In the last 18 months, the pandemic has deprived NASCAR drivers and fans of two elements that have been a major part of the sport for years — practice and qualifying. On those rare occasions when it has happened, like at Circuit of the Americas earlier this year, drivers benefit from the opportunity of running extra laps while fans get more entertaining action.
Drivers and their teams have looked forward to this weekend’s races on the Indianapolis road course because of the scheduled practice and qualifying. NASCAR fans thought they were looking forward to it as well until Saturday morning came around, and they realized it was only available for viewing if you paid for a special app from NBC, completely separate from the Peacock streaming service. Not surprisingly, a large number of them took to social media and blasted the network for the decision.
NASCAR practice and qualifying limited by pandemic
Like every other sport on the planet, the pandemic dramatically altered NASCAR. One of the biggest changes for NASCAR was the elimination of practice and qualifying. However, with things starting to return to normal this year, the 2021 schedule included practice and qualifying at eight different events.
NASCAR decided to implement the traditional format where it made the most sense, like the crown jewel events and the newer tracks. This season drivers have had the benefit of practicing and qualifying at the Daytona 500, the Bristol dirt, Circuit of the Americas, the Coca-Cola 600, Nashville Superspeedway, and Road America.
The two other events where practice and qualifying will be part of the action is this weekend’s race on the Indianapolis road course and the season finale at Phoenix.
Angry NASCAR fans blast NBC for charging to watch Xfinity qualifying and Cup practice
Earlier in the season with NASCAR’s coverage on Fox, both practice and qualifying for Xfinity and Cup Series were shown on FS1. With NBC taking over coverage in June, the races and, up until this point, practice and qualifying had been broadcast on NBCSN.
On Saturday morning, NASCAR fans who woke up expecting to turn on NBCSN and watch Xfinity qualifying and Cup practice were disappointed to learn that it wasn’t available on the network or its streaming service Peacock but on the app TrackPass, which requires a $4.99 monthly fee. And not surprisingly, they were not happy and let the network know about it in response to a tweet from the NASCAR on NBC Twitter account, promoting TrackPass.
“Put all your racing on one damn app!!! Why should I have to pay for 2 different subscriptions on 2 different apps,” one angry fan wrote.
“BS that it’s not on TV. Not paying for another streaming service. So limited with practice and qualifying this year, and we’re at a new track. Don’t know if this was NBC’s or Nascar’s call, but, it was wrong,” another wrote.
“NBC needs to watch their shows about greed on CNBC,” another observant fan suggested.
Latest move by NBC could be preview of future
Unfortunately for NASCAR fans, this could be a preview of the future and what’s to come from the network. That’s because earlier this year NBC announced it was shutting down the NBC Sports Network at the end of this season, and most of the sports programming would be shifting to NBC, the USA Network, and its Peacock streaming service.
NBC Sports Group Executive Jon Miller told Forbes the network has watched more customers “cut the cord” and start streaming sports. As a result, that means after 2024 when the new contract is negotiated, there’s a chance that some NASCAR races will be available exclusively on Peacock streaming. Miller said paying the $4.99 monthly fee gets fans more than just a couple of races.
“They are buying a subscription to Peacock, which gives you not just the racing but also gives you an enormous amount of other programming,” Miller said. “I believe at last count, Peacock has over 18,000 hours of programming, other entertainment, sports and news, so that you pay 4.99 a month for Peacock, and you get all of that, all of that product.”
As fans learned this weekend, that subscription to Peacock doesn’t get you TrackPass. And that’s why a lot of fans were justifiably angry. If NASCAR wants to continue growing the sport and bring in more fans, it certainly doesn’t appear that this is the right way to do it.