The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Pizzi Problematic, But Vegas Very Good For FOX by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday March 2, 2010

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Hello, race fans. Hope you had a great weekend. Welcome to my 51st entry in Frontstretch.com’s weekly TV critique series, where I look into the racing shows and telecasts making their way across our airwaves. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were in Las Vegas, Nevada for the Shelby American and Sam’s Town 300, respectively.

Sprint Cup Qualifying for the Shelby American

On Friday, SPEED televised their usual “TiVoed” version of Sprint Cup qualifying starting at 6:30 PM EST. Normally, I don’t comment on this show because it’s quite regimented. You see every driver’s two-lap run, and SPEED covers everyone more or less equally without much of a problem. However, there was a major technical issue on Friday evening that interrupted the flow of the broadcast. During the qualifying session, a generator in the TV compound blew, causing an energy surge and knocking out electrical power to trucks and various parts of the track itself. As a result, SPEED could not show the last ten or so drivers’ runs when they planned. Alternate programming had to be shown until Trackside Live with Danica Patrick and Juan Pablo Montoya came on at 8:30 PM.

Let’s just be honest here. NASCAR’s TV partners use an incredible amount of electrical power in order to bring us these telecasts. According to ESPN, the compound on any given weekend needs enough juice to power a small town, and for most of us, it would take years to use as much electricity as they do in just one day. Thankfully, the issues were able to be fixed relatively quickly.

Sam’s Town 300

Saturday brought the Nationwide Series to Las Vegas for the Sam’s Town 300, and with the move came some unplanned on-air changes for ESPN. In the week leading up to the race, Dale Jarrett’s father-in-law was hospitalized due to ailments. As a result, Jarrett chose to stay back in North Carolina and not make the trip to Las Vegas. Rusty Wallace filled in.

NASCAR Countdown started a couple of minutes late due to the Ole Miss (Mississippi)-Alabama basketball game running a little bit long. Luckily for ESPN, this didn’t affect their schedule at all because the start of the race was delayed by 90 minutes due to rain. In order to fill time that would have otherwise been used to show the race, ESPN had drivers inside the Infield Studio for extended interviews. The guest list included Brendan Gaughan, Brad Keselowski, and Mark Martin, with several others questioned outside the truck during the delay. Danica was also heavily involved, interviewed not once but twice. Personally, I think once was enough, although both interviews came out fine in my opinion.

The race telecast was actually pretty good. I’d almost argue that having Danica Patrick in the first three races of the season is forcing ESPN to give a little more exposure to teams further down the order. It still isn’t enough, though. Since Saturday’s race was Danica’s last in the series until New Hampshire in June, they’ll have to find several new angles to look at for the next couple of months to replace her airtime. Let’s hope those include looking at different drivers struggling to work their way up through the ranks.

Moving along, the post-race interviews were quite brief… and with good reason. ESPN2 was supposed to show a college basketball game, Illinois State-No. 22 Northern Iowa, starting at 8:00 PM EST. But because of the rain, the race didn’t end until 8:45 PM EST. ESPN shifted the game to ESPN Classic while the Nationwide race finished up, then looked to get off the air as quickly as possible once the race was over. Even still, the entire first half of that game was aired only on ESPN Classic. As a result, there were only a few post-race interviews, with Ernie Cope (Kevin Harvick’s crew chief), Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, and Carl Edwards making the cut.

However, there was a little controversy that came out of the short post-race coverage. Kyle Busch, who finished 16th, was unhappy with the way he was portrayed on ESPN after the event. The telecast showed Busch walking away towards his transporter, while Marty Reid talked about him a little. To be honest, I didn’t see anything wrong with what ESPN showed Saturday. I thought it was the equivalent of an “establishing shot.”

But an hour after the race, Kyle wrote an angry missive toward ESPN on his Twitter feed. He said, “Surprise, surprise. ESPN showed me walking away, giving the impression I declined [an] interview. Negative, never even asked me. Thx camera man.”

Now, it is true that ESPN never asked Kyle for an interview. Time was tight, and Kyle finished 16th, meaning he had no TV-based media obligations after the race. However, Busch’s Twitter comments put ESPN on the defensive. This is not necessarily unexpected, since ESPN is quite protective of themselves and don’t like it all that much when people say things about them that are untrue. An email from ESPN PR’s Andy Hall reconfirms that in addition to the fact that ESPN never asked Busch for an interview, it was never implied on air that he refused one. If Kyle, or any other driver, does refuse an interview, it will be mentioned on-air. In addition, the “establishing” shot was possible due to the fact that Busch parked his No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota on pit road where the drivers who finished in positions two through five parked – meaning cameras were everywhere as TV prepared to speak with those top teams. In closing, ESPN also stated that it is “never our intention to portray anyone in [a] negative light.”

Kyle Busch has been silent on this issue since Saturday night, but I’m sure by now that someone has talked to him and he knows ESPN’s side of the story. I don’t expect a public apology from Busch to ESPN, but ESPN will more than likely desire some kind of a private apology at some point in the near future.

FOX did a great job of balanced coverage during the Cup race Sunday, showing as many cars as possible; but when push came to shove with 22 laps left, their biggest mistake was taking a commercial while Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson battled for the lead.

Shelby American

On Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series raced in the Shelby American at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. There was no pre-race concert this week, as FOX is now getting into their normal routine of how their coverage works for 2010. However, Michael Waltrip showed up in the “Hollywood Hotel” during pre-race to promote Fast Track to Fame, a new SPEED show which premiered Monday night. (The clips shown were the same exact ones shown on NASCAR RaceDay earlier on Sunday.) Advertising cable shows like this one on network television is quite rare, bit with the FOX/SPEED connection it’s probable more of this stuff will come up as the season goes on.

Chris Pizzi was back this week with a brief interview of Jimmie Johnson. I’m not really sure what to make of Pizzi at this point, but Johnson was quick with a retort. He said, “How can I take you seriously?” during his interview. That was when Pizzi donned a bib, bottle, and pacifier in order to give Johnson an example of his upcoming parenthood. Jimmie, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think Pizzi is meant to be taken seriously at all. At this point, I’m assuming that he’s just playing a character.

Just to be honest, I’m not really sure what FOX was thinking when they inserted Pizzi into the pre-race show. I know they needed something to replace the much-maligned Digger cartoons, but was this some attempt to grab the 18-34 demographic? All I know is that at this point, it’s working horribly. In fact, I don’t think this segment could possibly survive out all the way into the end of May. Maybe when Michael Waltrip is on with Pizzi, he’ll put him in his place.

To FOX’s credit, there was very little mention of Kim Kardashian’s presence at the race. For those of you who were unaware, Kardashian was launching a new fragrance (called simply the Kim Kardashian Fragrance) through Sephora. As a result, she was technically sponsoring the No. 36 for Tommy Baldwin Racing, and served as the Grand Marshal for the race. If you’re wondering why she didn’t give the command, Kim stated on her Twitter feed that “I wanted 2 be respectful and let Mr. Shelby say it!” Once again, those are her words, not mine. Fine by me.

The telecast FOX gave us on Sunday was fairly good, with no outright favoritism or anything like that from the guys in the booth. There was one gripe that came up during the Frontstretch Live Blog, though. That was the fact that FOX took a commercial with 22 laps to go while Johnson and Jeff Gordon were battling for the lead – the last one they had to take before the checkered flag. Due to the way that FOX returned from commercial break, it is a little unclear as to whether what turned out to the pass for the win occurred while they were away, or right as they returned. I think it happened during the break.

Something like this has happened many times before during NASCAR races. The 1998 Save Mart/Kragen 350K at then-Sears Point Raceway, which came down to a duel between Jeff Gordon and Bobby Hamilton, is one example. The duo was putting on a pretty good battle for the lead, but unfortunately, ESPN had to go to a commercial break with 11 laps to go. The second they did, Gordon made the pass for the win on Hamilton in Turn 11. Jenkins even said, “They’re gonna miss the pass for lead…” before they cut to commercial.

The idea was thrown around in the Live Blog for there to be a minimum number of laps at the end of the race that must be shown commercial-free, if no cautions fly. I’m not sure if there’s already such a clause in the TV deals that would require it, but it’s definitely something to think about for the future. Granted, it’s not like an AMA Supercross race I saw on TV about eight or nine years ago that had the following setup: “It’s the final lap, the action’s great! Let’s take a commercial break!” (The quotes are a paraphrase, but a producer actually did that.)

There was also another graphical screw-up with the last lap graphic, for the second week in a row. When the error was noticed, FOX immediately dropped it and went back to the normal scroll. I think that FOX may be running out of patience with this graphic and may outright ditch it if it gives them anymore issues. Personally, I think it’s unnecessary to begin with …

Post-race coverage was relatively sparse, knowing that FOX had 20 minutes to play with at the end of the race. In that time, they managed only four interviews: Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Harvick, and Logano. There was also a check of the unofficial results, a points check, and some post-race analysis. ESPN is generally more efficient with post-race interviews than FOX is, quantity-wise. You can argue that the interviews may be of a better quality, but sometimes, I want quantity as well.

Other Racing Series and Shows

As for the V8 Supercar Championship Series’ Yas Marina 400 telecast on SPEED, I will be covering that in the Frontstretch Newsletter on Thursday. It will be a common feature within the Newsletter critique from now until their season ends in early December in Sydney.

Also, I must remind my readers of SPEED’s new schedule for Monday nights!

Officially, they start the lineup now with the game show “NASCAR Smarts” at 7:00 PM EST. The show is actually a rerun of an episode from last season, not the one from last weekend. “NASCAR Race Hub” continues at 7:30 PM. At 8:00 is a new show called “Fast Track to Fame,” a talent competition that will be held at each race venue. Even though it only tangentially has anything to do with racing, I’ll have a critique of the series coming up soon. At 9:00 PM is another new series, “The Racing Chef” with Nicky Morse. SPEED describes this show on their website as follows: “Each week, the Racing Chef visits local establishments on the NASCAR circuit, prepares signature dishes, and shares the love of racing and food with the drivers, teams and fans.”

Sounds like something Benny Parsons would do for a fun segment during ESPN race broadcasts around 1990.

At 9:30 PM is a show called “Sounds of NASCAR”, which is described as a barrage of sights and sounds from each Cup race. I think this is the show that acts as a half-hour look back at each race, using pictures from the broadcast of whomever’s showing the race (in this case, FOX) and audio from FOX and MRN Radio. At 10 PM is the duo of “NASCAR In a Hurry: Monday Edition” and “What’s The Deal?” However, make sure to check your listings because, in my case, they were not posted correctly on my on-screen guide.

Also of note, Darrell Waltrip is officially on Twitter now. He can be reached at http://twitter.com/allwaltrip. He joins a growing list of NASCAR Media personalities with pages on the site, including Steve Byrnes and Matt Yocum from NASCAR on FOX, Kyle Petty and Ralph Sheheen from TNT, and no less than four members of ESPN’s NASCAR on-air crew.

Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series will both be in Hampton, Georgia for the Kobalt Tools 500 and Atlanta 200, respectively. Weekend coverage begins with the first practice session for the Camping World Truck Series on Friday from 1-2:30 PM EST. This is followed by Sprint Cup Series practice from 2:30-4:00 PM EST and Camping World Truck Series Happy Hour from 4:00-5:00 PM EST. After an interlude, Sprint Cup Series qualifying will come on at 6:00 PM EST. All action will be shown on SPEED.

On Saturday morning, the action starts bright and early with Camping World Truck Series qualifying at 9:30 AM EST. After that wraps up, the Sprint Cup Series will hold two practice sessions, the first of which will air from 11:00-11:45 AM on SPEED. At Noon, Sprint Cup Happy Hour will begin and run up until 1:30 PM. At that point, NCWTS Setup comes on in order to lead up to the Atlanta 200 at 2:00 PM EST.

On Sunday, coverage begins with NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot at 10 AM EST. FOX’s coverage begins at Noon with a one hour pre-race show. Race coverage begins at 1 PM, with the green flag expected around 1:16 PM.

But that’s not all the motorsports action coming this weekend. After the Truck race on Saturday, SPEED goes off to Homestead-Miami Speedway for Round 2 of the Rolex Sports Car Series (Grand-Am), the Grand Prix of Miami. Live Coverage on SPEED begins at 5:00 PM EST. This is a timed race, scheduled to last 2 hours and 45 minutes. On Sunday, while the Cup race is on FOX, SPEED will air Round 2 (Races 3 and 4) of the 2010 V8 Supercar Championship Series, the Desert 400 from Bahrain International Circuit. This taped coverage will air at 2:00 PM EST on Sunday.

The current plans have me critiquing the Atlanta 200, Kobalt Tools 500, and the Grand Prix of Miami as part of the regular critique for next week, along with any other pertinent news. The V8 Supercar critique will likely fall into my new annex critique for next Thursday morning in the Frontstretch Newsletter.

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 ones full of rants and vitriol.

Contact Phil Allaway

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Michael
03/02/2010 08:26 AM
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Phil , please don’t use the name Benny Parsons in ANY comparison with the current batch of tv crap .
I agree that this will be a very good time for the SPEED/FAUX people to find other stories throughout the field other than Danica Patrick . My question would be , why haven’t they before . Every week the fans write in to this and all other blogs saying they don’t understand why more racers and teams aren’t covered . They frequently name other stories and racers who should be getting more coverage . I know that focusing on a very small handful of teams and drivers is bad for the long term health of the sport . I’m smart enough to know that there needs to be fan interest in many teams , not just one . And i’m not all that smart , so why is it so hard for FAUX/SPEED to figure out . I guess cultivating real stories at the track would require actual effort . And it might take away from the delightfull , always entertaining and informative hillbilly banter and self promotion from the booth .
ESPN prides itself on creating controversy where there isn’t any . They feel thats their place in the world of sports . ESPN decided that Kyle was a brat , and feel its their duty to reinforce that perception at every turn . And it really doesn’t matter if Kyle is or isn’t . They will use every opportunity to try to prove their point . Was it necessary to show Kyle walking away after the race ? Of course not . All of the drivers outside of the ones being interviewed walked away , many of them angry after a disappionting race i suspect . The camera man was told by the director or producer to film Kyle walking away so they could create the story .
Excuse me if i don’t take the word of an ESPN pr man to be the gospel .

Johnboy60
03/02/2010 08:41 AM
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FYI, Michael, Kyle IS a brat!!

Dennis
03/02/2010 09:01 AM
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No mention of that audio whine during the shots of the racing.

It sounded like a giant mosquito in the background. It was very distracting.

It did not happen during the overhead shots, but did on ground level shots. It must have been a particular Mic.

Bad Wolf
03/02/2010 01:16 PM
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There is one reason the Faux broadcasts focus on a select group of drivers, and it’s all about money. I gaurantee that each time an in car camera is used it is all about that sponsor sticker in the shot, each time one of the usual suspects is given way too much air time based on their performance it’s about sponsor money, and each time Danica is shown it’s about Go Daddy’s deep pockets.

The race coverage stopped being about the actual racing when Faux came in and paid way too much for the broadcast rights back in 2000. Since that time each camera shot and each mention from the booth is calculated for generating revenue at the expense of the race on the track. Each and every stupid tech segment is sponsored by a corporate interest, so that’s why we get so many segments splaining basic stuff like “Loose or Tight”, toy cars and cutaway cars on rotisseries.

Look close the next time you watch a race and see if you can spot the product placements and commercials disquesed as racing content. Faux has turned the race coverage into one huge infomercial with the biggest shill on earth in the booth.

The Mad Man
03/02/2010 01:53 PM
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I thought the Fontana coverage had reached a new low but once again Fox proved me wrong. The Vegas coverage was horrendous. This season it’s going to be a race between Fox and ESPN to see who can present the absolute worst coverage. So far, Fox has jumped out to an early lead. Both Fox and ESPN need to shut down their infield studios. Fox needs to dump DW, MacReynolds, Myers, and Hammond and bring in Steve Byrnes.ESPN needs to put Bestwick and Jarrett in the booth. They can dump Crusty, Drab Brad, and the rest. Too many chefs spoil the broth. In this case, too many commentators ruin the broadcast. If there are 43 cars racing, we should be able to see all 43 cars and not just on the parade laps. And while the media is going gaga over Danica, they seemed to have forgotten what the real problems with the sport are. Just another distraction to keep folks from paying attention to the issues that are plaguing the sport.

George near Fontucky
03/02/2010 02:08 PM
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Phil, great critique, as usual. Michael, great post, which is rather rare in these parts. Take Johnboy60’s, for instance. That took a lot of brain power to concoct. Was ESPN trying to spark up a little controversy with that shot, absolutely! Do they deserve an apology from Kyle about his twitter comments, absolutely not! He didn’t say anything offensive, just expressing his opinion via twitter. I think most drivers/athletes in that situation would have done the same thing.

Steve
03/02/2010 02:40 PM
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Not sure why there is complaints about other drivers not getting exposure in the Nationwide series. If Danica wasn’t there, it wouldn’t matter. They would just focus all their attention on the Cup regulars in the race. So either take Danica or the Cup regulars. Either way the other drivers will not get much attention. It has been like that as long as the Cup guys have been racing in this series.

Kevin in SoCal
03/03/2010 12:54 PM
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Phil said: According to ESPN, the compound on any given weekend needs enough juice to power a small town, and for most of us, it would take years to use as much electricity as they do in just one day.

Is that more or less than Al Gore uses at his Tennessee home, and during his junkets across the world promoting his theories?

Why are people blaming Speed for focusing too much on Danica Patrick? ESPN does the Nationwide broadcasts, not Speed. Blame ESPN.

Wayne
03/03/2010 04:40 PM
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When I first read your review of the FOX coverage on Sunday, my first thought was is this April 1st, April fools and your column was a joke..That dumbed down coverage with DW, Larry, and Hammond is just plain insulting and aggravating to watch. The fact that you felt it was OK makes me wonder whether you should be doing this.The poor attempts at humor and other issues are too many to list. It’s disappointing having to watch that coverage that is so insulting to the fans.Also, your link to the FOX does not work.