The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: TNT's First Effort of the Year Promising, But Issues Remain by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday June 9, 2009

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HEY FANS! I’VE GOT GOOD NEWS FOR YOU TODAY! THERE ARE NO GOPHERS IN THIS REVIEW! THAT’S RIGHT, NO STINKIN’ GOPHERS IN THIS REVIEW!
Note: This is a reference to a YouTube video by the user, UrinatingTree. It is adapted from his review of NHL Stanley Cup for the Super Nintendo. The video can be found HERE. I do warn you, though. The video contains naughty language. (You know which words I’m talking about.) Since FOX’s portion of the season is now over, the computer animated creature is now in hibernation. I’m sure that you guys were not only sick of FOX’s persistent usage of the creature, but probably of me going on about it too.

This past weekend was a busy one on television, so let’s get right down to it. We’ll start with the Truck Series race, Friday night’s WinStar World Casino 400k at Texas Motor Speedway.

The first thing that viewers would have noticed on the broadcast was that Michael Waltrip, usually the third man in the booth, was absent Friday night due to his obligations in Pennsylvania. This was obviously pre-planned because Waltrip was supposed to be practicing and qualifying for the Pocono 500. However, even though Friday was a complete washout at Pocono, Waltrip still decided not to make the trip. The result was a two-man booth with just Rick Allen and Phil Parsons, making for a different feel, but something I could get used to.

This is not a complaint about Friday’s telecast, but a question. When SPEED shows battles for position between two or more trucks, they’ll show what I call the “Battle Graphic” in the lower left corner of the screen. You might recall these graphics. It has “Battle for ___” on top, and then lists the drivers below. It also lists speeds for each of those drivers. What I’m wondering is this: Are those speeds from the previous lap, or the personal best lap speeds for the race up that point? I cannot really tell, and sometimes the differences can be three or four mph. It’s just something that’s been gnawing at my brain for a while.

Allen and Parsons gave a little bit of coverage during the race to a new team, the No. 73 County Buildings Centers/Circle M Inspection Chevrolet driven by J.J. Yeley. The team, using equipment formerly owned by Orleans Racing, made their debut this week. Ron Crosby is listed as the team owner, but the commentators made reference to former racer Joey Sonntag being involved with the team. If so, this team is essentially the rebirth of Sonntag’s old team that ran in the series back in the late 1990’s and the first couple of years of this decade with drivers like B.A. Wilson and David Starr behind the wheel. No reference was made to this previous effort. I even recognized the number font as being identical (although, a different color) to the one the team used the last time they were associated with the series. Not a big gripe, but something that should have been touched upon.

For a Truck race at Texas, this race did not have a lot of cautions and was over fairly quickly (it was actually a race record average speed). As a result, there was plenty of time to interview drivers after the event ended. I counted ten post-race interviews on Friday night, including one with Johnny Benson. Unbeknownst at the time, that interview was likely the last one on SPEED this year for Benson because of Monday’s announcement by Red Horse Racing that they were shutting down the No. 1 team due to lack of sponsorship.

Unlike normal, I’m going to jump around a little and cover the Nationwide Series Federated Auto Parts 300 from Nashville Superspeedway. Even though the ARCA Re/Max Series event went off first, it was at the same venue as the Cup Series (Pocono 500).

Generally, I was OK with the telecast that ESPN2 delivered on Saturday night. I’ll admit that I missed this in the pre-race show when it was live, but Kyle Busch called out Dr. Jerry Punch for jinxing him. This quote was replayed at least once during the race and on SportsCenter after the race as well. I found this kinda funny, to be honest. Dr. Punch seemed to get a chuckle out of it as well, but made a point later on in the telecast that he was in fact not trying to jinx Busch.

ESPN2 deserves credit for hunting down Brendan Gaughan and getting his thoughts on a curious pit road incident with Marc Davis.

ESPN2 was also very timely in airing audio on the broadcast from Brendan Gaughan following his quirky pit road incident with Marc Davis, deserving even more kudos for actually getting an interview with Gaughan after the race. I don’t know whether to give more credit to ESPN2 for doing the interview or to a clearly ticked Brendan Gaughan for actually talking to them. And believe me, Gaughan was angry as heck.

Though the race was actually quite a bit shorter time wise than in recent years, the race still ran almost right up against the time slot, so there was not all that much post-race coverage. I’m not 100 percent sure that the shot of Kyle Busch making what looked like a small fireball during his burnout actually made the live broadcast, but it was included on SportsCenter. Obviously, Dave Burns was not expecting Kyle Busch’s now infamous destructive celebration in Victory Lane, so he looked a little flustered, I guess. The guitar smashing seemingly threw him off his game. It took a moment for him to adjust before Burns continued his Victory Lane interview.

For some reason on Saturday, ESPN2 chose not to place the News and Notes during the pre-race show. Instead, they decided to run it during the first caution for John Wes Townley’s crash, which also collected Brad Baker, Casey Atwood and Mike Harmon. I don’t know why they chose to do this. The pre-race show was not exactly loaded with important information. Just four interviews and some talk. I hope this does not continue.

Saturday also brought the ARCA Re/Max Series’ Pocono ARCA 200 from Pocono Raceway. This race was actually tape delayed to a 4 PM start due to SPEED’s telecast of the start of the Rolex Sports Car Series’ Sahlen’s Six Hours of the Glen. The race actually started at 1 PM in real time, meaning the race was probably over right around the time the race coverage started.

It showed.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We’re not talking about coverage that was condensed for broadcast, like those reruns of Cup and Busch races that used to air on American Sports Cavalcade (Diamond P Sports’ centerpiece) at 2 PM on Saturdays on TNN in the early 1990’s. But, the production techniques shown here made it clear that it was a tape delay. For example, during the fourth caution, SPEED took a commercial as the cars were coming down the North Straight. Three minutes later, after the commercial break, roughly 25 seconds in the race had passed, meaning that the coverage returned just in time for yellow flag pit stops.

Aside from the obvious production techniques, there were also a couple of small technical issues. For example, there was some freeze up during replays of the first crash of the day, an incident in the Tunnel Turn between the No. 35 of Tom Berte, the No. 43 of Kyle Martel and the No. 04 of Chase Mattioli. I also saw some picture break-up early on in the race as well.

However, there was some good camera work. For example, the cameras caught an electric fan come off of the No. 89 of Chad Beahr and slide on the track surface on the Long Pond Straightaway, the cause of the fourth caution.

Post-race coverage was frugal, but adequate. There were a few interviews, but nothing too substantial, knowing that SPEED had to get back to their coverage from Watkins Glen. There were five interviews during this coverage, with Joey Logano and his crew chief, former driver Billy Venturini, Justin Lofton, Joey Coulter and Patrick Sheltra. These teams represented the top four finishing teams in the race.

Sunday afternoon brought the debut of TNT’s race coverage for the year. The Pocono 500 is the beginning of TNT’s Summer Series. Yes, I know they’re the summer home for the Cup Series, but talking like that makes the series sound like it’s Wipeout on ABC.

Having TNT back means that their 100 minute pre-race show is back. I still do not get the point of this. It comes off like TNT is all but begging for their own NASCAR magazine-style show, but NASCAR won’t let them make one. Also, I think the Dale Earnhardt Jr. sit down interview with Marty Snider aired twice, but I’m not too sure about that. It would not be a bad idea for some more synergy between the individual NASCAR media partners, so that TNT doesn’t have to waste all that airtime on Sunday. Maybe with that done, they could start the race before 2:15 PM. The late start almost bit TNT on Sunday with the rain that moved into the area late in the going.

Having said that, I liked the piece on Dave Marcis. TNT (or at the very least, Kyle Petty) recognizes that many of the fans of the series have either never heard of him, or only remember him failing to qualify for a bunch of races in the late 1990’s. Drivers like Marcis were once the backbone of the series and should be celebrated for their accomplishments and/or longevity. I’m a history buff, so I like seeing this stuff on telecasts. Knowing TNT, they probably have five others already done for the remaining pre-race shows, like last year.

TNT also has their RaceBuddy program, in association with nascar.com. I like it. You get uninterrupted race coverage and a leaderboard. And best of all, it’s free. One thing though. It’s a little weird watching it while having the race on TV as well. RaceBuddy appears to be 2-3 seconds ahead of the TV, so there is an echo effect. Also, there is no window in the mosaic showing TNT’s actual broadcast, so it’s a little weird to listen to on the mosaic. With the in-car view, it’s locked onto a certain car (Jeff Burton and Tony Stewart were the selected cars) for a sizable portion of the race. The Battle channel has one camera on the roof of the main grandstand panning all over the track, looking for close racing.

There is also Pit Road Plus, which covers all the action on pit road and a dedicated pit reporter, Jim Noble, for the RaceBuddy coverage. His role is to give periodic updates on the race, and to interview drivers in the pits and garage before the race. The updates, typically right after TNT takes a commercial break, have Noble recapping the previous segment of the race and potentially breaking news. However, TNT never actually reported how short on fuel David Reutimann actually was. All they said was that he was good to go. In reality, he was short by a lap or two and had to conserve in order to make it to the end. This oversight aside, it’s kinda sad that with a 90 minute plus pre-race, Noble interviewed more drivers for RaceBuddy than TNT did for the regular coverage.

Another thing I liked was the new pit stall graphic used before the race to discuss last minute pit road issues. This looks a lot better than the vertical graphic that TNT has used for the last couple of years, and I wish that FOX and/or ESPN would adopt it in the near future. However, I’m not sure if this is a one-time thing just for Pocono, or if it will continue on Sunday in Michigan.

The Through the Field update was much appreciated. It also stretched much further back than ESPN’s equivalent in their Nationwide Series broadcasts this year. Instead of just the top seven or ten, TNT went back all the way into the 20’s. I used to dread the Through the Field thing back in the NBC days because it seemed to give them license to otherwise ignore racing outside the top 10. Sunday though, the actual race coverage showed a lot more racing for position throughout the field than we have been used to so far this season on FOX. This was a welcome change that nearly everyone was happy with…at least everyone that commented on our Live Blog. It was unanimous in a quick vote that TNT’s broadcast was better than what FOX offered this season.

TNT also had replays of the strange cone removing incident during the first round of green flag pit stops where Dexter Bean apparently got called to pit road at the last second. The result was that Bean roasted his tires slowing his Dodge down, clipping the cone in the process. Michael Waltrip, perhaps expecting the cone to be there when he pitted, locked up his brakes on entry and spun out. TNT also used computer graphic technology properly to show what happened with Michael Waltrip’s second pit road screw-up. Makes me wish that was caught on regular camera…it probably was scary for the crew. I also liked Kyle Petty’s explanation (using video evidence) of how Waltrip, on both occasions, spun out because he was heavy on rear brake bias. This is how FOX should use their FOX 3D feature during a race, but they have almost never done it.

However, with all of the good stuff that TNT delivered in their season debut, there were a couple of things that needed improvement. Debris cautions, for one. The first caution, which came out during the second round of green flag pit stops, was never even acknowledged on air as a debris caution. What the heck? The other was acknowledged as a debris caution, but they never showed the debris, despite Carl Edwards mentioning that he saw it. C’mon now. This is day one stuff.

The second issue I had was about the trends feature, now known as the Subway FreshTake that Larry McReynolds brought over to TNT from FOX. I’ve gone on record stating that I like this. What I don’t like is the feature being moved out of the pace laps to after the mid-point of the race. It doesn’t fit there.

The third issue was the fact that, for some reason, TNT decided to cut their post-race show short. I, personally, have no clue why they did this. The race ended fairly quick, by Pocono standards, leaving nearly 25 minutes for post-race coverage. TNT used 10 minutes, and then left the air at 6:15 PM so they could show “The Wedding Date,” a movie starring Debra Messing as a desperate woman who hires a male escort to serve as her date to a wedding overseas. What the deuce? This movie was scheduled to start at 6:30 PM. In their post-race time, TNT interviewed Stewart, Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Edwards and Newman, showed a rundown of the unofficial results and a look at the point standings. Based on what I saw on RaceBuddy, Stewart was likely told that TNT was in a hurry to get off air, despite all the extra time they had to spare. As a result, he hustled to Victory Lane and was already in position by the time TNT came out of commercial.

With the kind of extra time that TNT had at the end of the broadcast, they easily could have stuffed more interviews and discussion into those 15 minutes. However, they chose not to. Fatigue from being on air for nearly six hours, perhaps? All I know is that I do not want to see a repeat of that in the future.

My overall thoughts on TNT’s first of six telecasts is that it is almost nothing like what FOX has provided for the first 13 races. It was like a breath of fresh air for almost everyone involved. However, there are adjustments that need to be made, the post-race shenanigans being the most important. TNT technically wasn’t getting their money’s worth by going off air 15 minutes early. NASCAR on TNT is not a time buy situation for NASCAR, unlike a lot of Champ Car’s telecasts in the last couple of years before it merged with the IRL. TNT is paying through the wazoo. As a result, it behooves TNT to make the most of those big bucks that they’re paying just to be there.

That is all for this week. Next week is another multiple race site week, week two of the difficult stretch of travel for Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards. The Sprint Cup, Camping World Truck and ARCA Re/Max Series are all at Michigan International Speedway this week for the LifeLock 400, the Camping World Truck Series Michigan 200, and the Racing for Wildfire 200 respectively. In addition the Nationwide Series is in Sparta, KY on Saturday night for the Meijer 300 presented by Ritz.

These races will be followed in next week’s critique.

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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Marshall
06/09/2009 08:22 AM
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Thanks for mentioning Dave Marcis and his long standing history with the sport. As a long time fan I have seen him win at Talladega back in the 70’s. I wish he would come back as a team owner and hire Nationwide series driver Marc Davis as his driver. The ironic puns of a Dave Marcis/Marc Davis team would be unavoidable.

Casey B
06/09/2009 09:46 AM
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Totally agree with your critique of the cup race on TNT. I don’t know if it was just me but just the appearance of the broadcast from the ticker to other graphics used looked like something that belongs on TV in 2009, while FOX’s broadcasts looks like they are stuck in 1999. At one point they went through the field all the way up to the 31st place car. How nice is it to know the struggles of a car during the race especially when they finished well i.e. Juan Pablo who had an awful car early on which was actually documented in the broadcast. I was a little confused on why they didn’t show all the cars coming to the finish line at the end of the race, especially when they noted that there were cars wrecking coming to the line, which you could barely see from the camera angle they used. But overall, wow, what a difference from last week to this week. I hope FOX figures out their crap before next year or they are in trouble. Keep it up TNT.

Ryan
06/09/2009 10:52 AM
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I couldn’t be happier that FOX has been shown the door . I don’t think i could have stood one more self serving moment of Waltrip , Joy , Hammond , McReynolds , or Meyers . Of course we still seem to stuck with McReynolds , but i notice that the TNT director avoids “ tossing “ to him every time he asks , which is constantly . The less we see and hear from McReynolds on these broadcasts , the better . Wally and Kyle know more than enough to field most any question concerning the cars or pit strategy .
I’ve always felt that not enough time and energy is given to post race stories and interviews . Most races tend to run over their alotted time , so i understand why . But a lot of issues and interviews never get aired .
The idea of showing and discussing every car in the race would , you would think , be a no brainer . Yet FOX was always too busy covering their favorite drivers to care about the rest of the field . I noticed on Sunday that TNT lapses into the same thing from time to time , the camera would be on Johnson continually for two or three laps , which is a long , long time at Pocono ,yet the commentary wasn’t even about him during that time . Instead of just planting a shot , give us more of the action through the pack that we’ve never received from FOX .

Razz
06/09/2009 01:09 PM
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No mention of the horrid coverage of the last few laps? The locked-in view of Tony Stewart inside his car while there was actual racing going on? The failure to show what happened to Kahne and Allmendinger? While most of the coverage was a breath of fresh air compared to GOPHER, the end of the race coverage was as bad as I’ve ever seen. Or should I say, not seen?

Kevin in SoCal
06/09/2009 01:14 PM
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Phil said: “However, TNT never actually reported how short on fuel David Reutimann actually was. All they said was that he was good to go.”

How is TNT going to know how much fuel David has in his tank? They only know what the crew chief tells them, or what they hear on the radio. The crew chief probably told them they were fine on fuel, so that’s what they reported.

karl
06/10/2009 11:15 PM
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I thought Kyle Petty was unintelligible at times and the “overnoise” of the engines was annoying. I know its a race but whats the point of having commentators if you can’t hear them.

Ken
06/12/2009 11:12 PM
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Way, way too many commercials. 141 via 27+ comm’l breaks. Average= 2mins24secs of race time to every 1min of commercials. I thought the entire broadcast was in disarray, poorly executed.