Behind-the-scenes series have proven quite the draw over the years, from HBO/NFL Films’ Hard Knocks through the various Amazon All or Nothing series through the NHL/Showtime/Epix/ESPN+ iterations of Quest For The Stanley Cup and Netflix/F1’s Drive To Survive. The latter is particularly relevant here, as many NASCAR fans have long asked why there hasn’t been a similar series on the chase for their championship. Well, that’s now come to pass through a NASCAR/NBC (broadcaster of the second half of the NASCAR season)/USA (owned by NBCUniversal, and an important destination for their sports content now they’re shutting down NBCSN) partnership. Adam Stern has more on that at Sports Business Journal:
NASCAR has struck a deal with NBCUniversal to green-light a new docuseries revolving around this year’s Cup Series playoffs, as the sport looks to find new avenues to tell the story of its season. The series will be called “Race for the Championship” and be stretched over eight episodes on USA Network. It is being announced later today, and will premiere some time in ’22. The possible debut date could be around the Daytona 500 in February. The documentary will give viewers a look at how teams and drivers balance their personal lives with their quest to win a title. The in-house NASCAR Productions unit will produce the series, and exec producers are Senior VP & Chief Digital Officer Tim Clark, Managing Dir of Entertainment Marketing & Content Development Matt Summers and Head of Content Strategy Amy Anderson. WME and L.A.-based entertainment law firm Morris Yorn helped broker the deal between the sides.
Here’s more from a NBCUniversal release:
USA Network announced today it has greenlit “Race for the Championship (WT),” an exhilarating new eight-part docuseries about the elite drivers and teams competing in this year’s NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. It is set to premiere in 2022.
With the backdrop and high stakes of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs and Championship, “Race for the Championship” will take viewers inside the lives of NASCAR’s top drivers and teams on and off the track. Across eight thrilling episodes, the all-access series will chronicle the sports’ best as they balance their personal lives with the passion, pressure and perils of racing, all for a chance to make history.
As Stern notes, it’s expected that several races next year will air on USA (things that previously would have aired on NBCSN). So this is maybe a good way to get NASCAR fans used to finding that channel. He mentions too that this isn’t NASCAR’s first docuseries; they did do a NASCAR 2020: Under Pressure streaming series on the Discovery-owned MotorTrend OTT channel last year, and they do have a Bubba Wallace series in progress with Netflix. But “Race for the Championship” does seem like an interesting step up; there’s some content overlap with what Under Pressure covered, but USA has much wider distribution than MotorTrend, so this will likely wind up being seen by many more people.
It’s interesting that Race for the Championship appears to have a significant delay between the events covered and when the show will air. The current NASCAR season is set to end on November 7, yet this docuseries won’t premiere until some time in 2022. Drive To Survive has had a similar lag, with the 2020 F1 season wrapping up on December 13 and the series only premiering this March, but some of the other series have had less time between the events and when they air. Hard Knocks has sometimes covered events happening on the same day an episode airs, and Quest For The Stanley Cup tends to have less than a week’s delay.
With this kind of time between the events and when they’re portrayed, Race for the Championship is going to have to be a great production (and one offering some new details) to still interest many viewers. But Drive To Survive and other shows have shown that this can be done, and that there can still be a lot of interest in a behind-the-scenes series even when the outcome is long known. We’ll see if Race for the Championship can pull that off.