The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Danica-mania Hurts ARCA Telecast, FOX Shines by Phil Allaway -- Monday February 8, 2010

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Talking NASCAR TV: Danica-mania Hurts ARCA Telecast, FOX Shines

TV Critique · Phil Allaway · Monday February 8, 2010

 

Hello, race fans, and welcome to entry No. 48 in a long-running series where I look into the television broadcasts beamed into our households. This week, I’m covering the first weekend of SpeedWeeks (hooray!). But, before we get into the critiques, some news.

First off, Nascar.com will be offering free RaceBuddy coverage of the Gatorade Duels. Perfect for those who have to work first shift on Thursday and cannot leave early. I’m not one of those people, because I fully plan on leaving work at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday so that I can get home in time to critique not just the Duels, but NASCAR RaceDay as well.

Secondly, JR Motorsports announced on Monday that Danica Patrick will drive the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet in the Nationwide race on Saturday. As much as I wish Danica the best in the race, I also hope this doesn’t necessarily hurt the broadcast. More on this below.

One more tidbit. SPEED screwed up in the promotion of the Budweiser Shootout Selection Show on Thursday night. Originally, this was marketed as being live. However, it was not. The program ran on a delay of approximately an hour. How do I know this? A few writers that are notorious for Twittering were in attendance and tweeting the starting spots in real time. For example, I already knew that Carl Edwards was on the pole for the Shootout before the broadcast aired.

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Now, for the critiques. On Saturday afternoon, FOX aired live coverage of Pole Qualifying for the Daytona 500. I’ll admit I was at work at the time that the coverage was on. However, working in the office of the Imaging Department in a hospital on a Saturday can be quite slow, especially in the mornings. During such down time, I was able to walk out to the waiting room, check what channel the TV was on (since it was already on FOX, I didn’t have to change it), and swivel the TV so that I could see the coverage in the office. As a result, I got to see almost the entire session when work didn’t get in the way. However, I couldn’t take notes.

This session was fine to watch, for the most part, but there was one thing worth noting. Early on, there was a full screen interview with Robin Pemberton while Paul Menard was out on the track. Pemberton was talking up the changes made to the CoT for this season, which is nice to have before the season gets underway, but it just doesn’t work here with a live telecast. I would be fine with this interview airing during pre-race of the Budweiser Shootout or the Daytona 500, when there isn’t on-track action at the time. You could even conceivably air it during Sprint Cup qualifying sessions on SPEED, due to the way they’re setup (they are time-shifted by 20 minutes or so).

After qualifying ended, I scurried home from work in time to catch SPEED’s coverage of the ARCA Racing Series Presented by Re/MAX and Menards’ Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 from Daytona International Speedway. It appeared that the NASCAR Live! show leading into the race coverage served as a de facto pre-race show here because there was literally no pre-race. During this time, SPEED taped an interview with Danica Patrick that ended up airing during the pace laps.

The telecast started right with the command to start engines. What this said to me was that SPEED may have ditched the five minute delay that was used over the past couple of years for ARCA races on the channel. Darrell Waltrip joined Rick Allen and Phil Parsons for the telecast on SPEED and brought his opinionated nature with him.

Looking back at this telecast, one thing stands out. It’s the same problem that ABC had back when Todd Harris was the play-by-play man for the IRL races (and from what I understand, these were bad days). It was Danica Patrick, all the time. It was ridiculous how much coverage she got during this race, not just on SPEED’s telecast, but online as well (more on this below). One example that I can give is when the third caution came out on Lap 26 (the Jill George/Jesse Smith crash). SPEED’s cameras were focused on the lead pack, and specifically, Patrick’s No. 7 when the crash broke out. Allen was on his game, announcing the wreck exiting Turn 4. SPEED didn’t cut to the wreck for 7 seconds and only got aftermath footage on air live.

Also, the Patrick story completely overshadowed everything else there. This made it look at times like it was Danica Patrick, and 42 other drivers out there. Other stories were almost completely overlooked, like the fact that there was a record six women in the race (Jill George, Jennifer Jo Cobb, Milka Duno, Leilani Munter, and Alli Owens, in addition to Patrick), or even the fact that Booby Gerhart won again — his sixth at Daytona. It’s ridiculous.

Another thing that I was not pleased about was how the SPEED commentators didn’t mention the idea of a time limit for this race. Writers and teams at the track knew that the race had to finish by 6:55 p.m. EST, so that a performance by the Zac Brown Band could take place. The sheer thought of that is stupid, in my opinion, but this did come into play. It was never acknowledged on air by SPEED, but crew members interviewed on pit road as early as the Red Flag for Jill George’s flip made reference to this.

During our Live Blog we were convinced that this was why ARCA didn’t throw the caution for Terry Jones’ issues and Alli Owens’ spin coming to two laps to go. As it stands now, the race ended at 6:52 p.m. Had they thrown the yellow, the race would not have restarted at all. Maybe this was an extension of the whole Jinx thing that I mentioned last year (the “don’t talk about the rain so it doesn’t happen” thing)

However, not everything was bad in the broadcast. Darrell Waltrip was definitely on his game (Just in case anyone wants to know, there was no “Boogity” here, since it’s not his show) during the race. For example, he took some of the drivers to task after the first caution (the multi-car crash that started when Bill Baird spun in Turn 1, collecting Steve Blackburn and eight others who piled in) for not slowing down and plowing into the wreck. If you remember my critique from this race last year, I took Allen and Parsons to task myself for not doing that, even though this was a much bigger problem last year.

Also during the race, SPEED had what amounted to a “Danica Cam” available on their Web site. Reportedly, this was popular enough that people were having trouble accessing it before the race started. I didn’t have any issues getting in, but I accessed it after the race started. The Danica Cam consisted of a revolving setup featuring at least two in-car cameras in her car, and one camera on the roof of the Tower that followed Patrick at all times (sort of like “Camera 1” on other race broadcasts). This ran on what amounted to a five second delay to the race broadcast on SPEED, but ran the whole race, including the commercial breaks. This allowed Danica Cam viewers to see Danica’s spin from the in-car view before the TV audience could.

No news as of right now about how many people viewed the Danica Cam at SPEEDTV.com, or the race itself on SPEED, but ARCA’s Web site reported record site usage on Saturday. According to ARCA’s site, 118,000 people visited the site on Saturday and generated over 715,000 page views. This triples the previous highs for the website.

Post-race coverage was very brief. Since the race was already 22 minutes over time once the checkers flew, there was only time for interviews with race winner Bobby Gerhart, and the aforementioned Patrick. I don’t even think a full field rundown was given before SPEED ended the telecast and went to NASCAR RaceDay.

Admittedly, this was not the best telecast I’ve ever seen. However, it will probably go down as one of, if not the highest rated ARCA race ever on television because of Danica Patrick’s presence. I doubt that camera crew quality would be an issue because it was likely the same crew shooting this race as the crew that shot the Budweiser Shootout. I just hope that ESPN’s Nationwide races this year won’t have so much emphasis on Danica.

After a truncated edition of NASCAR RaceDay, coverage of the 32nd annual Budweiser Shootout started on FOX at 8 p.m. The pre-race show was a little different than what we’re used to. There was a brief discussion of the Lucas Oil Slick Mist 200 between Chris Myers, Jeff Hammond and Darrell Waltrip that involved a lot of Danica talk. At the time I was thinking, “I really hope that this doesn’t set the tone for the entire season, or I am going to be sick of this very quickly.”

Luckily, that was the only mention of Danica in the entire broadcast. After this discussion, FOX cut to the performance from the Zac Brown Band (taped, of course). There were no interviews on FOX before the opening ceremonies began, which was a little weird. All of those were done during the NASCAR RaceDay show. Last year, I did mention that NASCAR RaceDay should be the pre-race show before these races begin, but if you’re going to do that, move NASCAR RaceDay to whatever channel that the race is going to be on.

The race coverage was pretty good for the most part, but there was one major issue. All throughout the weekend leading up to the race, SPEED and FOX had been stating that the Budweiser Shootout could not end under caution.

Well, it did end under caution.

I had thought that that was a crock at first, to be honest. I knew NASCAR wasn’t going to change their GWC rules for a 187.5 mile non-points race. However, SPEED seemed pretty sure of themselves, even incorporating the “Shootout can’t end under caution rule” into a question in the Lightning Round of NASCAR Smarts. If NASCAR Smarts were a real game show, you’d have an S&P issue there, and you would have to have one or both contestants back on a future episode, like so many game shows before NASCAR Smarts has done.

Also, I’m not a fan of the so-called “Quad Pits” being used during rounds of stops held under caution, though. The Quad Pits did return on one occasion on Saturday night. In the past, FOX has taken that to the next level during the Daytona 500 with the “Quint Pits.” Hopefully, the “Quint Pits” won’t return. The reverse grid scroll is back as well. I understand what FOX is doing here (trying to replicate the driver introductions, I think), but they need to make up their minds on what they’re going to do here, and stick to it.


Amazingly, Digger was nearly an endangered species during the Shootout broadcast. And that’s a good thing!

As for Digger, one of my favorite whipping boys (or “Whipping Anthropomorphic Creature”) from last year, I have heard rumors that his “influence” on the broadcast will be curtailed this year, due to fan outcry. I hope so. As it stands, he appeared five times during the Budweiser Shootout broadcast, and almost all of these appearances were before the Green Flag came out (three still pictures and two animated shots). It’s still a little early to be able to tell whether that is going to be the norm for this season, or if it is just a one time thing. However, it could be argued that Digger had a breakthrough with his appearance in Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel back around Christmas.

I still plan on keeping up the Digger Count at least for the beginning of the season, although I don’t think we’re going to see a race with 50 Digger appearances again anytime soon.

Post-race coverage consisted of just a couple of interviews with winner Kevin Harvick and second place finisher Kasey Kahne, with the unofficial results in the scroll. There was also a brief post-race discussion before FOX left the air. I guess this was because the race ran a little long due to the five cautions.

Aside from the “Race can’t end under caution” mix up, I think that the broadcast went well. Ratings that have been released for the Shootout show similar ratings to last year. I hope that there are more post-race interviews on Sunday, and I’m assuming that pre-race was an aberration, a one-time thing.

That’s all for this week. This week brings a series of debuts on television. Last night, SPEED’s new show, “What’s The Deal” with host Jimmy Spencer premiered. Wednesday night sees the premiere of Inside NASCAR on Showtime at 10 p.m. EST. It appears that John Daly doesn’t have Showtime at his house, so I’m not really sure when he’s going to put out a review of that show (He’ll find a way, believe me). I do have Showtime here at my house, and I will be watching. My initial plan was to critique the show for the Off-Week Critique, which will run on March 16. However, I might move it up, potentially to the Feb. 23 critique since the Trucks won’t be in Fontana this year.

Also, there’s the all-important on track action to critique. After being dark for three days, practice for the Cup Series starts back up on Wednesday with two practice sessions. Both will be televised live on SPEED from noon to 1:30 p.m. EST and 2 p.m. to 2:50 p.m. EST. The Nationwide Series also opens with a two hour practice session from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. EST. Originally, this session was not going to be televised at all. However, on Monday, ESPN issued a special press release to announce that it would be televised. The graphic advertising this on Monday’s NASCAR Now specifically said “Featuring Danica Patrick” on it. After this session ends, the Truck Series will have their first practice session of the year. This is scheduled to run from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and will be televised live on SPEED.

Thursday brings coverage of the Gatorade Duels from Daytona. As you know, the 60-lap (150 mile) sprint races will determine the grid for the Daytona 500. Man, it’s complicated, and it shouldn’t be. But, this isn’t the place to rant about that. When it takes ten minutes in a YouTube video to describe the mess, like our own Brock Beard did last year, something’s wrong. Coverage will air on the SPEED Channel for the third straight year, with NASCAR RaceDay Built by the Home Depot (Serving as the de facto pre-race show) at 1 p.m. EST. Race coverage starts promptly at 2 p.m. EST.

Before the Gatorade Duels coverage begins on SPEED, they will televise the final practice session for the Camping World Truck Series, which is scheduled to run from 9-11am EST. Afterwards, the Nationwide Series will have their final practice session at Daytona starting at 11:30am EST. Coverage of this, which lasts until 1:00pm EST, will be aired live on ESPN 2.

Later Thursday evening will be SPEED’s live coverage of Pole Qualifying for the Camping World Truck Series’ NextEra Energy Resources 250. This is scheduled to start at 6:30pm EST and is allotted a two and a half hour time slot on SPEED.

Friday has one practice session for the Sprint Cup teams that will be held starting at 1:40 p.m. EST and will run an hour. SPEED will televise this session live starting at 1:30 p.m. Afterwards, the Nationwide Series will hold Pole Qualifying for the DRIVE4COPD 300. Live coverage begins on ESPN2 at 3 p.m.

Later that evening will be the season opening NextEra Energy Resources 250 for the Truck Series. Coverage on SPEED will start with NCWTS Setup at 7:30 p.m. EST with actual race coverage following at 8 p.m.

Saturday will have the final practice, or “Happy Hour” for Sprint Cup teams. Live coverage of this crucial session will start at 10:30 a.m. EST on SPEED and run until Noon. Immediately afterwards, covering of the season opening DRIVE4COPD 300 will start on ESPN2. ESPN2 will air a one hour edition of NASCAR Countdown starting at Noon, while race coverage will start at 1pm. The green flag will fly around 1:25 p.m.

Finally, Sunday (Valentine’s Day) brings us the big show, the Daytona 500. SPEED is going all out for pre-race, with a special three hour edition of NASCAR RaceDay Built by the Home Depot starting at 9 a.m. EST (Man, that’s early to start pre-race). At noon, FOX will have their own one hour pre-race show leading up to race coverage starting at 1 p.m. (a full two hours and change earlier than last year). The green flag is scheduled to fall around 1:19 p.m.

I will bring you critiques of all three points races and the two Gatorade Duels for next week. In addition, if anything of note comes out of the two qualifying sessions, or the practice sessions, I’ll be sure to comment on that as well.

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:

FOX
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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Mike In NH
02/09/2010 07:50 AM
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If you think the Nationwide race Saturday will be less wall-to-wall Danica, you’ll be disappointed. I’m sure she’ll get coverage all out of proportion to her success on the track, not unlike her boss, Dale Junior does. And that’s to be expected from any network sports coverage, like it or not. Who gets the most coverage in a golf broadcast (when he’s not hiding)? Tiger, of course. Who gets the lion’s share of TV time (or at least announcer attention) during an NFL game? The star QBs. TV sports almost always focus on the biggest names at the event. Like it or not, that’s what most viewers tune in to see in this celebrity crazed society, so that’s what the networks provide. Complaining about it is like complaining that water runs downhill.

Having said that, I didn’t think the ARCA coverage was too bad. Most viewers should know who Patrick Sheltra, the Gerharts, and Alli Owens are at least, if they cared about the race overall and not just Danica (and for those who cared only about her, the rest wouldn’t matter anyway). Let’s face it, Danica was a huge star among racers only known by true, hardcore race fans (which doesn’t even cover most NASCAR fans, who only care about NASCAR), so nobody should be surprised she garnered so much attention.

Gordon82Wins
02/09/2010 08:03 AM
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I thought that Danica would at least give the Nationwide Series a much-needed boost even if it’s for a completely non-racing related reason. But if the Nationwide coverage is all Danica all the time, as I’m sure it will be, fans will tire of it very quickly.

holdin5aces
02/09/2010 08:03 AM
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Ms. Patrick was the raison d’etre for watching the SPEED ARCA race. To suggest otherwise invites ridicule and scorn. This author is living under a rock. ARCA is what they do to wring another sawbuck out of the fans that are already there. This time ARCA rolled a natural. And got a good show out of her. I’d take an image of my opinion and check it for a malignancy.

janice
02/09/2010 08:34 AM
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augh…danica….she’ll be the topic of major discussion on saturday. here in atlanta they were already talking on the news this morning how she’ll be racing against her boss, dale jr. joy!

i felt so sorry for the other women who were competing in the arca race. hopefully those gals will run the entire series. ali owens got a good shout out when she was trying to gain on bobby. unfortunately that horrible wreck. thankfully she walked away.

no more danica coverage. then next week it will be the same thing in california.

Sharon Jones
02/09/2010 09:01 AM
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The commentators were sickening in their adoration of Danica. I turned my TV on mute. I could not stand them. Ugh, no more Danica for me . Had enough.

Mark
02/09/2010 09:41 AM
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Anyone who thought the coverage of Danica was over the top should be used to such things . Jeff Gordon , Jimmy Johnson , Earnhardt Jr have been over hyped for years . The breathless reporting on Johnsons crash repair in the garage for instance .
My favorite example of the booth talking heads being more interested in the sound of their own voices than the action on the track was when Dave Blaney was on track in the 90 car . The GREAT PONTIFICATOR went into one of his long winded stories , this one about the history of the number 90 , that went on for ever . Meanwhile i’m trying to figure out who the 90 car belongs to . Joy finally did find time to mention that the car belongs to Keyed Up motorsports , whoever that is .
And thats a huge problem with the FOX broadcasts . The commentators are only interested in amusing and mystifying each other .
The Shoot Out telecast was more of the same old . Can someone get a diction coach for McReynolds and Hammond ? Please !!! If we’re going to be stuck with those two , they might as well learn not to say “ injuns “ The booth performance during the race was dreadfull .
I suspect maybe ARCA didn’t throw certain cautions because they really weren’t needed . A one car spin into the grass , well off the racing surface , does not need a caution when the car is still running a drivable . And while i’m sure that the majority of the audience was tuned in to see the Zac Brown Band rather than auto racing , i don’t think they were a big influence on throwing the yellow flag .
One final note Phil . You refer to Daly frequently in your columns , and i just want to say that you don’t need to . He is the original hack of bloggers . No one ever heard of him until he started his blog , and very few have heard of him after he started it . He writes many of the responses himself . I say all of this because you seem to be far more interested in giving honest opinions than creating controversy . Plus , you don’t bar people from responding to your posts after they disagree with you . He does it constantly . You don’t need to reference anything he does . You’ve got a good column going for yourself .

Alex
02/09/2010 11:10 AM
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This author is mining something bad out of his own life, and onto Danica. This is a very obvious projection.

I thought the ARCA telecast of the race was great, in fact the only reason I bothered watching to see see Danica smash that #4 Monster car, and she did it.

This author needs to be fired and replaced by Brock Beard. This rookie author lives under a rock.

VABlueGrass
02/09/2010 12:10 PM
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The word “Danica” can be found 29 times on this page… oopppss 30!!!

Phil Allaway
02/09/2010 12:18 PM
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I’ll tell you right now, I would have watched the ARCA race on Saturday regardless of who was in it and whether I had to write about it. Why? Because I’m a race fan. I like to watch all kinds of races on TV.

I knew going in that Danica was going to be the main story, as it will be on Saturday. However, that does not excuse a presenter from covering all the other bases.

As for the screw-up regarding Keyed-Up Motorsports mentioned above, I did not see that. As I mentioned earlier, I had to work on Saturday. However, I did DVR qualifying. Unfortunately, Time Warner Cable’s been having issues lately with their transmissions. When I got home from work Saturday, I found my TV picture frozen and that my DVR didn’t pick up that run. I also missed Mears’ run at work because I was taking phone calls at the time.

Old Farmer
02/09/2010 02:04 PM
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There was no more mention of Patrick during the ARCA race than there is of Jimmie Johnson during a Cup race.

Personally, I’m sick of hearing about him—and his pregnant wife. So he’s feritle, so what?

Besides, Patrick made a hellofa run. She can drive, as opposed to Milk ‘n Donuts, who probably shouldn’t be allowed on any track, anywhere. You know before the race that she’ll take out somebody.

Dennis
02/09/2010 08:08 PM
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In case you haven’t noticed, Danica is all over the news. Why would a second tier racing series NOT make a big deal about it? As someone stated earlier that this was likely the most watched ARCA race ever. Hmmmm do the math. As a sidenote the woman can drive….

Jeff Wagoner
02/09/2010 08:20 PM
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The amount of coverage on Danica during the ARCA race was sickening. It’s bad enough that the Speed announcers were yapping non-stop about her,but it’s worse when they can’t even focus on an incident on the track because they’re too busy watching her(check the Dakota Armstrong spin). At least this is one of the few articles I’ve seen that doesn’t make a huge deal about the big one that shouldn’t have been. While true,they should’ve slowed down,hopefully they’ll learn their lessons. Not all ARCA Superspeedway races are this way either,I can think of a few with few incidents or none at all.

mkrcr
02/09/2010 09:03 PM
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Get used to it. This is exactly what NA$CAR wants and FOX is going to be there to lap up the drippings. Return to tradition? I don’t think so. Brian France stepping to the front? So what. As long as he’s in charge, the circus will continue.
Don’t hold your breath on the new and revived season. It’s going to be business as usual, only worse. J. Utter of the Charlotte Observer is already calling Danica a “former” Indy Car driver.

Bob
02/09/2010 09:21 PM
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I hope they don’t over due talking about Danica.
It was getting old after awhile during the ARCA race, because all you ever hear was. “Where is Danica”.Don’t get me wrong I think she is a good driver, but the coverage of her is just to much.
D

mkrcr
02/09/2010 09:24 PM
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Get used to it. Who’s face is front and center on this site’s home page?

Janice
02/12/2010 02:40 PM
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I heard an explanation by one show of the concentration on Danica. They said that showing her and discussing what she had to learn was for the benefit of all those that know nothing or very little about racing. I did enjoy that. However, I don’t agree with ignoring the other stories of the day like the number of other women running, what happened to cause the cautions, etc.