The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Bill Weber, You Lied To Us by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday June 16, 2009

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Talking NASCAR TV: Bill Weber, You Lied To Us

Phil Allaway · Tuesday June 16, 2009

 

Hello, race fans. Last weekend was a busy weekend, with the ARCA RE/MAX Series, Sprint Cup, and Truck Series at Michigan while the Nationwide Series raced in front of a near-sellout crowd in Kentucky. However, I’ll keep things relatively brief with the support series to start, because I’m going to bring on the vitriol towards TNT.

Let’s get right to it. Friday night saw the ARCA Series’ Racing for Wildlife 200 at Michigan International Speedway, one of only 11 races that are televised this season. Sponsored by the Ryan Newman Foundation, Racing for Wildlife is an initiative the charity has been working on that works to protect the outdoors. Perhaps that sponsorship was what led Newman to join Rick Allen and Phil Parsons in the booth during the race. Known as a quiet guy, he really didn’t say all that much during the event and was a puzzling addition to the broadcast — he even didn’t stay the whole time, as the sponsorship forced him to leave early and head for Victory Lane.

As for the coverage itself, I think that Allen and Parsons should have called the racers to task on the bad restarts during the event. After two crashes on restarts caused by bunch-ups, they should have had some sort of critical analysis; however, they decided to shy away from it even as the pattern was being made clear.

Because of the race running long, there was very little post-race from the network. The coverage consisted of just interviews with race winner Parker Kligerman and second place finisher Austin Dillon, as well as a review of the unofficial results and point standings before leaving the air. But these days, you can’t be picky — having ARCA get live coverage to any degree is great. They seem to be losing more and more telecasts each year, which means the series needs to treat their telecasts as a real showcase to lure both viewers and advertisers in. With that in mind, I think Friday’s SPEED coverage was fine other than the few criticisms listed above. Moving forward, though, I wouldn’t mind more races on MavTV, either (the other network that covers the series) — since I just got that station a month ago here.

Moving forward, SPEED’s Saturday afternoon coverage of the Michigan 200 for the Truck Series was plagued by wrecks. Unfortunately, that happens at times. Another thing that I noticed was that full-time teams still do not have their own number graphics in the scroll. In fact, some teams are actually losing their personal number graphics in favor of the more generic ones. The example I’m going to use here is the No. 17 of Timothy Peters. This team has partnered with Red Horse Racing and has thus changed their scheme, looking just like the No. 1 team that was just disbanded. The network could have come up with a new number graphic… but chose not to. We’ll see if something changes in two weeks at Memphis.

Post-race coverage of this race by the network was also fairly lean. There were four interviews, including race winner Colin Braun, and also a quick look at the unofficial results and point standings. This is par for the course for a race that ran a little long due to the crashes, but I’d prefer some more coverage — and I know the fans do as well.

Meanwhile, my one comment on ESPN2’s broadcast of the Nationwide Series’ Meijer 300 is that it suffered from the abuse of close action shots that plagues telecasts these days. I’ll give an example of how this stuff affects the show. On lap 76, Derrike Cope and Kenny Hendrick had contact and spun in Turn 1. But when ESPN showed this live, they only showed Cope’s No. 73 spinning around on the apron and not hitting anything; you didn’t see what happened with Hendrick and his No. 42. A wider shot there would have allowed viewers to see that not only did Kenny Hendrick spin, he hit the outside wall.

On Sunday, Cup Series ran the LifeLock 400, the 15th race of the season, which was broadcasted by TNT as the second of their six race “Summer Series.” Now, I cannot do anything about the quality of the race on Sunday. Some of my fellow writers here at The Frontstretch, most notably Matt McLaughlin, described the event as yawn-inducing, boring, or worse. But even if that were true, that doesn’t mean that there was not any racing for position on Sunday. It’s Michigan. There’s always racing for position… TNT just didn’t show a whole lot of it.

With RaceBuddy, TNT almost has an excuse for not showing as much battling for position as they could. One of the channels on RaceBuddy is the Battle channel, where one cameraman, perched on the roof of the luxury suites, searches the race track for a group of cars, racing together for position. With that channel, TNT actually does show quite a bit of side-by-side competition. For example, the battle channel caught the race for position between A.J. Allmendinger and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. This was the one where Earnhardt, Jr. ended up getting forced down to the apron, angering him in the process as the cars battled tooth and nail. Based on what I saw there, Earnhardt Jr. didn’t really have much of a reason to be angry in the first place .. but you wouldn’t know it if you didn’t have RaceBuddy. You see, before Earnhardt Jr. went to the apron, Allmendinger nearly spun out coming out of Turn 4 while Earnhardt Jr. was below him. He needed the extra room to help straighten his car out — even though NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver was none too pleased. It was exciting stuff, indeed… but this incident was never shown on the TNT broadcast in its entirety.

In the pre-race show, there were a fair number of interviews, more than at Pocono. Here, I’m only counting the interviews on the actual broadcast that TNT showed on television. RaceBuddy, as I mentioned in last week’s review, has its own set of interviews, usually conducted as drivers are walking out to pit road. I still believe that the pre-race programming is too long, though; a 90-minute pre-show before driver intros is just too much time to fill.

During the race, TNT is probably best known for their “Through the Field” feature, where the network has their pit reporters talk about individual teams and how they’re doing on the track. They decided to quickly do it right before the first round of green flag pit stops, admittedly as a way to kill time before they happened. There’s just one problem with that: the pit stops started earlier than TNT thought. They decided to stay with Through the Field for a couple of laps, and then decided to stop because cars were pitting under green. It was not a good idea to start when they did around lap 37; however, to their credit the network ended up restarting the feature again after the pit stops ended.

With clean air at a premium, the final race off pit road has been critical this season. Yet TNT failed to show the final set of pit stops live at Michigan…why?

Towards the end of the race, though, the coverage really began to go down the john. On lap 149, TNT left to go to commercial, which is typical. However, while they were in break, David Stremme crashed into the protective water barrels at the beginning of pit road, causing the third and final caution of the race. In the past (we’re talking back when Allen Bestwick was still the play-by-play man before his unfortunate hockey injury), Bestwick would go out of his way to say that if anything happened during the break, NBC (or TNT) would immediately return from commercial to explain what’s going on. This could be for a wreck, an engine failure, or even a top runner being forced to make an unscheduled pit stop.

Regardless, this policy doesn’t apply anymore, since TNT went through their full commercial break before coming back to explain what was going on. All the while, we were ranting about this on our website’s Live Blog; and while I’d like to think you were there this Sunday, with a chance to always have the information right when you need it, there were millions more who didn’t have that type of access at their fingertips. Instead, they were subjected to TNT staying out of commercial for what seemed like a minute and change, coming back to show a replay of Stremme’s crash, and then determining that it was going to be awhile before NASCAR opened up pit road. So, they took another commercial break.

Unfortunately for the network, NASCAR opened up the pits and had the crucial final round of pit stops while they were in commercial. After they came back, TNT aired the pit stops via tape delay. That’s Bush League. What the heck, man? You guys are supposed to be good at making sure crucial elements of the race are not missed. You really dropped the ball here.

The post-race coverage was worse. Once again, it appeared that TNT was in a hurry to get off the air, regardless of the fact that the race ended with a full 30 minutes left in its timeslot (at least, according to my on-screen guide). For the fans at home, you always know a network is in a hurry by how quickly the winner (in this case, Mark Martin) gets to Victory Lane. Instead of an extended on-track celebration, Martin was already there with his No. 5 car for nearly two minutes by the time TNT came back from commercial. After that, the network aired interviews with Martin, Greg Biffle, and Carl Edwards before a check of the unofficial results and a statement from Bill Weber that TNT was going “to have extensive post-race coverage,” including the proclamation they just might track down drivers for interviews back in the motorhome lot.

Did this happen? Uhhhh, no.

After the commercial, TNT instead showed an interview with Jeff Gordon that was tape-delayed, followed by interviews with Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin. After that, there was a check of the point standings, and then… TNT left the air and showed an episode of the World’s Most Dramatic Police Chases. Now, I’ll admit that I like a good car chase as much as anyone, but this was not even scheduled to run on Sunday.

Bill, you lied to us, man.

Looking back, that short post-race stint left TNT 2-for-2 so far in 2009 in a rather unceremonious category: leaving the air early. They still had 20 minutes left in their timeslot when departing, although this time, they continued their post-race coverage on RaceBuddy (not that everyone was able to access it, but …). Anyways, this coverage consisted of four more interviews (Brian Vickers, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Tony Stewart, and Kurt Busch) and some discussion of the race with Larry McReynolds and Marc Fein. However, this additional content lasted maybe eight minutes longer than the broadcast. So, even with the online-only post-race content, TNT still did not fill their time slot. I cannot remember what TNT is paying NASCAR for the privilege of televising the Cup Series, but if I were running that network, I would be curious as to why the production would not only shortchange the TV audience but Turner Media as well. Because of TNT leaving the air early (likely intentionally), they’re not getting the most out of their millions while major storylines are almost guaranteed to be left hanging. I wouldn’t be surprised if the corporate suits might have watched this coverage and made a bunch of phone calls wondering why their coverage didn’t fill their slot.

Let’s just be honest: NASCAR on TNT is not a time buy. The Champ Car World Series, when it was on CBS and ESPN? Those were time buys. The networks effectively determined the length of the race, which is likely why the series went to a full-time, timed race format for their final season in 2007. In comparison, Turner Media is paying a buttload of money for the right to do their Summer Series. So, a note to TNT: get your money’s worth out of it. You might as well, since you’re already paying for it, and the fans will thank you each and every time.

That’s all for this week. Next week is the first road race of the season. Oh, yeah! I’ll admit right now that I’m a big fan of road racing and wish all three major series did it more often. The Cup Series races at Infineon (formerly Sears Point) Raceway in this weekend’s Toyota Save Mart 350k. Meanwhile, the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series have their annual night races at the Milwaukee Mile. I will be critiquing all three of these events for next Tuesday’s edition.

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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Ryan
06/16/2009 06:43 AM
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I’m still liking the TNT coverage over anything FOX ever did . Everyone in the booth does a good job , informative , not trying to promote themselves or re-write their careers . And a lot less Larry Mac than when FOX has it . Believe me , thats a good thing . On that note , its curious that SPEED continues to feature McReynolds and Hammond , the two most hated tv analysts in all of racing . Doesn’t SPEED read the constant barrage of fan mail against those two clowns ? They surely have other talent they could use .
The thru the field feature is always going to be iffy . It takes a while to document every car in the field , and even at a track like Michigan something is bound to happen before they get all the way through . But you’re right , even when the rundown was interupted they came back and finished it . And i hope they never stop the field rundown , ALL of the racers deserve a mention during a race .
Ryan Newman did a good job in the booth . He was a bit reserved , but compared to the talking heads who think every second has to be filled with their voice , Newman was a refreshing change .
I hope TNT and the other networks keep in mind that all of the bells and whistles that they provide over the internet is wasted on a pretty large segment of the population who don’t have computers or who don’t have the disposable income to waste on Race Buddy and Hot Pass .

Sharon J
06/16/2009 08:10 AM
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I no longer watch pre-race shows. And since the announcers are so bad, my TV stays on mute. I go to your blogs fo get the “real” story.

Casey B
06/16/2009 09:21 AM
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Racebuddy is free as long as you can get on the internet.

MISSU3
06/16/2009 09:42 AM
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TNT/ESPN always acts like they can’t wait to get off the air. AFV and Police Chases have a higher priority with this bunch. Just love to listen armchair crew chiefs rip on Larry Mac and Hammonds who have forgotten more about racing that most people will ever know. Who do you want up there…Derrick (I beat Earnhardt in the 500) Cope? Take out the fluff of FOX and their camera coverage and commentary are still the best.

Cons1
06/16/2009 11:18 AM
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The thing that drives me nuts is the useless statistics that Bill Weber rhymes off. Last week it was that in six of the last eight races, the winner was under 30. So what. What has that got to do with anything. Maybe Tony Stewart, Mark Martin etc. should just have gone back home. How about how many of the last winners have brown eyes. It’s about the same in usefulness. I wish they wouldn’t think they have to fill every last second of time with something, anything.

Gordon82Wins
06/16/2009 11:24 AM
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I was thinking TNT was infinitely better than Fox, which they are, but then with a battle for the lead going with four laps to go, TNT chose that time to go to their “Sprint Monster Moment”. Unbelievable.

And NASCAR thinks changing the restarts will improve the ratings. They won’t get it until it’s too late.

marshall
06/16/2009 11:50 AM
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As an arm chair crew chief i feel i have a right to speak on the subject . Hammond and McReynolds haven’t been crew chiefs for many years , and never for the COT , so i imagine they have forgotten a lot . Maybe that would explain their poor performances on tv .
I’ll tell you exactly who should be on . Andy Petree for one , he led Dale Sr. to a championship , not to the worst season in his entire career like your favorite tv crew chief did . And then went on to lead Mike Skinner to how many victories ? Now if TNT sees the light and dumps McReynolds for a truly talented ex-crew chief , and there are plenty of them out there , then their broadcasts will be even better .

Martin#5
06/16/2009 12:04 PM
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In watching Racebuddy on the computer and the TV coverage, there was also 1 restart where the race had already started during the TNT commercial on the live Racebuddy feed and the TV coverage then came back on with the “live” start. Is there a lag between the Internet feed and cable?

Kevin in SoCal
06/16/2009 01:08 PM
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I have heard that the reason the TV networks leave the air quickly after a race is that most people turn the channel after the checkered flag and they know who wins. Only the hardcore people stay and watch, and there arent enough of them. That negatively affects the ratings for the entire broadcast, dragging down the numbers.

R
06/16/2009 01:53 PM
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I’d say Kevin is probably correct . A real die hard might wait around for interviews , although probably not even them because they can tune in later in the week to one of the 200 or so Nascar talk shows and get a condensed version of the post race interviews .

Glenn
06/16/2009 04:00 PM
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leaving the air early is indefensable and unforgivable. Plain and simple.

TBone
06/16/2009 04:59 PM
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TNT shills so much crap on their plentiful commercial breaks that as soon as they run out of the required spots, when the race is over, they get off racing all together so that they can shill the cheaper commercials (the ones that pay for random time slots) during the free airtime.

Its commercials that are the main reason why I digitally record every broadcast and watch it at my leisure. Watching the pre race show and the race coverage can usually be done in 90 minutes less time than if I watched live.

mike
06/16/2009 05:33 PM
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It’s a damn shame that TNT has to cover the summer races…and these tracks. Pocono? Michigan? The only way to make those races exciting would be to have naked women covering the race. Digger indeed.

I bet a lot of people thought Jimmie was going to win and turned off the race.

KenKars
06/16/2009 06:22 PM
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The actual reason that Mark Martin got to victory lane so soon was that he doesn’t do those childish burnouts like most of the drivers do !!

Phil Allaway
06/16/2009 10:36 PM
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Marshall, I don’t agree with your statement that McReynolds led Earnhardt to the worst season of his career. Yes, McReynolds only won one race with Earnhardt (the infamous 1998 Daytona 500), but he had Earnhardt in the top 10 in points both years. Statistically, Earnhardt’s worst full time seasons resulted in 12th place finishes in points, in both 1982 driving the #15, and 1992 in the #3. Shelmerdine quit after 1992 to focus on his own driving career.

I, personally respect McReynolds for his accomplishments on pit road during his career. I’m pretty sure he wishes that he could have won with Mike Skinner, but then again, no one else did in the Cup Series. Were you expecting Larry to be some kind of miracle worker or something back in 1999?

As for Weber’s obscure stats, that’s his thing. He’s been doing it for years now, I think since before he took over play-by-play duties. Although, I think he should try to keep them more on topic if possible.

docbob
06/17/2009 10:18 AM
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As I do not get to watch the races live because of work commitments, I do DVR and watch them. I have not seen the incident that you talk about with the barrels yet as I am only about 1/2 way through the race at this point.

One thing to note about TNT (and any cable network, Speed and ESPN as well) is there are hard and soft commercial breaks. A soft break is when TNT will fill the time with commercials it makes money off of. As part of the agreement with Cable and Satellite providers, they give up a certain amount of time each hour for ‘local commercials’ and these are know as hard commercial breaks. Once the network goes to them they cannot come back as companies use computers and tones to go to the commercials and time them and come out of them. That is why you may see the end of a commercial after you have just seen one. This is the reason that TNT does have real commercials during the Wide Open coverage, they have to give it to the locals as promised.

That being said, TNT may not have been able to come back from the commercials in progress because of their contract.

Phil Allaway
06/17/2009 08:55 PM
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That would make sense, docbob. During that break, I remember ads for Fuccillo car dealerships airing here. Anyone in Upstate New York (and possibly New Mexico, because he used to own dealerships there) has probably heard of this guy, and how annoying he is with his “Huge” refrain.

However, that doesn’t defend the second commercial break.

docbob
06/22/2009 05:46 PM
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Phil, I did verify it was a local break when I watched it last week. And yes, the second one was not and that was wrong.