get annoyed being shown the same things over and over again.
At 72 to go, they finally showed the leader, Labonte, and Mears in second, but only because Johnson and Gordon were now right behind them in third and forth. Then NBC cut away for yet another commercial and as I predicted Johnson passed Labonte for the lead while they were away. But when NBC returned, they showed us a replay of the pass. Seeing what turned out to be the pass for the win in replay is just disappointing and inexcusable this late in the race! With 18 cautions in this race, you'd think the producer had more than enough opportunities to load their commercials up during caution periods.
When Ragan spun, NBC told us that Kyle Busch "got a piece of it." They showed Busch coming in to pit and then a replay that he just got into the wall avoiding the spin. NBC did get a good shot of Johnson's crew chief's disgust when he saw the caution come out because he knew this would put Hamlin right up on his driver's bumper.
NBC got a good shot of Kenseth passing Martin on pit road as they exited the pits. Before the restart, the pit reporters talked to the crew chiefs of the 48 and 11 cars. As they went back to green, Bill told us Kyle Busch was the last of 25 cars on the lead lap and that Kenseth was 15th and Martin was 16th.
After the restart, the announcers told us that Ragan was being black-flagged because of the way he tried to get to the front of the lapped car line before the restart.
When the next caution came out, Bill said that Mears had spun and Gordon may have clipped Hamlin. Benny speculated that it might have been Gilliland who hit Mears. Replays confirmed this, but that Gordon slipped through without any damage.
When NASCAR couldn't seem to figure out how to line up the cars after this caution, TV simply assured us "the scoring loops" would help them figure it out. I guess as a fan at home, I'm confused by these "loops" and it appears TV doesn't really understand the way they work either.
NBC had a good replay of the next incident where Bowyer spun himself to keep from wrecking Stewart. When they returned from commercial, TV showed Martin on pit road and they explained his team had to refill the water in his radiator.
NBC also had good replays of Earnhardt's wreck and Wally pointed out that Kahne gave him enough room to pass, but he still spun. There were several good replays of the incident and the cars avoiding it, including Harvick going through the grass. Wally explained the audio from the in-car camera sounded like Earnhardt had "wheel hop." Allen said that Kenseth didn't understand how he slowed down and Harvick didn't, but Harvick advanced his position even though the field was frozen. Again, NBC made an unsuccessful attempt to explain how the scoring loops must've accounted for Harvick's gaining positions.
After the restart, we were told that Earnhardt was in 23rd and Martin in 25th. Next, they showed that Kenny Wallace had wrecked and the replay showed McMurray got into him.
There was good coverage of the battle between Hamlin and Johnson in the waning laps, but then Weber had to bring up the Hendrick plane crash on the final lap. Fans were very upset that Weber did this the last time Johnson won, but he didn't seem to get the hint to stop bringing it up.
NBC did a good job showing Johnson's on-track victory celebration while Matt interviewed his crew chief, Chad Knaus. They also interviewed many of the top finishers and "Chaser", Earnhardt who finished in 22nd. Then Allen covered the Victory Lane interview with Johnson. It was good to see that Bobby Labonte was also interviewed after leading some of the race and finishing third. During these interviews, NBC showed a good replay of the race to the line between Gordon and Stewart for fourth position.
Although NBC showed a scroll for the final finishing order during the interview, they also showed a graphic of the entire field rundown before going off the air. This was great and something we never saw during the Fox portion of the season.
Overall, this was a good broadcast by NBC if they could just cool their Chase coverage just a bit and give the viewers more information on all the drivers.
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