The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: ESPN Coverage Excellent At Kansas ... Until The Green Flag Dropped by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday October 6, 2009

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Hello, race fans. Kansas Speedway brought us week No. 3 of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The Cup Series raced on Sunday in the Price Chopper 400 Presented by Kraft Foods, while both the ARCA Re/MAX Series and the Nationwide Series both raced in events sponsored by the Kansas Lottery. It was 150 miles on Thursday for the ARCA teams, while the Nationwide teams raced 300 miles on Saturday.

The ARCA Re/MAX Series raced their 150 mile event on Thursday afternoon at 4 p.m. local time. At most tracks where the ARCA Re/MAX Series runs as a “support to the support” series to Cup Series, this would have been a Friday night event. Heck, even in midsummer, this would have been a Friday evening race after Cup qualifying. Likely the only reason why this setup was being used is because Kansas Speedway does not have lights. Unfortunately, a Thursday show for the ARCA Re/MAX Series hurts attendance, and also hurts the abilities of younger, up and coming racers to show off their skills to owners of Sprint Cup and/or Nationwide teams who won’t be on the property.

The race telecast on SPEED was slightly tape-delayed. I’m not sure by how much (my guess is 10-15 minutes), but I know it was. This has been par for the course with ARCA telecasts on SPEED this season. If you’re wondering how I figured that out, during the last commercial, which was about three minutes long, only one lap passed. This is rather annoying to those people who are viewing the free timing and scoring on ARCA’s website.

Rick Allen and Phil Parsons were in the booth for SPEED on Thursday afternoon, along with Ken Schrader, who joined in on the fun when a dirt late model race in Knoxville, Ia. got postponed to Sunday night by rain. Allen and Parsons have a solid rapport with each other, mainly because they have been working together for what seems like forever (in reality, a little over five years). Adding Schrader to the mix is sort of like adding Michael Waltrip, but without the self-promotion. Schrader still races every now and then in the series, so he also brings that all important insight.

Generally, it’s always nice to see ARCA races on TV these days, and this was a fairly good race to watch. Lots of action and a thrilling GWC race for the win between Parker Kligerman and Justin Lofton. However, there were a couple of issues I noticed.

First off, the No. 47 of Peyton Sellers, who was on the lead lap in his Cardinal Motorsports SFP-sponsored Chevrolet, stalled on the backstretch during the fifth caution. This apparently happened during a commercial break, as when SPEED returned from the break, a tow truck could be seen pushing the No. 47 to the pits. No reference was ever made to this. Sellers continued on to finish one lap down in 13th.

Another issue that I had (and continue to have with ESPN coverage, but that’s another story) is that references to which teams received Lucky Dog passes (or Free Passes, or whatever you want to call it this week) were relatively far and few between. I guess they slack a little bit on that when Mikey’s not around.

Parker Kligerman may have made a name for himself in his Nationwide Series debut Saturday, but he was the lone SPEED TV interview after his win in the ARCA race Thursday.

Post-race coverage was essentially non-existent. There was only an interview with race winner Parker Kligerman, a point check, and the unofficial results before SPEED left the air. That is simply not enough, especially for an event on a Thursday afternoon, when they obviously don’t have anything important that they have to get to. They could definitely take the time to at least interview Lofton, or even Grant Enfinger, who finished third. Enfinger runs well every time he drives that No. 83 during the televised races, yet never seems to get the time of day from SPEED.

I don’t think SPEED is doing enough to publicize their coverage of ARCA Re/MAX Series events, to be really honest. Publicizing their coverage better could possibly help the car count in the series, help ARCA find a replacement title sponsor since Re/MAX is “downplaying” their sponsorship at the end of the season, and put the spotlight on more drivers than just Kligerman and Lofton, neither of whom are likely to be in the series next year (They’re likely graduating to the Nationwide Series).

On Saturday, the Nationwide Series ran the Kansas Lottery 300. The race was televised on ESPN2 with a 3:30 p.m. EDT start time. The only reason why the start time was this late was because of ESPN airing another college football game before the race coverage. And, for the third consecutive week, the football game went over its timeslot. Yee-haw. Because of fallout from the Heidi Game of 1968, no channel can break away from a football game before it ends. We’re lucky that ESPN has ESPN Classic in their family of networks, so we don’t have to completely miss out on pre-race festivities because of football towards the end of the season.

Pre-race on ESPN2 was typical, with interviews of the frontrunners, and with pole sitter (and first time starter) Parker Kligerman. I didn’t like the overplaying of Joey Logano’s crash from last week’s AAA 400, to be honest. I couldn’t tell you guys and gals how many times that wreck was shown on television in the past eight days (I’m guessing about 50), but it was way too many. It was almost like Joey was a bully who just got his uppance for the first time.

Clint Bowyer, who grew up about 100 miles from the track, served as ESPN’s In-Race Reporter. As you know, this is essentially an excuse to label the specific driver that ESPN chooses to talk to. The first question, from ESPN’s mailbag, asked Clint whether he favored the Jayhawks (University of Kansas) or Wildcats (Kansas State). I don’t care whether this is viewer submitted or not, it just has no place being asked to a driver right before the pace laps. Maybe they could have snuck it into the feature on Sunday, but it was inappropriate here.

Another thing that I didn’t like was when the No. 0 of Jeremy Clements had his issues on a restart. Marty Reid promised that they would look into what happened to the No. 0 (which, in case you didn’t notice, was some kind of a joint effort between JD Motorsports and the Clements’ family team (normally No. 50)). But unless I missed something, that follow-up never came. Weak.

There were also some technical issues that I noticed. Previously, I was under the opinion that the positions in those pointer graphics could update themselves on the fly using GPS (they did on Sunday, actually). However, this was not the case on Saturday. The positions would only change once the scoring “cycled around” at the end of each lap. That kind of thing would be fine if NASCAR weren’t using those Tiwi devices (the green circular thing on the windshield) and making their timing and scoring available to the broadcasts. I don’t know what was up with this. Maybe a technical glitch.

Post-race coverage was fine. The race ended with roughly 15 minutes left in the timeslot, so ESPN wedged in nine interviews, which is above average. This was in addition to the pre-requisite point check and the unofficial results. I’m personally wondering why they felt the need to interview Joey Logano’s mother, Debbie.

On Sunday, ESPN on ABC televised the Price Chopper 400 Presented by Kraft Foods. This race was preceded by quite possibly the best pre-race features of the entire season, to be honest. The first of which, narrated by Chris Connelly, talked about the Victory Junction Gang Camp and its inspiration, the late Adam Petty. The reason why this ran is the fact that the Petty’s are in the process of building the second Victory Junction camp just five miles away from Kansas Speedway. This feature included footage of Adam visiting youngsters in hospitals and Camp Boggy Creek in 1999 and 2000, which apparently gave him the inspiration for Victory Junction. It even chronicled how Adam ran into some walls trying to get the funding to get the camp built. There were also some testimonials from campers and their parents. The piece is currently viewable on espn.com under the title “Victory Junction: Adam Petty’s Dream.”

The other feature that aired on Sunday followed Clint Bowyer around his hometown of Emporia, Kansas. These types of features are always interesting because it helps fans (I’m definitely a NASCAR fan even though I write about the sport) learn a little about the drivers. Included in this piece was a look around the shop that Clint used to race IMCA Modifieds out of, and the Body Shop at the local Ford dealership where he worked as recently as 2004.

The rest of the pre-race show was focused on the Chase, and Logano’s crash from last week. I’m thinking that FOX would not have given Logano as much air time after his wreck as ESPN did, just going from what happened with Michael McDowell after his huge qualifying crash at Texas last year.

With the race broadcast, it was unfortunately more of the same that we’ve been seeing for the past few weeks. The telecast was still far too focused on the Chasers, although with nine Chasers finishing in the top 10, you almost couldn’t blame ESPN for that. The one non-Chaser to finish in the top 10, David Reutimann, barely got mentioned at all during the telecast. It was actually quite disturbing just how little coverage the No. 00 team actually received for what turned out to be a great run.

I’m not really sure what to make of Dave Burns showing how Juan Pablo Montoya’s tire had a cut in the sidewall. Yes, I think it was important for him to actually show that, but I really don’t think he needed to put his microphone up to the leak. Darn near blasted my ears with that sound. Ouch. Sometimes, a circle in pink, felt tip marker with the word “cut” next to it works best.

I do have some suggestions to make the ESPN broadcasts better in general, in or out of the Chase. First off, there was a lot of confusion with cars on the lead lap immediately after cautions during both races this past weekend. ESPN needs to do a better job of notifying the viewers which cars are taking advantage of the wave around. Most of the time, they don’t even try to mention it.

I’ve mentioned in the past that a graphic should be used to show the teams that have taken the wave around. This should be a two-pronged graphic showing in one column, the cars that will get back on the lead lap with the wave around (if any), and on the other side, cars multiple laps down that are also taking advantage (and how many laps down they will be after the wave through). This graphic should be displayed right after the graphic showing who received the Lucky Dog.

Also, ESPN needs to do a better job of re-setting the field after yellow flag pit stops. This was sorely lacking in both races this weekend. All it takes is Dr. Punch or Marty Reid shouting out who is in which position before the restart. It’s not too difficult to do. Of course, if you’re cutting restarts close with commercials, that’s another story.

Post-race coverage was very extensive on Sunday, since the race ended with nearly 45 minutes to go in the timeslot. This allowed for time for extensive analysis of the race by Dr. Punch, Jarrett and Petree in the booth, and Bestwick, Wallace and Daugherty in the portable Infield Studio. In addition, there were an unheard number of interviews.

18 post-race interviews were conducted, including two with race winning crew chief Darian Grubb. The only Chasers not to be interviewed were Brian Vickers, who failed to finish, and Kurt Busch. Now, I’ll admit that it is pretty rare that someone that finishes two laps down in 22nd (Ryan Newman) gets a post-race interview, but it’s good to see that ESPN used their time wisely.

Once they finished interviewing the drivers, the pit reporters sought out crew chiefs, who were still hanging around the garage and outside of the transporters. This is not typical, since the teams usually hustle to pack up what isn’t already stowed away so that they can leave the track within an hour of the race ending. This was because of the fact that the teams were not sending their transporters home to North Carolina after the race. Instead, teams loaded equipment for Auto Club Speedway into auxiliary transporters and sent them out to Kansas to meet the primary transporters at the track. Immediately after the race, a mass switchover of the equipment began so that the primary transporters could continue on to Fontana, CA.

That’s all for this week. Next week is Auto Club Speedway. I can just hear the groans right now from fans as I’m watching 40+ year old episodes of Speed Racer on DVD. Something that should be noted here is the fact that neither of these races are being held at night. I personally didn’t realize that until about a week ago.

The Nationwide Series races Saturday afternoon in the Copart 300. Coverage starts at 4 p.m. with NASCAR Countdown with race coverage beginning at 4:30 p.m. There is no football game right before the broadcast, so we will see a full 30 minute NASCAR Countdown before the Nationwide race for the first time since Richmond. I don’t think I’ll be able to say the same about Sprint Cup Happy Hour, since that is currently scheduled to air right after the Noon football game (this week, it’s a SEC match up between Auburn and Arkansas).

On Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series has the Pepsi 500. Pre-race is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m. EDT (11:30 am. PDT), with the race coverage scheduled to start around 3:15. The green flag, which will be thrown by Audrina Partridge for some reason, is tentatively scheduled for 3:31 p.m. Both pre-race and the race itself will be on ABC. However, before the pre-race coverage starts, ABC will air a condensed version of Together: The Hendrick Motorsports Story at 1:30 (the full story is substantially longer than an hour, and will be released soon on DVD).

Later Sunday night, after the Sprint Cup race ends, the ARCA Re/Max Series season finale, the American 200 from Rockingham Speedway will air on tape delay on SPEED at 10 p.m. EDT. I will be providing critiques on all three of the races and probably some quick thoughts about the abridged Together film (apparently, it’s quite good). Also, thanks to an idea brought up by “Birdie” during Sunday’s Live Blog, I will try to count the number of references to the Chase in the broadcasts next weekend. Wish me luck with 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:

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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Bad Wolf
10/06/2009 02:23 AM
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Whoo Hooo, ROCKINGHAM!!!

Can’t wait for that one.
I remember when one other racing series that I can’t recall the name of used to race their.

slander
10/06/2009 03:31 AM
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“All it takes is Dr. Punch or Marty Reid shouting out who is in which position before the restart.”

Jerry “Read-From-The-Telephone-Book Punch shout? The only time he raises his voice in excitement is when doing network promos. The sad thing is that he was an awesome pit-road reporter…

The Turnip
10/06/2009 07:33 AM
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AND! The ratings are so bad, so VERY BAD, due to the ineptness of their broadcasts, I watched an ESPN/NA$CRAP add on TV for the upcoming California race, and guess what??

IT FEATURED THE BLACK #3 CAR!

I take this to mean that the current day cars are not drawing the fans, so they have to revert back to the BLACK #3 from years ago to generate ANY kind of interest in “The Chase”!

NA$CRAP HAS NO SHAME!

(of course, what alcoholic does?)

Mark
10/06/2009 07:59 AM
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ARCA racing is not promoted by the networks because ARCA isn’t considered to be popular by the networks .
ARCA isn’t considered to be popular because the networks don’t promote ARCA . See how neatly that works .
ARCA offers great racing ( usually better than the CUP “ races “ ) and a very good platform for teams to learn how to race on a variety of tracks .
As long as the networks and the talking heads are allowed to accept money every time they mention a sponsor , and as long as the fans just let the networks tell them which drivers and teams are great , we the fans will get whatever the tv shows think we should see and hear .
Turn off the tv and listen to the MRN or PRN radio coverage . Or at least turn off the sound on the tv . No more Jerry Punch delivering his every five laps rundown of “ if the race ended now “ points update .
Get rid of Punch and most of those insipid pit reporters and the broadcasts would improve instantly .

mkrcr
10/06/2009 09:34 PM
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WooHoo!!! My “Pain in the Arse” Nielsen box did it’s job again. Not one look at the “Show”. And I got to enjoy the NFL while doing it. How’s that competition with other sports going for you Mr. France? You bumbling idiot.