Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
Phil Allaway · Tuesday September 1, 2009
When I took on the TV Critique column back in January, I went into the season with what amounted to an idea of what I wanted to see out of the race telecasts. Nothing cut in stone, per se — just a couple of simple things that I wanted to see on the screen. But it’s easy for a critic to play armchair quarterback when so much goes into putting together an on-air broadcast in the first place. It’s something everyone should understand to the fullest before passing judgment, and the folks at ESPN were happy to give me a firsthand look at Watkins Glen into the effort, planning, and coordination that turns into a full-fledged weekend of NASCAR programming.
Prepping For Races: The On-Air Perspective
Getting ready for a race weekend starts days before ESPN shows up at the track. On Tuesdays, there is a “meeting” for all of the on-air personalities and producers. In reality, it’s more of a conference call, very similar to what FOX and TNT do for their coverage. It is here where the stories that ESPN will cover at the track are discussed, debated and outlined into what will become the pre-race show for the following weekend. From there, the race is on to research those stories and schedule the features that need to be made. Often times, the parts of the features with interviews are taped before the circus even arrives at the race track.
Using NASCAR Countdown from Michigan as an example, perhaps the network holds a little too firm to those stories planned out in the conference call … but as I learned, pre-produced features are not something you put together in two minutes, requiring days’ worth of coordinating schedules, actual filming, and post-production. While it’s easy to at least mention a breaking news story that occurs at 11:30 AM on a Sunday morning, it’s far more difficult to put together a multi-source story, pre-produced when you’re going on the air in less than 60 minutes.
Speaking of those breaking news items, weekly statistics, and other talking points that ESPN uses in its broadcasts, you can imagine the non-feature research that has to be done is also quite substantial. In interviewing Shannon Spake and Allen Bestwick, the network’s pit reporter and in-studio host for NASCAR shows, respectively, both mentioned that they read every press release that the teams issue each week. Considering there’s about 100 total cars attempting the Cup and Nationwide Series each week, that’s a herculean task in itself.
But PR just presents the tip of the iceberg. Bestwick continued on to say that he reads through all of the statistical packages that are released weekly by NASCAR. In addition, he keeps detailed notes during the races, pages and pages that help him remember a fact right when he needs it. Larry McReynolds has mentioned on FOX before that he has roughly 76 pages of notes at some races; Bestwick didn’t get into an exact number, but it’s certainly within that same range. Why such a detailed effort to keep track of information? It’s simple; you really only get one chance to get it right. Roughly four to twelve people in front of the camera each week represent the efforts of hundreds in the compound; one faulty word, and suddenly, hours’ worth of dedicated effort from behind the scenes gets flushed down the drain of a public “Oops!”
“When words come out of your mouth, there’s no backspace, and no spell check,” Bestwick says. “There it is, world [whether it’s right or not].”
Clearly, preparation for the races is extensive, a time-consuming affair taking up more hours in a day then fans may spend focusing on racing over the course of a week. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that working on NASCAR broadcasts is a part-time job for anybody — it is a full-time job in every sense of the word. In my opinion, it all works out similar to taking a high-level course in college. The race telecasts themselves are essentially the big tests, while the gathering of information is the research for papers (Bestwick likens this to studying for an oral quiz). The going over of race tape can often serve as a critical aid, allowing the talent to make note of their mistakes and ensuring the same one doesn’t happen again the next week.
Also, quite a few of the on-air personalities have other gigs. Bestwick does the Monday NASCAR Now Roundtable, which means he has to leave the track Sunday night no matter if the race runs or not. Spake also has other commitments, taping a radio show during the week in Charlotte. These are time-consuming side jobs that take away from prep time, but somehow, they’re able to strike a balance and give it their all come race weekend.
As for Spake and the pit reporters, they have their own unique research to do heading into the weekend. Today, NASCAR’s TV partners each have four pit reporters, all of whom are responsible for collecting information on teams. Do they get assigned to collect information on all of them? No. According to Spake, they get data on approximately 24 teams each week, with each reporter being responsible for six. The teams assigned may vary, although many of the same 24 are researched every week, like Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and Brad Keselowski (using the Nationwide Series as an example). Changes to the list depend on a variety of factors: the point standings, a driver’s historical performance at a race track, or if the team cracked the breaking news cycle for any number of reasons.
Of course, I know what you’re thinking … what about the other cars that make up a 43-car field? Do they get researched? Not to the degree of the top 24 teams, but yes. Why is this so? Spake explains why better than I can. “There are a lot of teams that we know, based on experience that we’re not going to talk about [on the broadcast],” Spake said. “So, we’ll talk about car conditions, but we don’t need to know the whole backstory.” This can help partially explain why some teams are ignored during the races.
Writer’s Note: Originally, the previous paragraph read that ESPN does not get information on all the teams. This is not true. I’ll admit right here that I made a mistake, and am sorry for unintentionally misrepresenting what Spake said to me. Additionally, ESPN has contacted us to correct this portion of the interview, claiming even all the start-and-park teams are spoken to before each race and they go into each one prepared on all 43 cars as you never know “which direction the race is going to go.”
After each pit reporter gets their information, each member emails what they’ve learned to the other three pit reporters (in this case, Shannon would e-mail the information gained about Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman, etc.) to Dave Burns, Vince Welch and Jamie Little on the ESPN staff). With the knowledge in hand, the four-member team is now well-prepped and ready to handle the weekend’s events.
As for the pit assignments themselves, it is done via a lottery process. ESPN splits the pit road into four sections, but it’s a little more than just drawing three lines on a piece of paper and saying “Have at it.” At least in the Cup Series, consideration is given for the number of marquee names pitting in each section. The goal is to balance things out, making sure you don’t have one section with five marquee names while another only has one or two. Even with this manipulation of pit sections, though, the drivers covered are usually all in a row. As for who covers who, back in February the four reporters drew straws and whoever won got first pick. Then whoever drew second would pick, and so on. The next week, the person who picked second at Daytona went first, the person who went third at Daytona would go second, and so on. This pattern for pit reporter assignments has continued ever since, remaining the same for both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series races.
Even with relatively small pit stall assignments (about ten stalls apiece), pit reporters cannot be everywhere, though. That’s why each reporter has a camera crew with them, including one man holding up a monitor on a pole. This allows the reporter to see what he/she has missed due to other responsibilities on pit road. The information that they relay on-air is usually given to them by either crew chiefs or PR reps in off-air conversations. While traversing their end of pit road, reporters will often climb up on the pit box and ask a question, then either keep that information under their hat or use it immediately in an on-air hit if it’s breaking news.
Because of their constant presence in a NASCAR work zone, working as a pit reporter can actually be physically hazardous for multiple reasons, one of which is simply the noise. Even when cars aren’t around, there is the constant buzz of generators going around which can give even the most seasoned veteran an earache. The cars themselves are very loud up close, on track, and in the garage. As a result, ESPN arranges for mandatory hearing tests multiple times a year (usually three) to make sure all their talent remains in good health. This was a random tidbit I learned during the compound tour, as someone actually showed up in the compound to perform the tests. Add that to the simple fact an active pit area at all times presents the myriad collection of dangers facing 43 sets of crew members on race day, and you can see why these reporters are wearing protective firesuits just like the guys on pit road. As an example, I had to sidestep around people running with gas cans multiple times during the Nationwide race on Saturday. That can get dangerous when the track is hot during a 500-mile event all 43 crews are jockeying to win; but thankfully, none of NASCAR’s pit reporters have ever suffered serious injury.
Calling The Race From Above
Meanwhile, in the play-by-play production booth, covering the Cup race proves a whole different animal altogether. At one point in the past, it may have been possible for booth commentators to actually look out the window of the press box and point out things that aren’t on screen. Those days are long over. Most of the time, the commentators are looking at multiple monitors that show different cameras outside just so that they can stay on task with production.
In addition, there are several other statistical aids that can help them. There is a flat screen TV showing the running order at all times, along with other basic information that’s critical to relate to viewers. Unlike the scrolls on the broadcast, however, the timing and scoring information is not GPS-enabled, so it is not updated in real time. This is why it is often said on the broadcast that they have to wait for the scoring to “cycle around.” There is also a touch screen in the booth that the production staff can load promos into that play-by-play man Dr. Jerry Punch or Allen Bestwick can read during broadcasts.
The commentators have multiple people in their earpieces (which look a little bit like hearing aids) during the broadcast. When I sat down with Dr. Punch at Watkins Glen, he described this “headset circus.” A commentator might have up to five different voices in his ear at any time, including radio snippets, producers, the director, pit reporters, drivers, etc. It’s essentially organized chaos up there. As a result, some things may not be heard by the commentators that actually make the broadcast. Dr. Punch emphasized this point during my interview with him, as I brought up the example of the Nationwide race at Phoenix in April as an example of how the necessity of “vocal multitasking” can result in missed communication. Back then, the booth was buzzing about Carl Edwards dominating the Bashas’ Supermarkets 200, while at the same time, Carl was talking on the radio about the engine starting to go. This wasn’t referenced on ESPN until after a commercial break, however, because the booth wasn’t able to sort through all the voices and hear what was happening on-air.
Also, during my sitdown interview I asked Dr. Punch about the concerns that I’ve had (as well as others this season) about a perceived lack of enthusiasm. Jerry countered (respectfully) that he is very enthusiastic about NASCAR and the broadcasts. However, during a routine production evaluation of his work, ESPN brass felt that he was too enthusiastic on-air and basically told him to tone it down. That toning down, in my opinion, has now basically resulted in the de-emphasizing of Dr. Punch in favor of emphasizing Dale Jarrett and Andy Petree, leaving the less emotional Dr. Punch in the booth that we know of today. Now, many of you readers might not believe this, or might even accuse me of believing a blatant lie. Did I think this was true at the time? I thought he was truthful… but I was skeptical.
So, about a week later, after I got home from Watkins Glen, I put Punch’s claims to the test. I went through my collection of races on DVD and picked one out from ESPN’s 2007 slate, the UAW-Ford 500 from Talladega Superspeedway. I figured that Talladega would be as good a race as any to test Dr. Punch’s words. Do I believe what he said now? Absolutely. There was a visible difference between Dr. Punch’s on-air demeanor back in October, 2007 and what we’re seeing on a weekly basis now. But do I think this move that ESPN’s brass decided to make was the right one? No, I honestly do not. However, both Dr. Punch and Allen Bestwick stated to me in their interviews that they had a lot of faith in the TV executives that basically control their jobs. Basically, they were told that changes in their roles would benefit the broadcast as a whole, and they agreed to those changes under those pretenses throughout their careers (and with Bestwick, I’m referring to his switch to pit road in late 2004 in favor of Bill Weber moving to the booth). It’s clearly a production team that supports itself in all facets both on the air and off the track.
Meanwhile, Dr. Punch does not see himself as the best play-by-play man out there. But he certainly doesn’t see himself as the worst; and instead of worrying about comparing himself to others, he’s just happy that he gets the chance to do it every week. “I’m living my dream,” was a running theme he told me multiple times over the course of the interview, thankful for the opportunity after years of missing out on the sport. You see, when ESPN lost the rights to NASCAR’s then-Winston Cup and Busch Series after the 2000 season, Dr. Punch chose to stay at the network because they were the ones that really gave him his start on national television (in this case, SETN, which also employed Dr. Punch in the early to mid-1980’s, was not exactly a nationwide channel). Turning down opportunities to leave ESPN for FOX back in 2001, he took on sideline and booth work for College Football and College Basketball instead, keeping himself visible while hoping ESPN regained the rights to air the now-Sprint Cup Series later on in his career. As a result, he was there and ready to take on the booth role when ESPN returned in 2007 (the on-air roles for the 2007 season, according to Bestwick, were basically determined early in 2006 — and with fan favorite Punch already a part of the network, it seems he was rewarded for his loyalty, service, and dedication).
Just like with the pit reporters, working in the booth is a seven-day-a-week affair, where calling the race is only part of the puzzle. In fact, the work for the next week begins as soon as the on-air personalities get home. ESPN arranges for DVD’s of each race to be sent out to the on-air personalities, as a way they can self-critique and learn from both mistakes and exceptional moments in the broadcast. Dr. Punch says that he watches the race tapes while exercising at his home in Knoxville, TN. And proofing his work often leads to new discoveries, he told me, an awareness of things that he never noticed when doing the actual race broadcasts live. The radio snippets, which were first added to race telecasts in the mid-1990’s, are one of the things that he doesn’t always pick up on.
It’s certainly an interesting type of film study, isn’t it? Think of it as if on-air personalities are basically using these DVD’s much like athletes do to help prepare for their next game. And you think NASCAR teams are the only ones constantly looking to improve …
How It All Gets On The Air: The TV Compound
If you were to walk past the NASCAR TV Compound while at a race, you would see a collection of 53-foot trailers painted up with various logos on them, and a number of cords and wires strewn about. The number of these trailers seen would dependent on what track you’re at, what time of year it is, and what series you’re seeing. Believe it or not, during the ESPN time of year the compound, which houses hundreds of workers each weekend, actually is smaller than at most other times of year because both the Nationwide and Cup Series broadcasts are consolidated under one network. Two years ago, it was not unusual to see upwards of two dozen trucks enclosed inside the compound for the Daytona 500; and while budget cuts have reduced that number slightly, a throng of television people come together to make the broadcasts happen each weekend. Inside each one of these trailers are the lifeblood of NASCAR TV.
My first stop in a compound-wide tour was the Craftsman Tech Garage. This mobile studio is basically a marvel of on-site studio space for ESPN, with a Cup Series chassis and a collection of tools that would make any crew chief jealous. The trailer expands to allow extra room for Tim Brewer to show off his wares (believe me, the Tech Garage is his baby); in fact, it even opens up so that equipment can be easily moved in and out. On Friday, when I toured the trailer, there was a Nationwide Series car there with a cart containing various pieces of ballast. Believe those crews when they say it’s heavy stuff to move around! In total, this equipment weighs approximately 40 tons; as it is, I tried picking up one piece of that ballast and almost pulled my arm out of its socket. OK, not really, but that Tungsten is extremely dense…
On Sunday, the Nationwide car had been swapped out in favor of a CoT, and the ballast cart was gone in favor of an engine setup, a showcase of how diverse the equipment inside this place can be. But after the race weekend ends, everything is taken out of the Tech Garage (parts, cars, cameras, the touch screen, etc.) and loaded into a nearby transporter.
My next stop is where the in-car cameras are supported, by both the host broadcaster and a vendor (BSI). The equipment required to operate these cameras are housed in their own trailer. This is considered to be a Shared Resource Trailer (or SRT) because it is used by all of NASCAR’s TV partners. Each operator is in charge of the cameras in two cars, and has a joystick where he/she can pan the camera. Since I was in the trailer during Sprint Cup Pole Qualifying, I couldn’t get much of a demonstration of this mainly because of a little-known (outside of inner circles) rule where NASCAR prohibits in-car cameras to be used during qualifying. Granted, I can actually remember a time when a roof cam was used on Darrell Waltrip’s car during qualifying (Brickyard 400, 1996), but I guess rules are rules.
However, regardless of past usage the transition to HD in-car cameras in 2007 resulted in multiple headaches. For one, these cameras weighed approximately double what the old, standard definition ones weighed. This is part of the reason why they’re more static now. The cars have also become more cluttered in recent years, cutting down on the amount that can be seen out of the car, hence the increase in roof cam usage and the mounting of cameras on the dashboard instead of next to the driver. Also, NASCAR has rules that allow for weight equalization for teams carrying the cameras and those that don’t. This is why all the cars have those oval-shaped things on the roof.
From there, it was on to the ESPN-specific trucks that pump out any and all video and information you see on a weekend’s worth of shows. Now, Fridays in the TV compound (the day I had my tour) are known as “calm” times. Yeah, they’re calmer than on race days, but it’s not like people are twiddling their thumbs and not doing anything. There’s plenty to be done. In one trailer, “tape” is being recorded by no less than six people for playback purposes. The quotation marks are used because tape isn’t actually used anymore, but it is still referred to as tape nonetheless.
In this trailer, which actually contains a picture of James “Shifty” Shiftan (one of ESPN’s producers who conducted my tour of the compound on the wall with his arms crossed, which is referred to as the dartboard picture) these employees are also responsible for determining which cameras have footage of incidents on the track. With only six people in there, it’s a little difficult to catch everything at once.
Believe me, though, there’s a good reason for that. To give fans a real idea of what a race production for ESPN entails, here’s some statistics. ESPN always has a minimum of 60 cameras on-site at Sprint Cup races. That number can vary, though. At Indianapolis, ESPN had 76 on the property. This number includes all of the in-car cameras, handheld cameras, rooftop cameras, robotic cameras, and unmanned still cameras. This variety is probably one of the explanations as to why more wide shots are not used on the broadcast. I asked Mr. Shiftan why there seemed to be an emphasis on tight shots, and he replied that the tight shots helped to show off all of the HD goodies (all cameras are HD cameras). Additionally, in the past it’s important to note these options didn’t exist, forcing natural usage of wide shots from roof cams wherever there was action on the race track because it was pretty much all the network had to work with.
The large selection of cameras and tape to choose from is why sometimes (like at Bristol this past weekend) it might take awhile to get a good replay of a wreck — simply because it took awhile for one of the tape workers to find a good replay to send to the booth. Each camera has either a number, color, or random animal to distinguish it, but it can be sometimes difficult to find the best shot right off the bat.
In another trailer, the graphics for pre-race features were being put together (In this case, one having to do with Australian Slang and most likely, Marcos Ambrose as well). With an editing machine and producers on-site, it can still take hours or sometimes days for those polished, five minute features to get their final approval and appear during a pre-race show. But one thing’s for sure; no piece goes through without several sets of eyes looking over the final product. During a pre-production meeting on Saturday, sometimes footage will actually be previewed in front of the whole production team as a way to not only prepare for Sunday but to receive any feedback, support, and final tweaks heading into the main event.
In all, the experience of actually touring through ESPN’s compound and talking to a couple of their on-air personalities was an eye-opening experience. I now have a much better idea of all the work that goes into these broadcasts. It’s certainly easy to point out what’s right and wrong each Sunday; but even in a production that leads to plenty of criticism, never forget the blood, sweat, and tears from dozens of dedicated personnel that give 110% to bring the race to your TV screen. Things may not always go their way … but it’s never for a lack of trying.
Writer’s Note: I want to thank Andy Hall, ESPN’s Manager of Media Relations for helping to set up the interviews and the TV Compound tour for me, as well as Dr. Jerry Punch, Allen Bestwick, James Shiftan, and Shannon Spake for agreeing to sit down and talk. To our dedicated fans … does this mean that my critiques will be neutered for the rest of the season? No. But it does mean I’m more informed than ever before, and I certainly thank them for their insight and inside information as to why they do what they do each week.
©2000 - 2008 Phil Allaway and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
The pit reporter thing certainly explains why the ESPN reporters often seem to know less about the drivers comprising the back half of the field than a fan whose been following Nascar for 3-5 years does.
I call that downright unprofessional.
Andy Petree needs to go away. NOW!
Well first , thanks Phil for puttimg in the effort to understand what the networks think is the way to broadcast races .
WOW. One of the best articles I’ve read all year. Thanks Phil for the behind the scenes look. Interesting revelation about Dr. Punch. I’ll have to take that with a grain of salt.
Interesting insight into what we see on TV 40 weeks a year. There’s definitely a ton of effort being put into these broadcasts. Thankfully, because otherwise a lot of commentors wouldn’t have anything to complain about!
Sounds just like what the WWF goes through before their shows.
Nascar is getting their moneys worth with Frontstretch being one of the chosen sites for citizen reporters.
But I am beginning to understand why the quality of TV coverage for NASCAR seems to be declining a bit. There is too much emphasis on gimmicks such as in-car cameras, radio transmissions, head cams on the pit crew and (the dreaded) “Digger” Cam. There are also too many talking heads – 3 in the booth, 3 on pit road, 3 in the infield studio and 1 in the “tech center”. Combine the overload of gimmick cams, extraneous audio and talking heads and viewers are overwhelmed with too much information.
I think it is great for people to learn about how sporting events like NASCAR are run. It not only helps them to understand the simple nuances that enhance or detract from a sporting event, but it also helps them to appreciate all the work and coordination that goes into one of these events. Families that are interested in <a href=“http://www.justmemorabiliacollectibles.com”>just memorabiliacollectibles</a> can benefit from learning more about the sport that they are interested in. It can enhance their ability to select profitable collectibles.
“it seems he was rewarded for his loyalty, service, and dedication.” Sounds like my dog. Doesn’t mean he gets steak every day. Maybe Bestwick will get the same reward someday. It certainly sounds like he puts in a lot more effort than a few DVDs on the treadmill. And it shows. Punch is smiling on the way to the bank. If the “fan favorite” and ESPN read what most fans write about him, they might tone him out instead of down. Just look at your poll results.
I really am surprised that EESPN is honest enough to admit that the folks in the truck have much more impact on what viewers get to see than the guys in the booth with over 60 years of experience in NASCAR. As a very, very long-time EESPN viewer, it is really sad to see its quality and credibility continue to decline – sort of like CNN a decade ago.
Interesting article but so disheartening to read about management of the cameras. I suppose it explains why the visual coverage is often so poor, even though mega bucks and high tech equipment are involved. I believe ESPN will discover a residual bitterness in NASCAR fans who know they are being cheated. Is this what their sponsors are paying for?