The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: SPEED Satellite Failure Not The Only Weekend Problem Over The Airwaves by Doug Turnbull -- Tuesday July 1, 2008

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The most interesting part of Sunday’s activities at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, at least up until the final two caution flags of the race, may have not even been during the race itself. Early in the broadcast of NASCAR Race Day on the Speed Channel, the satellite feed for the show stopped working. Although the network was able to fill in the down time with a phone message from show host John Roberts and with Dale Jr.’s “Back in the Day”, the very obvious technical failure during SPEED’s biggest show must have been an embarrassment to the network.

But this is not the first big failure of this kind this year. TNT’s audio feed during the Pocono race stopped working for several minutes, and there were several technical glitches during the Sonoma and Michigan races on their broadcasts over the past few weeks.

Though it is disappointing to see another major network suffer from the inevitable, random failures of technology, SPEED did recover. John Roberts and the gang managed to execute an informative and entertaining program, and the footage of the beer-drinking monkey in front of the SPEED stage only added to what is always a high-energy program.

I do need to place another complaint in the direction of Jimmy Spencer. The driver-turned-commentator’s fiery personality is a huge draw to both NASCAR Race Day and NASCAR Victory Lane, but he does tend to have trouble with facts. He often misquotes the name of both the Sprint Cup and the Nationwide Series and was not mistake free on Sunday. While discussing the Casey Mears-Rick Hendrick situation, Spencer said that it is tough to impress at HMS, because both Mears and Brian Vickers won in the No. 5 car, but got fired. There are three things wrong with that statement…

If only Casey Mears could hear the mistakes Jimmy Spencer was making about him on air …

His first mistake involves Brian Vickers. Though Vickers did drive the No. 5 car in the Nationwide Series, he drove the No. 25 car in the Cup Series and won in it. He won in that No. 25 car months after the decision was made about his departure from Hendrick…mistake number two. Spencer also was mistaken about Mears, who also won in the No. 25 car and not the No. 5. I know that charm, or the lack thereof, is what gives Jimmy Spencer a job, but a little bit of fact never hurts anyone.

Another problem that is not random at all for SPEED Channel is the content and structure of the This Week in NASCAR program. The roundtable discussion between Michael Waltrip, Steve Byrnes, sometimes Greg Biffle, and sometimes Chad Knaus, gives a great in depth-look into the minds behind the wheel and atop the pit box. One characteristic of the show, though, has not changed.

When SPEED decided to change the host and the name of the program, the press release promised that the program would do more than serve just the Sprint Cup division. Instead, it would focus on all three of NASCAR’s top series, giving the two lower series a more comparable share of air time to the Cup Series. Instead, the show has exactly the same content as it has in previous seasons.

Speed should do the other series justice and give them more airtime on this show. Adding personalities from the Truck and Nationwide garages for those respective segments would also be a nice flare to a program that sometimes gets stale at this point in the season, especially when its panelists are not running well.

TNT and ESPN had some ups and downs this week; here are some of those:

  • TNT managed to turn in its worst performance of its short list of races. There was not much to talk about concerning the racing, considering the lack of passing and lead changes, but TNT sure did manage to miss any little bit of action the race did have.

On lap 271, Dale Earnhardt Jr. dropped to the apron to pit and was rammed by Jamie McMurray. The impact caromed the No. 26 car into Chase contender David Ragan, ruining good runs for all three cars. But TNT had its cameras focused elsewhere and not only failed to broadcast any part of the wreck as it happened, but failed to get any video of the wreck replayed for what seemed like a long time. This crash was the moment that changed the race, as it allowed the eventual race winner and other leaders a chance to gamble on pit strategy and end up in the front. Unfortunately, we didn’t get shown that effectively; but this was not the only time that TNT failed to get video…

Kasey Kahne got loose under Aric Almirola and turned him around about two-thirds of the way through the race. Once the caution ended and the restart happened, young Almirola wasted no time driving up to Kahne and returning the favor. The move did not bring out a caution, as Kahne was able to right his machine and continue. But TNT not only missed calling out who wrecked Kahne, but they had no video of the incident at all. Fortunately, they had the virtual RaceView from NASCAR.com engaged, showing that Almirola indeed tapped Kahne to cause the incident.

TNT has not been given much exciting racing to work with in its time, thus making its NASCAR broadcasts less-than-thrilling. This lack of excitement only heightens the importance of catching every wreck, as that is the reason that a lot of people watch. Video replays of the wrecks play a big role in who gets disciplined for rough driving and for drivers get mad or get even at. There is no excuse for missing such critical moments in the race.

  • The rest of TNT’s broadcast, besides coming back from commercials very close to restarts, was solid. Wally Dallenbach, Kyle Petty, and Bill Weber did not make very many mistakes, and the pit road crew was as solid as they have ever been. Larry McReynolds did not speak very much during the actual broadcast, but was helpful when he did chime in.
  • TNT still needs to improve its Through the Field coverage, as I counted them only doing that twice during the race. 43 cars running in a race means that there are 43 storylines on the track. Covering some of the alternate storylines would help TNT to fill some of the lags in the racing excitement.
  • ESPN turned in a strong performance this week. Sunday’s NASCAR Now, hosted by Nicole Manske, featured a strong roundtable discussion of what results the Silly Season would bring. Dale Jarrett returned from a long vacation to be in the studio with Manske and the lead panelist in the discussion. For fans not abreast of all of the latest Silly Season developments, ESPN and the NASCAR Now team summarized them well, breaking all the moves down to an understandable level for even the most casual of fans.
  • On Sunday morning’s Outside the Lines, reporter Mike Massaro submitted a very detailed study on the effects of the economy on NASCAR teams, fans, and tracks. This report also was a great look into the sport that spoke volumes to not only current fans, but also those that may not know very much about the sport. Featured in the report were Doug Yates, Kyle Petty, Travis Kvapil, and Eddie Gossage (Texas Motor Speedway president). This report, combined with no major mistakes on NASCAR highlights during SportsCenter or during the Nationwide Series race, made for a good week on the NASCAR front for ESPN.

Later this week, the Cup and Nationwide Series head to their second races at Daytona this season. TNT’s Cup coverage will be presented by several major sponsors and show with split-screen commercials, something done in NASCAR for the first time, last year. Tune in to next week’s column for a full review of not only TNT’s NASCAR coverage, but of ESPN and SPEED’s coverage for the week.

Contact Doug Turnbull

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dawg
07/01/2008 02:48 PM
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Jeeze, now you got me confused! The new 5 car sure runs like the old 25. But you say it’s not, OK, then where did the old 25 go? Where did the 88 come from? When I, like Jimmy, thought the new 5. Was just the old 25 with a new wrap. Then it all made sense. Now I’m all confused. When I gave it the Duck test, it looked pretty darn close.

Jim
07/01/2008 05:30 PM
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My understanding is that the current 5 team is last year’s 25 team with one change – Alan Gustafson as the crew chief. The same goes for the 88. The 88 this year is the same team as the 5 from last year, with one change – Eury Jr. as the crew chief.

- j