Phil Allaway · Tuesday May 5, 2009
Hello, race fans. Hope you all enjoyed the action last week from Richmond. I enjoyed the competition — that much is clear — but did the coverage do justice to the race? Let’s find out.
Friday night was the Lipton Tea 250 for the Nationwide Series from Richmond, televised on ESPN2. Our own Bryan Davis Keith watched the race Friday night and generally liked the telecast, as he mentioned in his Nationwide Breakdown on the site. My thoughts on the coverage are also that ESPN 2 is slowly improving. For the sake of this argument, we’ll consider Phoenix to be the “nadir” of the season. (The nadir is defined as the lowest of the low.) Talladega represented an improvement over Phoenix; but then again, anything’s an improvement over Phoenix. Richmond’s telecast, in my mind, was about at the same level as Talladega’s.
However, I do have some complaints. I know a lot of you instinctively skip pre-race shows these days because they’re nothing but useless fluff and stuff you already know, but I don’t always have that luxury (in fact, I rarely do). During the pre-race show, ESPN ran a feature called “Is your car Male or Female?” Before you guys get up in arms, it was about car names and/or whether drivers refer to their cars in the masculine or feminine sense. I just thought it was the stupidest thing ever. Stuff like that doesn’t really belong in a pre-race show. In fact, thinking about it now conjures up memories of those Man or Woman episodes of Maury Povich, where the audience has to determine who out of a group of 10 or 11 people was born a man or a woman.
Greg Biffle was in the infield studio on Friday night along with Allen Bestwick and Brad Daugherty, but he really didn’t do all that much. Bestwick is, most definitely, the grandmaster of the portable studio, a skill likely learned from all those years keeping Michael Waltrip, Ken Schrader, and Johnny Benson under control as the host of Inside Winston Cup (originally Inside Winston Cup Racing) on Speedvision / SPEED Channel from 1996-2004. As a result, Biffle really didn’t have a lot to say. He answered a couple of e-mails at about the halfway mark, but we didn’t hear a lot out of him.
Another thing that I didn’t understand was why there was not a replay of Kenny Wallace’s crash late in the race. In fact, there was legitimately no explanation of what happened. ESPN showed a quick shot of Wallace’s car with the right rear brake rotor glowing. Some radio chatter aired where Kenny’s spotter (I guess) said that his brakes were almost on fire. Rusty Wallace, who was in the booth in place of Dale Jarrett, said something to the effect of “I don’t want to know what happened to Kenny,” in a somber voice. The whole series of events played out a little weird, to be honest. I’ve never seen anything like that on a race telecast before. Of course, Kenny drove the No. 28 away from the scene, so there was no threat of personal injury to him. I ended up finding out on NASCAR RaceDay on the SPEED Channel the next day that Kenny had essentially suffered a form of brake failure on the restart, which caused the crash. The effect was similar to if you were riding a road bike with a snapped shifter cable. The cable then wraps itself around the rear sprocket, and the end result is a bike stuck in high gear with a natural brake on it. This happened to me my freshman year while at Seton Hall. Also, I swear that the yellow for Wallace’s crash was only two laps long.
A notable inclusion was the re-introduction of the brake cam, something that I cannot recall seeing in quite awhile. However, it was mounted a little too high for my taste.
Post-race coverage was nearly non-existent on ESPN2, as the race ended with about five minutes to go until the end of the timeslot (again). ESPN showed quick interviews with Mark Martin, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, and Matt Kenseth before quickly leaving the air. I don’t recall even seeing the point standings at the end of the race before Baseball Tonight came on.
Saturday night brought FOX’s telecast of the Crown Royal presents the Russ Friedman 400. This race started with the grandpappy of scheduling issues. Not one, not two, but all three of the FOX Saturday Baseball games ran overtime. The Detroit game was the first to finish, but it finished around 7:05pm. The Mets-Phillies game ended around 7:20 or so. Then, you had the Astros game, which didn’t end until after 8pm.
This resulted in the unprecedented move to begin the pre-race show on the SPEED Channel. Not a bad idea… beats what happened at Phoenix in April of 2008, when a game ran long due to rain. FOX threw it back to the game with promises to return. They decided to keep on the game until it ended, but the result was essentially no pre-race at all, meaning the race was joined in progress on the first lap.
Yes, I know that FOX’s pre-race show isn’t the best, but people get angry when they lose out on NASCAR coverage because of FOX’s baseball priorities. In my case, I simply watched the pre-race on the SPEED Channel until I knew that the Mets-Phillies game that we got here in the Albany area was over, then switched it over to the HD feed of FOX (because my SD feed doesn’t work for some reason). I feel sorry for the people that got that Houston game on Saturday night. Viewers in those areas had the race joined in progress on lap 43. Since I switched over to FOX before 7:30 p.m., I’m personally not sure if the SPEED Channel kept the coverage on past 7:30 p.m. If not, for shame. I think they did, though.
Typically, FOX starts their Saturday Baseball coverage with their version of This Week in Baseball (which looks almost nothing like the original) at 3:30 p.m., then regional coverage starts at 4 p.m. The game start times were moved back after the now-Nationwide Series went to ESPN2. The FOX games represent most of the relatively few baseball games that start at 4:00 p.m. EST (excluding those day games played on the West Coast). Previously, the start times for FOX games were around 1p.m. This week, FOX announced a “special” earlier start time of 3:30 p.m. for their games, likely in an effort to prevent this scenario from occurring again this Saturday night at Darlington. I applaud those efforts, although it might have already have been pre-planned anyway.
As for the pre-race show on FOX, it was filled with the usual features. One thing I found interesting is that the pre-race show is so full of features these days that only two driver interviews were conducted for the broadcast, with Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch. I found this rather surprising. I’ll definitely keep a rundown on the number of actual at the track interviews before the race starts for future critiques.
The pre-race features revolved around a charity race hosted by Denny Hamlin at nearby Southside Speedway and a feature on the late David Poole, who died last Monday. A new sponsored element that debuted this week was the Pepsi-Cola Throwback Flashback, which was a simple look back to last week’s race at Talladega. First of all, I’m trying to visualize how many times on television in the past week that I saw Carl Edwards’ crash. I’m thinking 70, but I’m not sure. I don’t think FOX needed to jam that down our throats again. Second, the name’s kind of redundant. A throwback and a flashback in this setup would be the same thing.
Yes, the pre-race included another Digger cartoon rerun as well. Earlier this season, I mentioned the idea that kids like reruns of their favorite cartoons. This is true, but you need to have more than just five of them in the can before you start the reruns. Using 1993’s The Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog as an example (a personal fave of mine from when I was younger, mainly because I loved the Genesis games), a syndicated cartoon series cans up to 65 episodes in one season. Cartoons on Saturday morning have season lengths more typical of prime-time shows. However, a typical season of even the worst Saturday morning cartoon has a lot more than 11 minutes of material. Under a best case scenario, this creature gets transitioned to the FoxBox, or whatever they call their Saturday Morning stuff these days as soon as possible. However, FOX no longer has a Saturday Morning block, having canceled it at the end of 2008, claiming that they cannot compete with Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, or Discovery Kids programming (aired on NBC). They have officially given the four hour slot back to their affiliates, which stock the time with E/I programming (Educational/Informational, programming that over-the-air channels are required by the FCC to air three or more hours of a week) and infomercials. What does it all mean? That we’re stuck with this mutant spawn for the foreseeable future on FOX.
As for the Digger count, it was down this week from last week, but this was mainly because the race was shorter. I counted a total of 34 appearances, half of those being animated. Yes, Digger appearances still showed up during the time that the coverage was on the SPEED Channel, too. The telecast had the typical two Digger commercials and the five minute cartoon. The remaining appearances were of the still variety…
With just a month to go until FOX ends its season, let’s just say I personally cannot wait until the Pocono critique next month. There will be a funny reference to a YouTube video game reviewer. Not the one you might be thinking of, though…
Now, on to the race coverage.
During each race, FOX runs this feature called the Home Depot Rookie File. It is essentially Joey Logano’s video blog for his rookie season. Not only does this shortchange the other major contender for the Raybestos Brakes Rookie of the Year award (Scott Speed), but it really doesn’t do anything. At least they show it in split screen during the race, so usually it’s not that big a deal. This week’s Rookie File, however, was completely redundant. If you saw the pre-race show, you already knew that Logano was a part of Denny Hamlin’s charity race at Southside Speedway on Thursday. That feature was completely unnecessary.
Another issue that I have been insistent on this season is for FOX to tell the audience why certain drivers go behind the wall. We’ll use Scott Riggs as an example. Riggs went out of the race with “Electrical” issues on lap 54 and was credited with a 42nd place finish. FOX showed Riggs’ unsponsored No. 36 slow on the backstretch and pulling into the garage area via the entrance in between turns 3 and 4. But there was no mention of Riggs’ plight afterwards. Our own S.D. Grady was monitoring radio chatter during the race for the Live Blog and she stated that the team (Tommy Baldwin Racing) had not installed a backup ignition system in the No. 36, and that the only system in the car failed. But this was never mentioned on the broadcast. It is also the first time I’d heard about a Cup team cutting corners like that in seemingly forever (likely due to monetary concerns).
Joe Nemechek and David Gilliland’s problems, along with Mike Bliss’, were also all not mentioned on the broadcast, leaving us to guess what happened to those three cars. For reference purposes, Bliss finished the race on the track in 37th, 32 laps down, while Nemechek and Gilliland both DNF’d with brake issues. FOX, as much as they might not want to, needs to mention these things on the broadcasts. As much as I don’t want to say this, FOX is running into accountability issues if they don’t. Having those issues surrounding a telecast that is produced by the same company that owns the FOX News Channel is not good.
Another issue that I’m concerned with is that apparently, a NASCAR official was hit on pit road during Saturday night’s race. This was mentioned on the radio chatter at the track, yet was not reported on the FOX broadcast. However, it was mentioned on the MRN Radio broadcast. Apparently, he was struck on the left leg during pit stops under the tenth caution on lap 295. The official was eventually transferred to a local medical center (outside of the track) for further evaluation, but no further word has been mentioned, so far. What the Deuce? FOX really dropped the ball here.
I’m also concerned with Darrell Waltrip’s apparent crushing over Kyle Busch. This was described during the Live Blog as a “bromance,” kind of like that horrible reality show on MTV starring Brody Jenner. Wikipedia defines a bromance as a “close, but non-sexual relationship between two men, a form of ‘homosocial intimacy’.” Seriously. I essentially copied that right off of there. On broadcasts, this manifests itself as Darrell constantly gushing over Kyle Busch’s abilities as a driver. I’ll admit right here that this is getting annoying. We know Kyle Busch is good. Anyone who has watched NASCAR races over the past year and change knows that already.
Darrell, you don’t need to essentially “pimp” Kyle Busch on us fans. We know his accomplishments by now. Some of us are drawn to the younger Busch’s brash personality, while others are turned off by his petulance. I’m in the latter camp. Remember, you are a TV commentator. You are supposed to be objective, and not play favorites. I’ve mentioned this in the past in regards to your brother Michael. As much as you want to, you cannot give special treatment to your brother, or to Kyle Busch. The other drivers deserve equal treatment as well.
As an addition to this obsession, there was far too much mentioning of Kyle Busch’s birthday during the race coverage; and for that matter, all weekend. Yes, we know that it is extremely rare for a driver to win on their birthday. Many never have the chance to try because their birthdays fall in the offseason, like Ernie Irvan. Others just never got it done. Maybe it’s just an extension of the media in general these days, but you don’t need to jam everything into people all the time. It’s crazy. Oh, and that “Happy Birthday to you” sound effect at the end of the telecast, while appropriate, may have been overkill at the same time.
That’s all for this week. This weekend is the lone race weekend of the season at historic Darlington Raceway. Friday night is the Nationwide Series’ Diamond Hill Plywood 200, while Saturday night is the Sprint Cup Series’ Southern 500 presented by GoDaddy.com. Gee, it seems weird saying that extra race presenting sponsor in there — but it’s for the best.
I will provide critiques of both of those races in next week’s critique. As for NASCAR Now, I actually watched the roundtable discussion today and didn’t recognize Ricky Craven at first. Whoops! I thought he was one of the other journalists that often come on the roundtable shows. Must have been since I was watching it on a regular TV before I went to my basement and clicked on the HD feed.
If you have a gripe with me, or just want to say something about my critique, feel free to post in the comments below, or contact me through the email address provided on the website in my bio. And if you would like to contact FOX, ESPN, or the SPEED Channel personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage of NASCAR, please click on the following links:
As always, if you choose to contact the networks by email, do so in a courteous manner. Network representatives are far more likely to respond to emails that ask questions in a courteous manner than emails full of rants and vitriol.
Thanks for reading, and have a great week!
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