The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Slight Problems Affect Telecasts; Rules Hurt More by Phil Allaway -- Monday November 2, 2009

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Hello, race fans and welcome to entry No. 40 in an ongoing series where we look at the television coverage that NASCAR gets on a weekly basis. Before we start, I should state that I had a bunch of issues with my DVR this week. Yep, it’s still not perfected. In fact, it’s worse now than last week. On Sunday night, the thing just died, basically. As a result, I could not critique NASCAR Performance for this week. I can just push that back to next week, luckily.

Also last week, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch hosted WWE Raw at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo, NY. I will admit, Joey and Kyle looked awfully out of place there. They’re skinny little dudes compared to the wrestlers. Also, Busch screwed up the script at one point, mispronouncing Kofi Kingston’s name (Don’t worry, I watch wrestling so rarely that I didn’t have a clue who he was, either). Also, note that Kofi actually broke part of the windshield on Kyle Busch’s show car at one point. That breakage was most definitely not scripted.

Joey seemed to just be there, if you know what I mean. He didn’t do much of anything besides stand there and let Kyle do all the talking. Maybe they should have just had Kyle host alone. Obviously, having Sprint Cup racers on Raw doesn’t do much to curtail NASCAR-WWE comparisons, but what can we do?

On Saturday afternoon, the Truck Series raced the Mountain Dew 250 Presented by Fred’s at Talladega Superspeedway. The usual crew of Rick Allen, Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip was in the booth for SPEED. Adam Alexander, Krista Voda and Ray Dunlap were reporting from pit road. Since this race was run on Halloween, the NCWTS Setup definitely had a Halloween theme. For the second consecutive year, SPEED’s on-air crew dressed up in costumes for pre-race. Last year, the theme was the classic 1939 movie, “The Wizard of Oz.” This year, the crew had a Batman theme (the classic 1966 campy TV Series starring Adam West). Dunlap and Alexander were Batman and Robin, respectively, while Voda was Batgirl. The booth commentators were the bad guys. Allen was the Riddler, while Waltrip was the Joker and Parsons was the Penguin. Seemed fitting, I guess. Even non-SPEED employees got in on the act. The Goodyear Blimp pilot was wearing an Elvis mask and one of MRN’s commentators was wearing a Pumpkin costume. It’s obvious that the SPEED crew had a lot of fun with this and I’m happy for them. A happy on-air crew makes for a better broadcast, in my opinion.

Our own Matt McLaughlin doesn’t agree with me here, claiming that SPEED should have devoted their resources elsewhere. That would be true if the pre-race show was nothing but prancing around in costume. However, work got done here, so I’m fine with this. The comment about Krista Voda’s thighs was just wrong, though. That’s just a mean-spirited attack and has no place in a column, in my opinion.

Aside from the costumed shenanigans, there were interviews with seven drivers and a couple of features. One of the features was on Mario Gosselin, who unveiled a new primary sponsorship from MyTireMonkey.com this weekend. It chronicled his struggle to get his small team to the track each weekend. Very informative. Another (the “Bumper to Bumper” segment) concerned drivers’ favorite or most memorable Halloween costumes. A couple drivers (like Ron Hornaday) basically said no comment, while Todd Bodine mentioned that he couldn’t mention it on TV. However, we still got some good ones, like trains and “Snake Man.” David Starr also talked about how his wife picked out a Pimp costume for him to wear to a costume party in Texas.

There was also a replay of Mike and Chrissy Wallace’s appearance on NASCAR RaceHub from this past weekend in the pre-race. This played up the significance of the circumstances surrounding Saturday’s race (the first ever father-daughter pair to start a NASCAR race together). In the race, Chrissy drove admirably and finished 13th, while Mike had issues, lost a lap, then dropped out after a piece of the left side sheetmetal peeled back, drawing a black flag. Before Mike could even get the No. 48 to pit road, the hood peeled back, prompting Michael Waltrip to say that the truck was “falling apart.” I guess that when things go bad, they really go bad.

The race telecast was very good. There was an ample amount of excitement in the broadcast booth, which is something that I have come to stress in these critiques this season. I do have to say that SPEED did miss the restart from the third caution (when one of Ron Hornaday’s cowl flaps came off). As good as this broadcast was, I can’t let them off the hook for that.

Speaking of Hornaday’s cowl flap, SPEED had some great camera work in showing how Hornaday’s flap opened up completely and broke off solely because of air pressure and bump drafting. Good stuff.

Post-race coverage was quite brief because of the rain that delayed the start of the race. The race started a half hour late because of the rain, and the seven cautions would have helped the race overrun its slot even if it started on time. As a result, there were only a couple of interviews (Winner Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola and Todd Bodine), and a quick point check. The unofficial results were kept in the scroll.

The racing this weekend at Talladega drew a number of negative reviews, some of which came from the ESPN on ABC crew.

On Sunday afternoon, the Cup Series raced in the Amp Energy 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. ESPN on ABC provided the broadcast with their usual crew of Dr. Jerry Punch, Andy Petree and Dale Jarrett in the broadcast booth; and Shannon Spake, Jamie Little, Vince Welch and Dave Burns on pit road. Allen Bestwick, Brad Daugherty and Rusty Wallace populated the Infield Studio.

The pre-race show was expanded to an hour for the race, presumably so that more information could be stuffed in. ESPN has been a little screwy with their NASCAR Countdown lengths this season. Pre-race prior to the Chase always seemed to be an hour, then it got cut to a half-hour once the Chase started. Charlotte’s was less than a half hour (25 minutes or so, just about as long as an episode of Whew!, a 1979 game show on CBS that was truncated to 25 minutes (including commercials) in order to make room for a five minute CBS Newsbreak (It’s pretty good, look it up on YouTube).

In the lengthened pre-race show, ESPN interviewed seven drivers, all Chasers with the exception of Brad Keselowski, who won at Talladega back in April. Also, there was a fairly nice feature on Blake Bobbitt, the then-17 (now 18) year old whose jaw was broken from flying debris in the infamous Carl Edwards crash. In that feature, we learned that Blake’s father runs a Chevron gas station/convenience store and works seven days a week to support her. They saved the money in order to buy the tickets to go to Talladega (this was Blake’s first ever NASCAR race), and had a great time. Blake’s father wanted her to sit as close as possible (in order to get that “rush”). Blake then talked about her surgeries, the long recovery from those injuries, and how she has coped (fairly well). This was nicely put together, but I think it seemed out of place. It looked like something that would work fairly well on Outside the Lines, or as one of those features that air on SportsCenter every now and then (just not this time of year). Unfortunately, ESPN has not decided to put this video up on their Web site like they did with the Victory Junction piece back at Kansas.

There was a short segment in the Craftsman Tech Garage where Tim Brewer showed race fans where the restrictor plates are installed on the engine (on top, underneath the carburetor). Admittedly, this same demonstration was done by Hermie Sadler on NASCAR RaceDay about an hour before ESPN’s telecast started, so it was effectively a repeat for me. I’m wondering whether ESPN thinks that much of their NASCAR audience actually watches SPEED’s programming. Guess not.

Another thing that I have noticed recently is that they are basically making their crew cam man almost like a fifth pit reporter. Mark “Hollywood” Armstrong essentially gets his own stand-up where he talks about strategy. It seems weird to look at. Then, Armstrong “throws it” off to someone, in Sunday’s case, he threw the telecast to Dr. Punch. Last week, he threw it to Shannon Spake, who was standing ten feet away (very awkward). I don’t know what to make of this. Is Armstrong trying to get on-air training for a potential new career?

As for the race, it was clear that Mike Helton’s edict in the driver’s meeting on Sunday morning affected the on-track product. Heck, it affected Saturday’s product. The race had 58 lead changes, but only bits and pieces of the event were exciting. The rest of the race was literally a follow the leader nose to tail right next to the outside wall affair. Normally, ESPN does not take positions against the action on the track, but Sunday’s racing led the analysts in the Infield Studio multiple times to voice their displeasure.

Brad Daugherty is against the yellow line rule, and I would tend to agree with him. Previous to the repave at Talladega, the grass ran up to the apron on the backstretch. With the repave, it’s now paved all the way to the inside wall. This is generally done to decrease the threat of blowovers, but doing this now really makes the yellow line rule necessary. What I think could be done to alleviate this is this grippy pavement that I’ve seen in use at places like the Circuit Paul Ricard in France. That track has these colored strips where the pavement is grippier and slows cars down. Perhaps this could be used. That way, there would be no need for the yellow line.

Rusty Wallace voiced his displeasure with the follow the leader dynamic, saying that it was robbing the fans of the good money they paid to come to the race. On Lap 119, commentator Dale Jarrett said that there were “69 agonizing laps to go.” Now, you could take two meanings from this statement. One, it could be seen as an indictment of the nervousness of the drivers. The other meaning could be that he was also annoyed with the on-track action. I would probably assume it’s the former, but you never know.

ESPN was quite slow in reacting to the Lap 5 crash of Paul Menard and Joe Nemechek in Turn 2. Even after Dr. Punch referenced the crash (“There’s trouble in turn 2”), ESPN still cut to a rear bumper cam in the middle of the pack before cutting to what amounted to the aftermath of the wreck. This is actually a new issue. Usually, ESPN is fairly good at cutting to wrecks when they happen. It’s just that they’re not the best at finding side-by-side racing and showing it on air. They chose to stay with the pack for a few seconds before cutting back to the wreck. My best guess for this refers back to the compound tour I took in August. They have six people in a small room that monitor all the cameras. They have to shout out which cameras actually caught the wreck. My guess is that very few cameras (maybe only one or two) actually caught the crash, so it took a little while for the crew to get the shot.

There was a technical issue when Allen Bestwick tried to do his race recap later in the race (for some reason, the graphics and pictures didn’t come up). Being the professional that he is, Allen simply worked around this, giving fans a vocal recap (essentially) of what had happened up to that point.

After Ryan Newman’s blowover, ESPN’s on-air personalities waited until the radio transmission was sent out saying that Newman was okay before doing anything speculative of his condition. This is par for the course for media partners, but a couple of our Blog viewers on Sunday thought that they could have made a statement earlier. John Potts noted the borderline “relaxed” demeanor of the safety crew when they checked on Newman’s condition. Had Newman really been hurt, arms would have been waving around and people running around (Ex: Stanley Smith in July, 1993. Smith suffered a basal skull fracture in the infamous crash when Jimmy Horton went over the wall and landed outside of Talladega Superspeedway). This allowed the crew to take their time. Dr. Punch in the booth talked about the precariousness of righting the car (done with the help of a tow truck) in order to make sure Newman doesn’t get hurt anymore. This draws on his vast medical experience. Punch really came off as more of an analyst right here than at any point in the broadcast.

Post-race coverage was very brief due to the fact that the race ran up against the end of the timeslot. As a result, there were only interviews with race winner Jamie McMurray and Chasers Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Jimmie Johnson. The unofficial results were never shown on-air due to the fact that NASCAR was still trying to figure that out (and did not until an hour or two after the race ended). ESPN did show a very unofficial point check of the top 12 before leaving the air, though. I personally don’t really understand the rush to get off-air on Sunday. It’s not like they were up against the six o’clock news. It was 5 p.m. when the race coverage ended. Here in the Albany, NY area, we got a syndicated show called Cars.tv at 5 p.m. Whoop-dee-do about relatively low-rated syndicated fare. Many people’s ABC affiliates probably went straight to infomercials after the race. I’d like to get an idea of what ESPN was trying to get to so got darn fast on Sunday from my readers, so please post what came on after the race in your market (also, list your TV market for reference purposes).

Well, that’s all for this week. Next weekend is a tripleheader at Texas Motor Speedway. The Truck Series races Friday night in the WinStar World Casino 350k. The action will begin on SPEED at 8:30 p.m. EST (7:30 p.m. CST) with NCWTS Setup. The race coverage is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. EST. The green flag will likely fall around 9:15 p.m.

On Saturday afternoon, the Nationwide Series races in the O’Reilly Challenge, a 300 mile race. Coverage starts with both Nationwide Series practice sessions on SPEED Friday morning starting at 10 a.m. EST (9 a.m. CST). Qualifying will be aired on SPEED at 6:30 p.m. EST (5:30 p.m. CST) using the typical “time shifted” schedule. For the actual race, a 45 minute edition of NASCAR Countdown will air on ESPN2 starting at noon EST (11 a.m. CST), with the race coverage starting at 11:45 a.m. local time. Look for the green to fly around 12:55 p.m. EST.

On Sunday afternoon, the Series races in the Dickies 500, Race 34 of the season and the eighth Chase race. Coverage starts on Friday with the one pre-qualifying practice session. This will be aired live on SPEED at 1 p.m. EST (noon CST). Qualifying will be aired at 4:30 p.m. EST (3:30 p.m. CST). On Saturday, the Cup action starts bright and early with the first practice session live on SPEED at 9:30 a.m. EST (8:30 a.m. CST). Final practice, also on SPEED, follows at 11 a.m. EST (10 a.m. CST). On Sunday, race coverage begins with a 45 minute long NASCAR Countdown on ABC at 2:30 p.m. EST (1:30 p.m. CST). Race coverage follows at 3:15 p.m., with the green flag expected around 3:31 p.m. EST.

In addition, I’ll bring you my thoughts on NASCAR Performance that I promised you for this week, but Time Warner Cable decided to nix. Of course, that’s still dependent on them actually fixing their little machine that sends signals to their cable boxes. If anything else of note comes up this week that pertains to NASCAR’s TV broadcasts, I’ll be sure to have a take on it.

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 politely rather than emails full of rants and vitriol.

Contact Phil Allaway

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Bad Wolf
11/02/2009 11:25 PM
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I tuned into the Nascar Holloween weekend Nascar race from Talledega and all I got in my treat bag was a rock.

slander
11/03/2009 01:53 AM
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1: Regarding the pre-race Tech Garage segmant—ESPN doesn’t even acknowledge other broadcasters. All they know is that their so-called “Tech Garage” is such an awesome enhancement to the viewers’ experience that they try to use it whenever they can, regardless of whatever else is going on. “There’s a 3-way battle for the lead, so let’s switch to Tim Brewer over in the Craftsman Tech Garage, where he can explain in his exciting monotonous drawl how the drink straw attaches to the cup…”

2: ESPN’s taking their time switching over to the Menard-Nemechek wreck is certainly not a “new issue.” They have always ridden the late freight when it comes to catching on-track incidents. Too many times DJ has remarked about a big wreck going on in another section of the track, and I will turn to my girlfriend and do a three-second countdown before they switch over to it. A number of times I’ve actually watched a wreck starting on the edge of the screen just as they switch away to something much more scintillating, like another interminable close-up shot of a chaser running by himself. The only thing unusual about this race was that Dr. Jerry Punch must have accidentally glanced out the window and remarked upon it.

3: Their post-race coverage was, as usual, more of the same—rush through the Victory Lane interview as quickly as they can, do a couple more (chasers, of course) and cut away to infomercial. An hour of inconsequential fluff before the race, and pretty much nothing after. Par for the ESPN course.

If there were any justice in this world NASCAR would drop ESPN for “actions detrimental to stock car racing” and hand over the reins to TNT. That way we’d get at least half a season’s worth of good racing broadcast. Heck, maybe it would get FOX to actually act professionally if they were to get some real competition…

The Turnip!
11/03/2009 07:31 AM
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I watched a fair amount of the truck race, and the broadcasters did a fine job of dressing as and portraying IDIOTS!

Actually, they kept changing their statements to “fit the moment”, rather than any objective discussion of the racing, or whatever one wants to call it.

EXAMPLE: one of their MANY repeated strategic points of the race was the restrictions NA$CRAP placed on the drivers about bump-drafting, you are NOT allowed to bump- draft! Time and time again, each announcer made sure they worked that edict into their
reporting, even quoting statements from the drivers meeting made by NA$CRAP “officials”, to the point it was getting irritating!

BUT! Wait, low and behold, part way thru the race, there was bump drafting going on! So now their story changes to “well, as long as you know what your doing”, or “as long as you get your car centered on the car in front”, and so forth!

ABSOLUTELY no questions of just WHY the “rules” suddenly changed!

NONE! Just explain away the situation, don’t try to question why NA$CRAP says one thing, yet does/allow another during the race itself.

And toward the end of the race, the three dudes in the booth are discussing what will happen in the closing laps, two (2) of the announcers kept saying “well, with three (3) laps top go” (which there was)! Then this other dude, don’t even know his name, but not a racing type, (you can tell, all he needs to do is open his mouth), he states, well WITH SIX (6) LAPS LEFT!

Do they drag these idiots out of woodwork to become a “race announcer”?

How sad, but then again, NA$CRAP deserves the very worst!

All these announcers need are the official NA$CRAP POM-POMS!

Sure wish they were on the GONG SHOW! They would be GONGED out of the booth!

The Turnip!
11/03/2009 07:39 AM
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And yet more, did it EVER occur to the netowrks that ZERO races finish “on time”?

Four (4) hours plus, of “pre-race” broadcasting, and 30 seconds max of “post-race” broadcasting BECAUSE THE RACE TOOK LONGER THAN EXPECTED!

After all these many years, you would think that someone, just someone from the nitworks (pun intended) would finally realize that races are not over till there over, period!

Some times, they do not even give a final finishing position listing, due to “time constraints”!

Kinda like that is not important to viewers.

Whoops, checkered flag, well good night everyone!

Read your newspapers if you want to know who finished where! Not our business to tell you!

Mark
11/03/2009 10:02 AM
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The yellow lines delineate the race track . There have to be boundries . Whether the yellow lines have traction or not isn’t an issue . The drivers are for the most part pretty good at driving , i’m sure the yellow lines as boundries don’t present much of a problem for them once they know and understand the rule .
I must have missed a portion of the race , i saw Tony Stewarts’ car behind the wall ready to be worked on after the crash . Then the race restarted and not one more word was said , not one more camera shot was shown . I was a little curious about what was happening with Tony . I guess ESPN wasn’t interested . Of course if Johnson had been behind the wall with a few laps to go , there would have been nothing on screen except the 48 and we would have missed the end of the race completly .
Overall , that was the worst NASCAR race of the year , and with all of the terrible races they’ve had , thats saying something . Dale and Andy tried their best to make it interesting , Punch was brilliant in keeping us informed of every move the 48 made , and the pit reporters ( grumbling when they were forced to leave the 48 and 24 pits ) tried to show some of the action . I don’t blame ESPN for being in a hurry to put that show out of its misery right after the race and show infomercials instead .
When Bruton Smith starts his own series , i certainly hope he will also start a broadcast company to go with it . Just don’t let FOX have any part of it . FOX has screwed up SPEED and ESPN so badly that the sport is being dragged down with them . MRN radio is still the best way to enjoy the races .

racingphan
11/03/2009 10:25 AM
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Rick on the Truck race has the same problem as Dr Punch on the Cup race…when there’s an accident, they can’t remember who is driving what vehicle. They just call out numbers until their fragile brain engages.

Glenn
11/03/2009 10:32 AM
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what did the post race interviews have in common? Besides the winner ther were Hendrick cars. Forget about the 2nd and 3rd place cars, we must get something from all the Hendrick drivers! The TV boradcasters love affair with the Hendrick teams is nauseating. If I was Home Depot of Budweiser I would let them know it too.

JohnP
11/03/2009 12:01 PM
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I didn’t even realize until Monday that the #20 and #9 finished second and third. And don’t make excuses that Nascar was “trying to figure it out”. Bull.. They have transponders on the cars and sensors in the track. Remember? That statement from this writer does not hold a drop of water and is an excuse, not a reason why ESPN screwed up. But heck, I got to see an interview with all the Hendrick drivers so I guess I’m blessed.. Lol.. Oh, I do believe that ABC owns ESPN.. Get it, ESPN on ABC..

RamblinWreck
11/03/2009 12:55 PM
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I’m in Atlanta, and at 5p, my ABC affiliate (WSB) went to something called “to be announced,” according to my listings. I couldn’t tell you what it was, though, as I switched it off without another thought. I think they were selling something.

Ohio Kart Racer
11/03/2009 01:27 PM
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I am also getting real sick and tired of Jimmie Johnson all the time!! Did anyone else notice that the announcers gave him the smooth move of the race award (or whatever it is that they call it!) for missing the first accident? When they showed the video replay he was driving along in a whole line of other cars and you couldn’t even see the accident that he was given credit for so cleverly missing !!! Usually for Talladega I am glued to the TV for the entire race. This one was so boring that I was actually switching back and forth between the so called race and Party at the Hard Rock on truTV !!

Kevin in SoCal
11/03/2009 04:11 PM
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JohnP said: “And don’t make excuses that Nascar was “trying to figure it out”. Bull.. They have transponders on the cars and sensors in the track.”

When there is a yellow flag flown during the race, NASCAR uses the transponders and the scoring loops to determine the running order. However, on the last lap, NASCAR uses video replay to determine the finishing order, NOT the transponders. That’s why it took several hours to determine who finished where due to the multi-car accident.

And between each viewing they had to do a body shot and snort a line of coke off a stripper’s ass while counting their money, right?

The Turnip!
11/03/2009 05:48 PM
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Hey Kevin in SoCal, a little risque today are we? “And between each viewing they had to do a body shot and snort a line of coke off a stripper’s ass while counting their money, right?”

Part of that sounds good anyway!

But, I digress, be assured NA$CRAP could and should use transponder data to determine the finishing order! It is accurate!

However, then they would not be able to selectively decide who finished where!

More NA$CRAP “race day decisions”! YUK!

The transponder is at the exact same place on each and every car. Thus that transponder the crosses that scoring loop first is awarded that spot! Even if that car is upside down which is becoming more and more common in NA$CRAP these days!

Gee, simple!

But, after a line or two of that powdery white stuff off the strippers ass, things do get convoluted! But also remember, they have to communicate back to Daytona Beach where King Brian is in a stupor from sucking down all those suds, and other things, while the race is going on in Dega!

Kevin in SoCal
11/04/2009 01:45 AM
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Douglas, I had to throw something in there for the conspiracy crowd, you know? :)

Michael in SoCal
11/04/2009 01:40 PM
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Nice one Kevin!

Richard in N.C.
11/04/2009 09:48 PM
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In light of the scurrilous rumor you reported last week about Erik Kuselias, which apparently is untrue since I saw him still on ESPN a couple of days ago, any reason I should attach any degree of credibility to any of this article?