The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: ESPN, We Know Johnson Wrecked. Thank You... by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday November 10, 2009

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Talking NASCAR TV: ESPN, We Know Johnson Wrecked. Thank You...

Phil Allaway · Tuesday November 10, 2009

 

Hello, race fans, and welcome to my weekly critique, entry No. 41 in an ongoing series in which I look into the TV broadcasts that we watch on a weekly basis. This week, NASCAR’s top three series were all at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. However, there are a couple of things that must be addressed before we start.

First of which, as you may know, NASCAR’s PR Director, Ramsey Poston, last week gave his two cents about ESPN’s coverage at Talladega. In his short comments on the ‘NASCAR Says’ blog at nascar.com, Poston claimed that the ESPN crew was disappointed with the action at Talladega and let their feelings pour over into the broadcast. Well, we’re not going to rehash Talladega here, but this is stuff that I mentioned last week. I can never tell with ESPN whether it is actual despair about the race or just the way the broadcast is planned out.

However, we have more to the story this week. Landmark Newspapers’ Dustin Long conducted an interview with the somewhat secretive, way-too-private-to-be-the-CEO-of-NASCAR, Brian France. In that interview, Long asked France about ESPN’s broadcast from Talladega. This was Fance’s exact quote: “I didn’t see it. I really didn’t see all of it.” Long then asked France if he talked to anyone associated with ESPN/ABC about the telecast, to which France responded with an outright no.

The general opinion that some of the readers in our Live Blog on Sunday took out of this piece is that France may be unable at this point to relate to normal race fans. If this is true, then it’s a crying shame. France needs to make himself available to drivers, team owners, crew chiefs, and what have you. France would also do well to drop in on a fan forum every once in awhile. As it stands now, who knows what that guy is up to? He’s invisible, and thus, potentially out of touch with the sanctioning body’s needs.

Now, we know that France rarely shows up on television. When he showed up for the announcement of the inaugural class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame on October 14, it was the first time I’d seen him on TV in months. When he wants to come out and be the face of NASCAR, he can. However, I don’t think he really wants to, as he basically inherited his current job from his late father.

As for your comments from last week, I had to sift through the remarks about alleged drug usage involving France to get to anything that I can print here. We’re not starting those types of rumors here; none of that’s proven. All we do know is that J.C., his relative, got busted for cocaine recently. The user “slander” stated that NASCAR should evoke the blanket “Actions Detrimental to Stock Car Racing” clause in order to root ESPN out of NASCAR coverage in favor of expanded coverage from TNT. That would be interesting if NASCAR tried to do so, although I think at this point, it’s not happening and if it did, I don’t think NASCAR would initiate it. ESPN is currently paying NASCAR up to $270 million a year to broadcast NASCAR races and other programming. I don’t think they could get that from Turner Sports or another media partner to replace ESPN at this point (nor would anyone pay that much). They like that $270 million too much.

Also, I have to mention that I really did not like the scheduling that SPEED put out for Friday night at TMS. Nationwide Series qualifying started at 6:30 p.m. EST and was only given a one hour timeslot. I knew going in that this wouldn’t be enough, and at 7:30 p.m., they cut away from live qualifying to go to Trackside Live. SPEED could have just advertised the Trackside program after the Truck race as the main airing, to be honest. There is no reason why that needs to be aired live when you have live qualifying going on at the track that you’re televising. Please don’t do this again.

After the debacle that was Nationwide Series qualifying, SPEED presented the WinStar World Casino 350k from Texas Motor Speedway. The usual crew worked on the telecast, meaning that Rick Allen, Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip were in the booth for SPEED while Krista Voda, Adam Alexander, and Ray Dunlap handled pit road. Pre-Race (NCWTS Setup) started out in the typical way, with a recap of last week’s Mountain Dew 250 from Talladega. In between the seven interviews, there was a feature on Turner Motorsports, a new team that will be campaigning two trucks full-time next season (in practice, this is the Win-Tron Racing team that has raced in the ARCA Re/MAX Series for the past few years).

The ‘Bumper to Bumper’ feature was what amounted to a Q&A with Todd Bodine, which was quite interesting. There was also a feature about the drivers’ wives and girlfriends about how they conduct themselves at the track. This seems to be the kind of thing that probably should have run last week, to be honest.

This was the image fans were forced to see multiple times on TV after Jimmie Johnson’s tangle with the wall.

The race coverage was more or less what we’ve come to expect from SPEED this season, which is a generally well put together package, with a couple of things that I wish they would fix. Once again, they missed a restart this week. In addition, they still do not really recognize those trucks that are S&P’ing. Maybe that’s because of Phil Parsons’ presence in the booth … I don’t know.

But the one thing that I really don’t understand from Friday’s telecast was the fact that SPEED took back-to-back commercial breaks under green late in the race. The only explanation that I can come up with is that they were expecting the race to take longer to run than it did, necessitating them to take the extra break in order to fulfill their ad obligations.

Since this race was relatively short, the post-race coverage was chock full of interviews and analysis. Eight drivers and the winning crew chief (Richie Wauters) were interviewed on SPEED. There was a fair amount of wrap-up analysis from the booth as well.

On Saturday, the Nationwide Series took to the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway for the O’Reilly Challenge. The big story before that race got underway was the ongoing saga surrounding Danica Patrick potentially coming to the Nationwide Series to drive a part-time schedule for JR Motorsports in 2010. One feature focused on getting opinions from drivers about Danica coming to NASCAR.

There were a pretty good number of interviews during pre-race (nine), and a near completely pointless cut to the Tech Garage. I should mention that my dad came up to visit from New Jersey while this race was on Saturday. Why is this worth mentioning? Because while we watching the race on ESPN2, my father and I got to discussing the coverage. I should state for the record that my dad is not a race fan. Yes, he took me and my buddy Brien to the Bud at the Glen in 1998, but that’s the only race he’s ever been to. He’s more of a stick and/or ball fan. His opinion of the coverage? He thinks that it needs to be catered towards the core fans. Right now, it’s designed to appeal to casual and/or new fans, which may be hurting ratings as a result. He used soccer coverage as an example; they just call the games for the fans watching, give analysis, and that’s it.

The race on Saturday definitely had a green flag feel to it, so ESPN focused on individual stories when there was no racing for position on the track (i.e. — Bobby Hillin Jr.‘s return to the series in the No. 81). When the action heated back up, they showed that action.

Post-race coverage was relatively short. There were only five post-race interviews. Those were with winner Kyle Busch and his crew chief, Jason Radcliff. In addition, there were interviews with Casey Mears, Jason Leffler and Brad Keselowski while the unofficial results ran in the scroll during said interviews. In between the Radcliff and Mears interviews, ESPN ran the points standings graphic. The Busch interview was the last of the five, and ESPN left the air almost immediately afterwards.

The race on Saturday was OK to watch. I cannot do anything about Kyle Busch running away with the race (again) and ESPN did the best with what they were given. As for Marty Reid, he definitely works well with the Nationwide telecasts, although he can play off of Rusty Wallace and Randy LaJoie better than Petree and Jarrett, to be honest. I think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to group Reid, Wallace, and LaJoie together for all the races next year.

On Sunday, ESPN on ABC presented coverage of the Dickies 500 from Texas Motor Speedway. It was the usual crew of Jerry Punch, Petree and Dale Jarrett in the booth, while Alan Bestwick, Brad Daugherty and Wallace held down the fort in the Infield Studio. The typical crew of Spake, Burns, Welch and Little controlled the pits.

As usual, we’ll start with the pre-race show, NASCAR Countdown. Sunday’s 45 minute edition was briefly interrupted (without fanfare, for some reason) by an ABC News Special Report. Wasn’t expecting that, but that’s something you can’t control — and it must have been chaotic in the TV trucks. There was a pretty good feature on the anatomy of crashes, complete with sound bites from Dr. Dean Sicking, the creator of the SAFER Barrier. I’m admittedly a nerd who did science competitions in high school (Science Olympiad), so I found that interesting. There was extensive discussion of the extrication of Ryan Newman from his blowover flip at Talladega. As our John Potts described back on November 1st in the Live Blog, this was completely done to protocol, and Dr. Punch more or less echoed that. I think the cut to the Craftsman Tech Garage with Tim Brewer at that point was unnecessary, though.

There was also a “Taste of the Race” segment where Daugherty went to a temporary Brookshire’s grocery store setup behind the backstretch. Now, I have no issues with that, but what I do have an issue with is the unrecognized Bush’s sponsorship. Daugherty basically says something along the lines of “Hey! You got my favorite!” The camera then pans down to the cans of Bush’s Baked Beans. This wouldn’t be a problem if Bush’s didn’t sponsor Daugherty’s race team. And this is the second time this has happened, although this instance wasn’t as blatant. ESPN needs to put it right out there that Bush’s sponsors that segment, in order to save face.

Also, there was a brief concert by ZZ Top, who also served as the Grand Marshals of the race. Personally, I’m not a fan of pre-race concerts like that, because they just prolong the pre-race show.

As you may expect, Sunday’s race coverage was outright overkill. It drove me nuts. Yes, Johnson having his wreck was the big story of the race, however, ESPN let it become almost the only story on the broadcast. During Sunday’s Live Blog, a poll was taken about whether the increased Johnson coverage hurt the broadcast. The results were 2 to 1 that it did. Yes, it’s nice to know what happened to Johnson, but I swear they showed the replay of the wreck like 20 times during the race. ESPN even had a clock on the repair time (it turned out to be one hour and eight minutes, or 117 laps). Then, after the race, NASCAR Now showed the wreck a reported 30 more times in a one hour timeslot.

Aside from the constant rehashing of Johnson’s wreck, the ESPN cameras kept focused on Johnson too much. In all honesty, I’m surprised that ESPN didn’t give a little more focus to the fact that Johnson was under the minimum speed at multiple points during the race. To continue on that point, it was made clear that the minimum speed (or really, maximum lap time) was 33.27 seconds, or 163.308 mph. I think that this should be listed in the race statistics every week, to be honest.

There was only one debris caution during the race, and ESPN actually found the debris on the track. However, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it was, even with the help of my DVR. I guess it was a water bottle, but it looked like a bunch of tearoffs clumped together to me.

There were four “Up to Speed” segments during the race, which is more than normal. Of those, only one covered any driver further back than 11th. I wish they would give a little more coverage to those teams back there.

Since the race only had five cautions, the race ended relatively early. That is, if you consider 6:50 p.m. EST early. ESPN did 10 interviews in that time, and multiple point checks. Even with the post-race coverage, no one mentioned the fact that Kurt Busch won the race by over three-quarters of a lap (25-plus seconds). I thought it was 13 seconds at the finish, and only realized differently when I checked NASCAR’s result sheet later in the evening. Even with all the surplus time, ESPN kept the unofficial results in the scroll. Of the three media partners, ESPN is the only one to show them there.

That’s all for this week. Next week is another NASCAR tripleheader, this time at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona. The action starts with the Camping World Truck Series’ qualifying coverage at 4:30 p.m. EST (2:30 p.m. local). Pre-race coverage (NCWTS Setup) starts at 7:30 p.m. EST, with Lucas Oil 150 coverage starting at 8:00 p.m. EST. SPEED will broadcast all the events.

The Nationwide Series is also in town for the Able Body Labor 200 (for reference purposes, this is a company that provides labor to worksites). Coverage starts Friday morning with the first practice session at 11:30 a.m. EST (9:30 a.m. local). The final practice session will air at 3:30 p.m. EST. Both of these will air on SPEED. Qualifying is scheduled for 12:00 p.m. EST (10:00 a.m. local) on SPEED. Finally, race coverage starts with NASCAR Countdown from Phoenix at 4:00 p.m. EST (2:00 p.m. local) on ESPN2. The green flag is schedule to fall around 4:45 p.m. EST.

Finally, the Cup Series will race on Sunday in the Checker O’Reilly Auto Parts 500k. Coverage starts Friday with the only pre-qualifying practice session airing at 2:00 p.m. EST (12:00 p.m. local) on ESPN2. Qualifying coverage will follow at 5:30 p.m. EST, right after NASCAR Now. On Saturday, the first practice session will be carried on SPEED at 1:30 p.m. EST (11:30 a.m. local). Happy Hour will be aired at 3:00 p.m. EST on ESPN2. However, there is a Georgia Tech vs. Duke college football game that starts at 12:00 p.m. EST on Saturday. Precedent says that the practice coverage will be at least slightly curtailed due to that game.

Finally, the pre-race coverage is scheduled to begin on ABC at 2:30 p.m. EST (12:30 p.m. local). Race coverage will start at 3:15 p.m. EST, with the green flag falling around 3:30 p.m. EST. I will provide a critique for all three of these races, along with anything else I find important.

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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The Turnip!
11/10/2009 07:13 AM
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I need to use the term “poetic justice”, as regards JJ being taken out by Sam some three (3) laps into the “event”!

What I mean is, good ole JJ has never said anything against the POS!

Good old lilly white, or is that just plain vanilla, JJ just accepts what NA$CRAP wants him to. BLINDLY!

So, the “poetic justice” part comes in when a fellow driver, driving of course that POS, you know, the car that simply does not handle at all, twitches in the corner and taps JJ!

And the rest is history!

Can you see where I am headed with this?

Or is this called: live by the sword, die by the sword?

Dans Mom
11/10/2009 07:29 AM
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Wait…. Jimmie Johnson wrecked on Sunday?… I must have missed that.

To be fair, that and Rowdy’s triple attempt were the only two story lines of note. Unless you count Kasey Kahne’s EPIC struggle to stay make the top 10 in points and get that coveted spot on stage.

Or those struggling to crack the top 35… who are they again?

I suppose that rookie of the year “race” between Joey “Sliced Bread” and Peanut Butter and Jelly…

What about the farewell tours of Michael Waltrip and Bobby Labonte…

Yeah, cause 4-straight championships doesn’t deserve a majority of the air time. I guess thats why on Saturday Prime Time ESPN airs Boyton State vrs. Northwest Alaska instead of USC/Notre Dame.

See Kevin… there is something good about SoCal. Just not racing.

John S.
11/10/2009 08:42 AM
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Phil, I notice you never say anything about the actual horrible play by play done by Jerry Punch on Sundays. Hopefully this isn’t because of the interview you did with him.
I know you read John Daly’s columns and hopefully you read some of the comments made there. If so, you would see that many people consider Punch to be the absolute worst play by play announcer. Yes, it would be like beating a dead horse week after week, but let’s face it, the play by play and color commentary are a big part of a race broadcast.
The constant calling out of car numbers, driver names, driver ages, hometowns, stats, etc is not play by play. And heaven forbid he should actually show a little enthusiasm. He claims that ESPN asked him to tone it down which I find laughable. Since when are play by play announcers not supposed to add a little excitement and spice to the broadcast?
Oh, and what about the silly in race reporter stuff and the 7 team pit crew member pit stops week after week. Pointless.

Mary Dzuro
11/10/2009 10:56 AM
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Re: Brad Daugherty’s blatant Bush Bean’s promo: when the segment is introduced with the cutesy cartoon intro, it shows that the segment is sponsored by Bush’s. It isn’t a large logo and there is no vocal announcement, but it is there. That’s why I thought is wasn’t odd that they blatantly showed that the infield temporary grocer had the product.
I agree with you about the up to speed segment. I think when there is so much green flag racing and not that much passing, the whole field should be covered. I also think they should state who has started and parked during the race. Only by watching the crawl could you first determine where JJ might finish if and when he got back out on the track. Later in the race, while repairs were wrapping up did the announcers note that there were so many cars already in the garage. Also, I didn’t need to see the car progression or time in the pits for repairs so much. I want to see a race, not a show on how the rebuild a broken race car.

Phil Allaway
11/10/2009 12:06 PM
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My thoughts on Dr. Punch are as follows. He is hamstrung by the edicts brought down on him in late 2007 that has more or less forced him to just pose questions all the time. Now, I’ll admit that he’s not the best guy out there in the Play-by-Play role, but I don’t think he’s being utilized in the booth correctly by ESPN. If you look at older, pre-2007 races that he did play-by-play for, it’s like you’re listening to a different person.

Also of note, I don’t think Dr. Punch reads this critique, but I’m confident that he reads Daly Planet. I can’t elaborate because it was off the record (gotta keep to journalisic ethics here), but believe me when I say that he does. The commenters at Daly Planet tend to share John’s opinion that Dr. Punch needs to be in the infield studio and Bestwick in the booth. I wouldn’t be opposed to such a move, and neither would Dr. Punch if it were suggested by ESPN.

Phil Allaway
11/10/2009 12:17 PM
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Mary, thanks for the clarification of the Bush’s sponsorship of the Taste of the Race feature. They should announce that Bush’s is sponsoring it vocally and make the logo a little bigger, though.

Don Mei
11/10/2009 12:54 PM
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No one who has a financial interest in any Nascar team should be in ANY broadcasting capacity before, during or after an event.

Mark
11/10/2009 01:00 PM
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The alleged drug abuse by Brian France was actually in reference to J C France , Jim Frances’ son .
As for Brian , his problem seemed to be one of alcohol . He was observed by two very credible women weaving all over the road and even driving up onto sidewalks on his way home from somewhere very late at night . This happened in Ormond Beach and progressed to his condo in Daytona . On the way he was alleged to have sideswiped several cars . Upon pulling into the entrance for his condo , he ran into a palm tree . He lives in a gated community , so the women were not able to follow him any further . They had been frantically calling 911 on their cell phones , afraid that France ( they had no idea who it was driving the Lexus ) would end up hurting or killing someone as badly as he was driving . By the time the police arrived , Brian had parked at his condo and gone inside , thereby insuring he couldn’t be charged with drunk driving .
Ramsey Poston , not one of the brighter bulbs on the tree , will say whatever hes paid to say . Why would anyone give him any consideration ? And are you reall surprised that Brian pays little attention to the actual racing ? Why do you think things are so bad ?
I don’t know how much of Jerrys’ crush on Jimmy is due to the director and producer forcing him into it . I just want to remind Jerry that Jimmy is married , so he should ease off .
I know that Dale and Andy are very good analysts , they’ve proven that in many previous races . I just think they may have given up , and are simply going along with the horrible job the director and producers are doing . I can’t imagine that Jerry is allowed to do the ALL JIMMY ALL THE TIME routine without permission from the director and producers .
Of course things could be worse , we still get a strong dose of Larry Mac talking about those “ injuns “ every week . And John Roberts who has never had an original ( or interesting ) thought . Or that great thespian Bob Dillner . Or the Jeff ( its all about me ) and Darrell ( no , its all about me ) show .
In truth , there are very few good on-air personalities . But there are way too many of the bad ones .

24Crazy
11/10/2009 01:07 PM
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Why didn’t ESPN televise the Busch race? It’s their baby. ESPN never announces anything that is televising on SPEED. Why should SPEED give up their programing for an ESPN show.

Gordon82Wins
11/10/2009 01:56 PM
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It doesn’t bother me which drivers’ stories they deem important. You’re never going to make everyone happy with that anyway, so I think ESPN focuses on the championship battle first and foremost.

But good grief, it drives me crazy when they cut to the guy in the garage area or play a driver interview while the race is going on. THAT drives me nuts. I just want to see the RACE!

bob
11/10/2009 02:09 PM
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Thanks Phil for your article. I agree with most of your insights. However, I don’t agree with some of the responders here who think that John Daly’s site is the epicenter of NASCAR media websites. Many consider it a site with well intentions, but made up of one person making a lot of phony posts. Until there is a way to check if multiple posts are made by the site’s owner, I don’t give much credence to sites like Daly’s. Sites like FS who have quality writers don’t have pages and pages of responses to their best articles, indicating to me that is what is normal. Guess I am a skeptic, but I know I am not alone. Anyway good job Phil. I hope NASCAR reads your stuff and takes it seriously.

Phil Allaway
11/10/2009 03:33 PM
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24Crazy, ESPN did televise the Nationwide race on Saturday. As for referencing NASCAR races on SPEED (Mainly the Camping World Trucks), they do seem to be a little random at times.

Before I forget, I did write up my thoughts on NASCAR Performance for this week, but I submitted the rest of the write-up before I finished it (we have deadlines to keep here at Frontstretch). By the time the NASCAR Performance piece was finished, the rest if the piece had already gone through Round 1 of editing. It will be included in next week’s critique, guaranteed.

Ohio Kart Racer
11/10/2009 03:54 PM
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Neither could I figure out exactly what the “debris” was that caused the caution – but it appeared to be “soft” as the track worker picked it up! You also failed to mention that the debris caution just happed to fly as Jeff Gordon was about to be lapped – imagine that!! Dr. Punch seems like a nice guy – but he just doesn’t have it as a lead announcer. He actually put me to sleep on Sunday!! No need to comment further on the constant replays of the JJ incident – overkill !!

Brent
11/10/2009 06:54 PM
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Thank goodness for the NFL, …watched about 5 actual laps of the race. Why do I stay interested in the NFL year after year, but NASCAR is just getting so old?…and worse every year…..same stuff, big waste of time. I spend more time on FS than I do watching the race in any given week. Must be the entertainment value!!! (and I mean that as a compliment!)

Kokomo Joe
11/10/2009 07:45 PM
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I must bud in and say the “Up to Speed” or “Through the Field” segments are, in my opinion, a complete waste of time — as are any pit-reports that only talk of track-bar or air pressure adjustments. Who cares? They are always loose or tight and what does it add to the race to know they let out a half pound in the right front or took 2 rounds of wedge?

Also, watching pitstops are worthless too! Especially when there is green flag racing going on — what purpose does it do to focus in on some car for 30 seconds to see if they are slow by half a second versus someone else?

Please take me back to the days of early ’80s ESPN when the race coverage started when the cars headed off of T4 for the green flag and the focus was on on-track action!!!!!! Not inane updates on how much air pressure someone is letting out. Geesh!