NBC Ya Later

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Sunday's Ford 400 isn't just the last race of the NEXTEL Cup season, it's the end to NBC's involvement in NASCAR.

We'll pause now for some of you to stop cheering.

Since coming into the sport as part of NASCAR's landmark television contract in 2001, the Peacock Network has been the target of fan anger and criticism, much more so than FOX.

While FOX immediately embraced the sport and tried to wrap itself around it, NBC seemed to have a detached approach and keep NASCAR an arm's length away.

After decades of carrying the NFL, Major League Baseball, NCAA basketball and football, the PGA Golf Tour, the Olympics, the NHL and virtually any other sport imaginable, NASCAR on NBC never seemed like the right fit.

It was almost as if NBC was embarrassed to carry stock car racing, which for a network that gave us "Peter Puck" on NHL telecasts and the XFL, is quite an accomplishment.

While the on-air talent line-up included several strong assets - most noticeably Wally Dallenbach, who was an unknown entity at first but who blossomed into a solid analyst, as well as reporters Marty Snider and Allen Bestwick - the team just never seemed to mesh.

When Bestwick broke his leg two years ago playing hockey, he was replaced as play-by-play reporter by Bill Weber, who was originally part of the pit road crew.

That move turned out to be one of the most unpopular in NASCAR television history, based on the number of angry e-mails and phone calls we've received from fans.

Weber, while a solid reporter and intelligent writer, carries a certain pompous personality that has the tendency to turn some fans off.

But perhaps the biggest complaint against NBC was the network's continual penchant for missing restarts while away on what seemed to be an ever-growing number of commercial breaks. Time-after-time, the action would be back under green by the time NBC came out of the break.

During this the final year of its contract, NBC did little to promote NASCAR, as it did heavily in the initial years of the contract. While television ratings have been down pretty much year round, they certainly weren't helped in the second half by the lack of promotion from NBC.

In the end, bringing NASCAR racing to the network level with both FOX and NBC will be hailed as one of the biggest steps in the sport's growth. With ABC/ESPN now poised to step in to take over the second half of the year from NBC, NASCAR hopes that growth - which has stalled this year - will get back on track.

While it certainly wasn't always "Must See TV," NBC's contribution to the sport should be remembered.

And who knows, the Peacock Network could once again be back in the sport somewhere down the road.

In the world of television and sports, stranger things have happened.


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