NASCAR Cup Series Is Running Out of Time to Fix a Weekly Mistake

The NASCAR Cup Series stopped its season for this? Seriously? If not for the Simone Biles saga and France dumping Team USA in the men’s basketball opener, how many people would care about the Olympics? After all, NBC is showing nearly everything on tape delay.

NBC has a lot of money invested in the Olympics

Kyle Larson drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 18, 2021, in Loudon, New Hampshire. | Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Tokyo is part of NBC’s exclusive 10-Olympiad broadcast package that runs through Brisbane in 2032. The network has owned rights to the summer competitions since 1988 in Seoul and the winter competitions since Salt Lake City in 2002.

Before the internet and smartphones made streaming and instant updates a thing, cable television was the biggest threat to holding viewers’ attention. Even the failed “Triplecast” concept, a pay-per-view experiment in conjunction with cable companies, in 1988 didn’t derail NBC.

The Atlanta (1996) and Rio de Janeiro (2016) Olympics made it easy to keep viewer interest in the summer because NBC could show key events live. The same was true in the winter at Salt Lake City and Vancouver (2010). The network will be banking on that advantage in Los Angeles in 2028, too.

The New York Times reported that NBC paid $12 billion for the bundle. That doesn’t include the costs associated with producing the massive undertakings spread across multiple venues. Nor does it reflect the cost of on-air promotion for months ahead of the opening ceremonies and then taking primetime programming off the air for 17 days.

NBC is also pre-empting daytime programming for the Tokyo Olympics. That includes NASCAR going on hiatus the past two weekends. The Cup Series resumes Sunday at Watkins Glen.

NASCAR Cup Series start times are at the mercy of Fox and NBC

When NFL fans wake up on Sundays, they know that the kickoff for the first game of the Fox Sports and CBS doubleheaders will be at 1 p.m. ET. The weekly NBC game starts at 8:20 p.m. When MLB fans wake up, they know that first pitch on ESPN is at 7 p.m., with a few exceptions.

Life isn’t so easy for NASCAR Cup Series fans. The Sunday afternoon races start anywhere from 2 to 4 p.m., Additionally, night races and the occasional Saturday events keep everyone on their toes.

There’s no doubt that Fox Sports, which covers the first half of the season, and NBC, which picks up the remaining races, are the tail wagging the dog. If it were just a case of inconsistent starting times, that would only qualify as an annoyance.

However, Mike Neff of Frontstretch.com makes an interesting observation: Some of the later-afternoon starting times potentially affect the integrity of the races since even a brief rain delay at a track without lights can force everyone to contend with fading daylight.

Drivers experienced that scenario in New Hampshire at the last Cup Series race before NASCAR took off two Sundays. The Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 started at 3:40 p.m. in a fine rain that turned the corners into skating rinks and resulted almost immediately in a crash that took multiple cars out of contention.

The cleanup and then drying the track ate up time. With darkness setting in, officials cut the race short by nine laps.

NASCAR is running out of time to fix its recurring mistake

No two NASCAR season schedules are the same. Executives move tracks in and out of their rotations and shift dates to avoid conflicts with other nearby events competing for hotel rooms.

We’ll learn about the 2022 dates and locations in the fall. In a perfect world, we’ll also hear an announcement from NASCAR that its Sunday afternoon races will start at something resembling a consistent starting time, preferably before 2 p.m. That would take all but the most extreme rain delays out of the equation.

While it’s true that NASCAR is beholden to Fox and NBC because of the rights fees they pay, the networks relegate more than half the races to their cable siblings, Fox Sports 1 and the soon-to-be-defunct NBC Sports Network. In light of that and the fact that the Cup Series delivers a reliable audience each week, NASCAR executives should be pushing for those consistent start times.

It’s not as though Fox has anything in the spring or NBC anything in the summer and fall that’s a greater priority. This Sunday, NBC Sports Network is showing taped Motocross at noon, the NASCAR race at Watkins Glen at 3 p.m., and live IndyCar racing at 5:30.

If rain and/or red-flag cautions extend the length of the Cup Series race, IndyCar enthusiasts will be the losers. Wouldn’t it make more sense to throw the Motocross tape between the two live events and join it in progress if Watkins Glen runs long?

NASCAR needs to plant seeds like that in the minds of TV executives now, before it’s too late for both sides to adjust their 2022 schedules. Racing fans wouldn’t need to see a checkered flag to consider themselves winners if such common sense takes hold.

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