This evening, while enjoying the Checker Auto Parts 500 on ABC, I switched the channel during a red flag commercial break. When I switched back, the NASCAR race was no longer on, and instead I was watching America’s Funniest Home Videos. I kid you not.

It seems that because the race was running long (there were several red flags, including one for rain), ABC preempted the last 30 or so laps of the race to America’s Funniest Home Videos. But only in the Eastern and Central time zones, where certainly a majority of all NASCAR fans live (probably more like 80%).

What irked me most about the decision was that ABC moved the broadcast of the last laps to ESPN2, a channel that I do not have. In the past when races have run long, I’ve seen the race end on the scheduled channel and then post-race coverage switched to a cable channel. But not tonight. America’s Funniest Home Videos was more important than the finish of the next to last race of the NASCAR season and the Chase to the Sprint Cup.

This news article has winner Jimmie Johnson and car owner Rick Hendrick’s response to the channel switch, but it also contains ABC/ESPN’s rationale:

“After two red flags, rain in Phoenix and 4 1/2 hours on ABC, we were still 34 minutes from the end of the telecast as it turned out,” said George McNeilly, ESPN senior director, communications, in a statement. “We told fans in the East and Central from the second red flag on that the race was moving to ESPN2. ABC’s entertainment viewers and NASCAR fans were both well served in a tough spot, and we are fortunate to have ESPN2 among our networks to serve the fans.”

“ABC’s entertainment viewers and NASCAR fans were both well served”. Yeah, right. There is no telling how many viewers watched four and a half hours of the race and then could not watch the last laps. Bad decision.

*Update – November 12, 2008*

NASCAR Chairman Brian France’s comments on the channel shift:

“There were lots of circumstances that they had to consider. I don’t have to agree with each one of those, but they had their own issues that they had to manage around. We, unfortunately, got the short end of that. We are working with them to hopefully eliminate that happening in the future.”

… “What’s important is ABC’s and ESPN’s and NASCAR’s – our interests are aligned,” France said. “That doesn’t mean that we always see eye to eye on every issue. They want to do what’s in the best interest of the NASCAR race fan, which they serve week in and week out in lots of different ways.

“They did not like the idea of having to pull off of ABC and operate the way they did on Sunday.”