The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Nationwide Shines, But SPEED Fails to Recognize Start and Park Presence by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday July 21, 2009

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Hello, race fans. I hope you enjoyed your weekend. I certainly did. I had fun, not just critiquing races but relaxing, sleeping in, and hanging out with a group of employees at the local YMCA. Going into this weekend, I had planned on only covering the Truck and Nationwide Series races. However, I had not noticed that SPEED was covering the ARCA Re/MAX Series event as well. I guess it was supposed to be tape delayed, but I’m not sure how much it was tape delayed by — not by much. All I know is that this setup led me to critique three races over a period of 5 1/2 hours. Not really ideal, because of the constant switching back and forth … but enjoyable just the same.

First up Saturday night was the Truck Series’ Built Ford Tough 225, held at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, KY. Generally, this was a fairly good telecast, definitely helped out by the good, hard racing at the front of the field. However, I do have a couple of gripes.

One of them came out of the second caution on Lap 54 for J.J. Yeley’s crash. SPEED never showed the audience a replay of the wreck, which is kind of sad. Makes me think that they completely missed it, didn’t want to show it, or simply ran out of time. Regardless of your reasoning for doing that, you must notify your audience. If SPEED did not have any footage of Yeley’s crash, then they should have owned up to it. Have Rick Allen mention that they did not have any footage of the crash and apologize … don’t just ignore it. Which leads me to my next point.

I have had issues this season with how SPEED has handled the myriad of S&P (start and park) teams in the Truck Series. Unlike the Cup Series, where you might see a maximum of four or five cars S&P, in the trucks, it’s a much bigger issue. On Saturday night, 12 of the trucks, a full 1/3 of the starting grid started and parked out of 36 starters. Now, I’ve been critical of how FOX, ESPN and TNT have handled the issue, but I haven’t really talked about how SPEED’s treatment of it has gone this season.

So, what is their philosophy? It’s simple: pretend like its business as usual. The SPEED commentary crew basically glosses over the issue and never really talks about it at all, as if none of these S&P’s are even happening. That’s astounding, for at this point, unlike the Cup or Nationwide Series, there is basically a demarcation line in the starting grid around 25th to 26th position. If you qualify higher than that, you’re likely going to run the whole race. If not… there is a good possibility that you will S&P. Mind you, there were three trucks that failed to qualify for Saturday evening’s race, and I don’t really know what the plans were for those three teams. I do know that Dillon Oliver brought sponsorship to the Stott Classic Racing No. 02 from Potencia Energy Drink, but I’m not sure about Jack Smith or Ryan Mathews.

Anyways, back to the point; SPEED just pretends like these teams don’t exist. This is not good policy, in my opinion, and will only lead to more of these outfits. SPEED also doesn’t recognize when these trucks go behind the wall (it’s an issue on their ARCA telecasts as well, since Allen and Parsons anchor them minus Michael Waltrip). It is possible this “oversight” is also SPEED policy, though. I’ve discovered this year that each outfit seems to operate differently. It also seems to depend on who the play-by-play man is. Whereas Dr. Jerry Punch might ignore S&P teams, Marty Reid will at least mention them when they pull off, for sometimes strange reasons (Ex: Willie Allen being black-flagged at Loudon for not having a crew chief).

The result of S&P’ing is that teams just start pulling off the track gradually, and the only way that fans know about this is seeing the teams listed as off the track in the scroll. That’s it; that’s all fans get. I want a little more coverage of this right now, though. I know I’m not the only person that’s ranted about this, either, because John Daly went on about it (via Twitter) Saturday night. He suggested that NASCAR help out some of the smaller teams with tire bills. I don’t see that happening… but it’s a thought.

Ron Hornaday may have won this week’s Truck race, but the SPEED crew failed to inform viewers about the absurdly high number of S&P teams who finished their days hours earlier.

I was happy with the coverage of side-by-side racing through the field on Saturday, but with all the S&P teams and legitimate mechanical issues, only 19 trucks finished the race — which is far too low of a number. I can only hope that more teams can get sponsorship in order to compete properly.

Later on Saturday, I was faced with the prospect of critiquing two separate races going on at the same time at two different venues. The ARCA Re/MAX Series’ Click It or Ticket Buckle Up Kentucky 150, aired on SPEED, was on at the same time as ESPN aired the Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250 for the Nationwide Series from Gateway. This created a rather annoying situation where I had to constantly switch back and forth so that I could talk about both races. I had given thought to just watching the ARCA race at 9:30 PM (since there was no scheduled repeats) while waiting for the repeat of the Nationwide race. However, the Nationwide race repeat did not start until 3:30 AM… so that was nixed.

In the interest of clarity, to begin I’ll state my thoughts on the ARCA telecast. This is due to the fact that the ARCA race started first (by a couple of minutes), and that it was at Kentucky Speedway as well as the aforementioned Truck event.

The one thing that I have never really liked about combination weekends involving the Truck Series (or Cup Series) and the ARCA Re/MAX Series is that despite the fact that they have experienced TV crews at the track covering the races, it seems like they intentionally use lesser production values during the ARCA coverage. For example, SPEED used just two pit reporters for the ARCA telecast (Ray Dunlap and Adam Alexander). I also think that some cameras (I’m not sure which ones) may be deactivated during the ARCA race. As a result, ARCA Re/MAX Series races televised on SPEED have similar production values (at times) to ARCA races covered on lesser networks, like the MavTV deal last year. An example of this is the fourth caution, when Brad Reithmeyer and Josh Richards collided and crashed on Lap 40. SPEED’s cameras missed the contact and only caught the tail end of the wreck on one of their cameras.

Since ARCA is down to only 11 televised races this year from the full slate in recent years, they have to treat those races as showcases for the series. I’d also argue that they need to have more in-car cameras available in more cars for the race telecasts. This season, SPEED has mainly used footage from just one or two cars in their telecasts (the No. 2 of Tim George, Jr., and sometimes, the No. 44 of Frank Kimmel). Instead, I think four cars with in-car cameras is a good rule to live by for smaller series.

As for the actual racing out on the track, it was very good. I especially liked the action-packed fight for the lead between Parker Kligermann and Grant Enfinger. Good stuff. And, if there was a quick lull in that battle, SPEED cut back to show other ones further back.

At the same time as the ARCA race was on SPEED, ESPN2 broadcasted the Nationwide Series event. Due to the mess that was the TV schedule Saturday night, the pre-race show (NASCAR Countdown) started while the Truck race was still on. I’d like to think that will not be the case next season. With television, having the races staggered on each other like that would hurt both races ratings-wise.

Having said that, the pre-race show included features with Kevin Harvick working for a local Jimmy John’s (a chain of sub shops). On a personal note, we had a Jimmy John’s in Albany, NY last year, but it only catered to state workers. Thus, it maintained hours that were unfriendly to anyone who doesn’t work in Downtown Albany (10-5 Weekdays, 9-3 on Weekends, or something like that). As a result, I never got to try the place before it went under. Another feature included Carl Edwards at the All-Star Game at Busch Stadium.

I’m thinking that ESPN would do well to come up with a graphic that shows which cars have to drop to the rear of the field for both the Cup and Nationwide Series telecasts. In my case, it is not so much an issue with the Cup Series since it’s fairly easy to figure out who has to start in the rear on Sunday (or Saturday night). However, it is not so easy in the Nationwide Series. In addition, Marty Reid (or Dr. Jerry Punch) should audibly make note of drivers who voluntarily choose to drop to the rear of the field as well.

Like I mentioned earlier, Reid continued his typical routine of making note of teams that went behind the wall early. The first car to do this was the No. 42 of Kevin Hamlin, who had qualified tenth quickest earlier in the day. He literally disappeared within a couple of laps. Eight cars S&P’d within the first 15 laps.

I was not really sure about the placement of the first Up to Speed segment since it literally led right into the pit stops. This is new, since it’s usually done right in the middle of the run. I guess it was beneficial because it informed viewers on the changes that the teams were planning to make right before they made them. I think they should have started it a little bit earlier, though, because ESPN almost ran out of time before the pit stops started.

Reid notified the viewers that the Full Throttle telemetry comes from the leading car on the restart; in this case, the No. 18 Toyota driven by Kyle Busch. This answers a question that I posed in last week’s critique. Perhaps Marty actually reads this article in his spare time?

On another positive note, I liked the fact that ESPN broke out of commercial to show Kevin Harvick out of gas on the backstretch. However, at the time I was not 100 percent sure it was actually an early return at first. I thought that they came back at the “regularly scheduled time” out of the break and Harvick had just slowed down off of Turn 2. Whatever the answer, I’m happy to see any network come back from break without missing a storyline.

I’m not sure what the “Opportunity Up to Speed” that ESPN was doing was all about. Was this a new name for a version of Up to Speed that would focus on Nationwide-only drivers, or just another sponsor for Up to Speed? We’ll never know because right as they started it, Brendan Gaughan and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. collided and crashed in Turn 1, bringing out the sixth caution flag. To ESPN’s credit, they provided the audience with interviews from both Gaughan and Stenhouse, allowing the audience the chance to gauge the responses, which is always good.

If there was one thing I didn’t like Saturday, it was some strange video feed action during the fifth caution (the one for the Scott Lagasse, Jr. crash). The picture just “got weird.” It’s kind of hard to explain, but it kind of reminded me of those MTV Video Music Award broadcasts from back around 2005 when they were constantly plugging Sony’s new cameras, which created an experience similar to movies for an almost-live telecast. I thought it was strange then… and it’s strange now.

Overall, though, I think this was a very good broadcast to watch. If ESPN’s Nationwide telecasts are going to be like this for the rest of the season with Reid in the booth, then I’m all for it.

That’s all for this week. Next week is Indianapolis. The Cup Series has the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard Sunday afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Speedway, IN, often referred to as “the big track” in the Indianapolis area. This race, following the off week, begins the ESPN portion of the schedule. It will be the trio of Dr. Jerry Punch, Dale Jarrett, and Andy Petree in the booth for the Cup Series from here until the end of the season.

Meanwhile, a few miles away in Clermont at O’Reilly Raceway Park, the Truck Series has the AAA Insurance 200 Presented by J.D. Byrider on Friday night and the 27th running of the Kroger 200 for the Nationwide Series on Saturday night. These two races both have coverage starting at 8 PM, and will be shown on SPEED and ESPN, respectively. I will provide a critique of all three of these races for your reading pleasure. In addition, I will also include a short rant about the policies of how TV networks refer to the races they’re doing. I’m not a fan of it… so be prepared for that!

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. Also, if you would like to follow me via Twitter, you can go to my Twitter page here. And if you would like to contact TNT, ESPN, or the SPEED Channel personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage of NASCAR, please click on the following links:

Contact TNT
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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Joe C.
07/21/2009 08:24 AM
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Early in the truck race, SPEED went to commercial with Hornaday closing on Malsam for the lead. When they came back, Malsam was in the process of wrecking, having already been passed. There was no mention, let alone a clip, of Hornaday taking the lead.

Mark
07/21/2009 08:38 AM
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I heard Darrell Waltrip say in an interview that Jeremy Mayfield was really only waiting for Nascar to offer a settlement to him so he would go away . I wonder if we all took up a collection , could we make Waltrip go away .
Speed uses even less production values for ARCA than the other race series ? You mean they actually have better production than the miserable shows they’ve been giving us ?
You and the other bloggers at this site are always harping on the so called start and park drivers . What you are never clear about , is what you want to have happen to these teams . You pretend that the s and p teams are responsible for the downfall of racing ( incorrect ) and that they are somehow doing something illegal ( also incorrect ) that only Frontstrech has gotten the scoop on ( also incorrect ) . We know , we get it , some teams don’t run the entire race , some teams don’t have any intention of running the entire race . The teams that didn’t qualify might also have planned to drop out early . Yes , we get it . But instead of constantly bringing it up , how about naming a punishment . No more harping , no more sermonizing , what do the Frontstretch staff say should be done to these teams . Not what should be done about them , but to them , starting with how they should be identified . Lets hear your punishment for these teams .

M.B. Voelker
07/21/2009 08:58 AM
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Start and park teams are treated as “business as usual” in the coverage because they ARE business as usual.

As long as last place pays more than the cost of bringing a car to the track and qualifying it there will be people who, in slow economic times, can’t afford to race but can afford to qualify who figure that last place money is a way to make a living.

Start and park cars have been there in the past. Assuming the socialist nuts currently in power fail at preventing the economy from recovering the start and park “problem” will go away when more people can afford to actually compete.