The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: All-Star Race Not The Best Showcase For SPEED by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday May 19, 2009

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Hello, fans. While the All-Star Race highlights the best drivers the Cup Series has to offer, the rest of the weekend itself has always been relatively lean on actual official racing. The Nationwide Series took the weekend off, along with Formula 1, while the Camping World Truck Series raced a support race Friday night. But the best television story in what was a rough weekend had to be the IndyCar Series, which finished qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 this past weekend.

I just want to take the next few sentences and talk about this just a little before moving on. Watching those broadcasts of qualifying on Versus reminded me of ESPN’s coverage at Indianapolis in the mid-to-late 1990’s. It was really good stuff, and Bob Jenkins and Robbie Buhl generally work well together in the booth. I normally cannot watch many IRL races on television because of my critiquing (and live blogging) of Cup broadcasts, but I have seen a marked improvement in IRL coverage this season from years past. For the IRL, their coverage likely reached its low point during the 2005 season, which just so happened to be Danica Patrick’s rookie year. The coverage that season was tilted so that it was seemingly all-Danica, all the time. The Indy 500 that year was incredibly annoying to watch as a result. Granted, the pimping of Danica resulted in a near 75 percent ratings increase that year, but the coverage was very hard to watch for people who were already viewers of IndyCar races.

The IndyCar Series’ current TV deal has five races on ABC while the rest are on Versus. As far as I know, Marty Reid will be in the booth for ABC (in addition to his duties as the second string play-by-play man for ESPN2’s Nationwide Series coverage) along with Eddie Cheever. It remains to be seen whether they can keep up the momentum that Jenkins and Buhl have generated so far this season on cable.

Now, in addition to the qualifications at Indianapolis, we also had a little racing at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Concord, NC. In addition to the Cup Series’ Sprint All-Star Race, there was also the Truck Series’ North Carolina Education Lottery 200 on Friday Night, as well as the coverage of All-Star Race qualifying — all of which aired on the SPEED Channel.

During All-Star race qualifying, I noticed that Larry McReynolds appeared to be plenty busy timing first laps (of the three lap qualifying run), as well as runs into pit road on lap two from a white line drawn on the track in Turn 3. This timing line, called the beginning of the “pit entry” time by the broadcast, proved generally informative and I liked it. However, this brings up a thought. Does NASCAR only have the infrastructure to time the complete run for this qualifying session, or can they time individual laps? I would think that they could time both… but I guess they choose not to. As for the measuring of the split times into pit road, I wonder what point on the track that Larry stops his stopwatch? I can assume that he stops it at the line that starts the 45 mph pit road speed limit, but there is no physical on track marking that shows where he would stop the timing. Is it a point on the track where one of the loops are? I’d like to know. Watching that telecast, I got the image of Larry McReynolds with something like four stopwatches around his neck, feverishly clicking away. Would it be possible for NASCAR to electronically time this “getting on to pit road” time instead and put it on the broadcast for next year?

Later that evening was the Truck Series’ North Carolina Education Lottery 200 telecast. Just as a side note, I find the race sponsor notable because I remember reading a few years back that it used to be illegal in the state of North Carolina for anyone to even possess a lottery ticket. Not sure when that changed, to be honest.

The first thing that irked me (in addition to probably everybody else at the track) was whatever actually happened between the No. 48 of Brandon Knupp and the No. 87 of Chris Jones? Jones’ truck had a gash taken out of his left front fender, while Knupp’s truck had the right side all beat up. I have no clue what caused this. No replays of the incident were shown at all during the broadcast, mainly because it happened before the race even started. Weird stuff. Now, this is not the first time that there has been an incident well before the race began. I remember an incident in the 2002 EA Sports 500 at Talladega between Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson on the parade lap, one that resulted in Martin’s car being hurt enough that he was a complete non-factor in the race. Now, that incident got replays, however, mainly because Johnson and Martin were on the front row.

This incident involved cars starting 23rd and 35th on the grid. The only explanation I could come up with was that Knupp was adjusting his steering wheel on the apron and Jones didn’t see him and hit him. The only people who know what happened there are Knupp, Jones, and their crews because this was never shown on TV. To Jones’ team’s credit, though, they did fix the No. 87 and eventually finished 20th.

Another thing I noticed was that the scroll at the top of the screen regressed a little. A couple weeks ago at Kansas, some newer generic numbers were brought in to make it clearer to read; but some of those were ditched in favor of the older, more difficult to read numbers on Sunday. Not good.

Saturday not only brought the All-Star race, but also the Pennzoil Victory Challenge. The Victory Challenge was a burnout contest where seven participants (Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, and Darrell Waltrip) get 30 seconds to impress a group of six judges with their burnout skills. The winner — selected from a panel of celebrity judges — got to donate $10,000 to charity.

Digger was on a bit of a vacation All-Star weekend, appearing only four times during SPEED’s Saturday night broadcast.

In practice, this was silly. The judges were Montgomery and Troy Gentry, Ric Flair, Randy Moss, Kevin Costner, and Jimmy Spencer. All through the competition, you could hear Kenny Wallace saying “Whoo!,” a kinda sorta catch phrase of Flair’s. I personally think that it could have even gotten on Ric Flair’s nerves. I think he actually said it only once all night, and that was during the driver intros for the All-Star Race (right after he announced that Joey Logano won the Fan Vote). Logano’s weak “Whoo!” brought the house down, though (or at least the Media Center, according to Amy Henderson, who was there Saturday night).

One of the fears that some people had about SPEED’s telecast of the All-Star Race was that Digger might migrate over to the SPEED Channel and sully the broadcast. Did this happen? Yes, but not to the degree that you might think. Digger only showed up four times in the telecast. Two of those were still shots accompanying the “Digger Cam.” One was an animated shot, and the other one was a vocal reference by Darrell Waltrip to Digger. This is just about the amount of Digger sightings that we saw when SPEED televised the postponed the Truck Series race from Martinsville in March that was supposed to be on FOX.

The Digger Cam is overused on FOX’s broadcasts, and the placement of them Saturday did not help their case. In particular, the one mounted on the apron in Turn 2 was angled in a way that you basically couldn’t see anything. In the future, I’d like to see less reliance on the Digger Cam in FOX broadcasts. Of course, this won’t happen until FOX de-emphasizes the gopher.

But the gopher was not my main issue with the coverage this week. I have two issues that I want to address. One was the scroll at the top of the screen. Even though I have been critical at times of the standings scroll on FOX this season, I am a definite fan of its constant updates. We did not get that on the SPEED Channel Saturday night. Instead, we got a woeful scroll bar that was pretty slow and didn’t live update as fast as it could have. In addition, there were some errors in the scroll. For example, the scroll showed Brad Keselowski as being a lap down towards the end of Segment 1 when he was still on the lead lap.

Another issue that caught my ear was the continuation of a theme that I noted a few weeks back — the holding back of information. For example, Greg Biffle got a penalty on pit road during the yellow flag pit stops in between Segments 1 and 2. However, this incident was not mentioned until after Segment 2.

There was also a lack of post-race coverage after the race ended. Post-race coverage consisted of interviews with winner Tony Stewart and second place finisher Matt Kenseth, as well as some wrap-up discussion. After that, SPEED left the air. This is greatly disproportional to the amount of pre-race coverage which, including the Pennzoil Victory Challenge amounted to nearly three hours before the race started. I definitely think that the race had too much pre-race coverage for the amount of actual racing. But, I also understand that the All-Star Race, along with the Gatorade Duels, are the two big events for the SPEED Channel. They’re the only Sprint Cup races that they televise, and they want to hype them. However, there is a point of diminishing returns… and they likely reached it on Saturday.

That’s all for this week. Next week is the biggest racing weekend of the year. At Lowe’s Motor Speedway, the Cup Series has the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday while the Nationwide Series has the CARQUEST Auto Parts 300 on Saturday night. I will provide critiques of each of those races. In addition, I will cover the practice and qualifying sessions on SPEED and ESPN2. I might sneak in some references to the Indianapolis 500 as well.

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:

FOX
SPEED
ESPN

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!

Contact Phil Allaway

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Michael
05/19/2009 05:00 AM
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I have to say that when viewers have a choice , it can be an eye opening experience . Side by side broadcasts of Indy vs Nascar , the trophy goes to Indy . Bob Jenkins , and for that matter every analyst and pit reporter on the Indy broadcasts , was profesional and interesting . The same really could never be said for the Nascar broadcasts .
One very bright spot in the Indy coverage is the almost total lack of favoritism toward a driver or team . Contrast that with the blatant , in your face , we don’t care if you don’t like it , slobbering over certain drivers . You could hear Mike Joy sobbing in the background when his drivers didn’t win on Saturday night . And the worship of Rick Hendrick is becoming very , very tedious . The truck and Nationwide race coverage don’t seem to have the cheerleading for one or two drivers like the Larry Darrel and Darrel show do .
But there is hope . We’ll be rid of the FOX crowd ( most of them ) very soon and i for one don’t think the change can happen fast enough .

Ken
05/19/2009 07:55 AM
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Sadly, as much as I do like Mike Joy, I too will not miss the FOX Cheerleading show! But the one point you omitted about the Saturday evening show was the Pre-Race. Thankfully, there was an absence of Chris Meyers! Krista Voda did a much better job than Meyers, and even made having Jeff Hammond there tolerable! But then, I’d rather watch Krista anytime!

jaymatt
05/19/2009 08:13 AM
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Phil: Get thee to the dictionary; “anyways” is a substandard word—the correct form is “anyway.” Is it so hard to use correct grammar in a supposedly professional column?