The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Timing Troubles Haunt Bristol FOX, ESPN Coverage by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday March 23, 2010

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Hello, race fans and welcome to my personal abode, the weekly TV critique. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were in action at Bristol Motor Speedway. They were also joined by some legends of the sport who came together for the Scotts EZ Seed Showdown, a 35 lap race in USAR ProCup cars.

The Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series, and many NASCAR legends visited Thunder Valley this past weekend.

Scotts Turf Builder 300

On Saturday afternoon, ESPN on ABC brought us live coverage of the Nationwide Series’ Scotts Turf Builder 300. Pre-race coverage was mainly discussion-based, to be honest. The entire first segment was spent talking about the race from the “Infield Studio” with Allen Bestwick, Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty. Of course, due to space constraints, they weren’t in the infield at all. They were outside of the track behind the backstretch.

There was a three-way discussion between Bestwick, Wallace and Jarrett in the broadcast booth about the additional SAFER Barriers that were added at the entrance and exits of the turns. In addition, there was also a Tech Garage segment about the SAFER Barriers featuring Tim Brewer. Let’s just say this, Bestwick claimed on air that the ringing from hitting the barrier with the ball peen hammer hurt his ears. Having personally been inside of the Craftsman Tech Garage, I can say with some conviction that it’s not the biggest place on earth. Point being, it would really hurt your ears if you were inside of the Tech Garage because of the confined space.

There was also a lot of talk about how Joey Logano needs to “man up” and maybe dish out a little authority every once in a while. Knowing what actually ended up happening in the race on Saturday now, these comments are even more pertinent.

Race coverage was noted by a collection of really tight shots. As you may remember from last season, this was a bit of an issue since it made it a little hard to gauge where everyone was.

Post-race coverage was brief due to the fact that the race was on ABC instead of ESPN 2. As a result, there were interviews with winner Justin Allgaier, runner up Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. ESPN did attempt to interview Joey Logano, who was dumped out of fifth into the wall by Harvick coming to the checkers, but he declined the interview. Other than the interviews, there was only some additional post-race analysis before the telecast ended.

The Scotts EZ Seed Showdown brought a whole bunch of retro graphics and logos from ESPN. A brief montage of retro opening clips were played before the coverage began. In order, they were the ESPN Auto Racing intro from 1986, ESPN Speedworld from 1993 and 2000, and the current intro. After the montage, an HD version of the original Auto Racing logo from 1981 was shown, which I’ll admit that looked real nice and shiny.

One thing that I actively wondered about during this race was the fact that ESPN did not refer to the race as the Scotts EZ Seed Showdown. Instead, it was known as the Saturday Night Showdown. Now, we know about the ad purchasing requirements for regular race names to be mentioned on air more than once an hour, but this was not a NASCAR-sanctioned event. This is one of those classic “we’re here, so we might as well televise it” sort of things, which is similar to how SPEED treats races in Grand-Am’s Continental Tire Series (formerly the Koni Challenge). As a result, this doesn’t make any sense to me.

Continuing the retro theme, all microphones had the original ESPN logo on them (the one with ESPN surrounded by a red oval, used from the 1979 launch until 1984), and older music was utilized going to and coming back from commercial. This was all mixed with current-style graphics. As a result, I think their retro theme was a little confusing. They should have picked an era and stuck with it, maybe even fashioning specific graphics for the race.

Pre-race interviews were interlaced with classic footage. Good idea, but I’d rather see the driver talking when he is getting interviewed. The classic footage is much better preceding the interview.

The race coverage itself was pretty good. Marty Reid, Dale Jarrett and Rusty Wallace brought enthusiasm to the booth. However, Rusty admitted on air that he found it a little tough to commentate on the action when he would rather just watch—remember that he drove in this race last year, and rule changes in eligibility kept him from potentially returning.

Unlike last year, there was no scroll on the screen. Instead, there was a graphic in the upper right corner of the screen with the old ESPN logo that showed the lap counter, the leader, and the track condition. Think of it as an updated version of the laps to go counter that ESPN used in 1994 and most of 1995 before they started using the pylon.

There was a lot of discussion about how the cars, actual USAR ProCup Series cars this year instead of the UARA late models used last year, were much faster than last year. Harry Gant was turning low 16’s in the Hot Laps session. Towards the end of the race, winner Rick Wilson was turning laps around 15.7 seconds. Those cars were plenty fast.

I definitely agree with Marty Reid’s notion that the fun was taken out of the race after Larry Pearson’s crash. What was a fun match race became very serious after Larry Pearson spun into the wall, then was T-Boned in the driver’s door by Charlie Glotzbach. Rusty defended Glotzbach’s actions, saying that he would have reacted the same way in that situation.

The crash resulted in requests for the race to have been stopped permanently after the crash, or never to have the legends back again. The booth never made any reference to these ideas. However, I think there are some changes that should be made to this event in the future. Firstly, there should be an increase in required safety equipment. A few of the drivers, most notably Harry Gant, were using open-faced helmets and very few, if any, were using HANS Devices. This was noted on the broadcast, but mainly as a way to reinforce the throwback theme.

Somehow, ESPN, and the booth commentators miscounted the number of laps remaining after the Pearson crash (there were four to go instead of five). Therefore, when Wilson crossed the line to take what they thought was the white flag, it was really the checkered. This led Reid to comment that they “got gypped.” In reality, ESPN screwed up. No apologies were made on air for this error.

Because of the Pearson crash and the long cleanup from the wreck, the telecast went overtime by almost 20 minutes. As a result, there was only one quick interview with winner Rick Wilson before track workers could even pull in the Scotts EZ Seed Showdown banner behind Wilson’s No. 75. After that, there was a quick look at the results before ESPN left the air.

Food City 500 from Bristol Motor Speedway

FOX seems to have a format for their pre-race show these days. At the beginning, they stuff in some analysis from the Hollywood Hotel, and some special features. A Slice of Pizzi, from Cubed, is in here, along with the short weather segment from the “Storm Scout,” Rick Dickert, are also in here. At the beginning of the third segment or so, the actual interviews begin.

There was still a lot of references to the Brad Keselowski-Carl Edwards incident two weeks ago in Atlanta, which was a little annoying since its been so overexposed lately. Luckily, once they started showing their interviews, they simply got it over with before people went nuts. Interviews were shown with Brad, Carl, and Robin Pemberton during pre-race. Since Pemberton is effectively the Colin Campbell of NASCAR these days (Note: Colin Campbell is the Senior Vice President, Director of Hockey Operations and head disciplinarian for the NHL), it is important that he is front and center when it comes to these issues.

FOX brought us another of Darrell Waltrip’s…sound-offs during the pre-race show, where he talked a little about feuds, while posturing and showing examples of past run-ins i.e.Earnhardt talking about Rudd at North Wilkesboro, 1989, Harvick angry with Biffle in the Busch race at Bristol in 2002, Terry Labonte after getting wrecked by Earnhardt in 1999 on the last lap, etc. Darrell described the emotions that go on with drivers during these controversial incidents. He caps it off by saying that he’s perfectly fine with bumping and such between cars, but that he’s opposed to “cheap shots.” I’m fine with that. You basically wouldn’t have NASCAR without bumping. Retaliation does play a role with bumping, but I believe that outright wrecking someone is wrong.

Also, Digger commercials were back in the broadcast this week for the first time this year. They appeared on SPEED, as well). Yes, I still think they have no place in the broadcast, but I know why they were re-introduced for this week. On March 30th, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray (just realized this Friday afternoon, to be honest). As you all know by now, Digger had a cameo in the movie. Plugging Digger tangentially means that they’re plugging the movie.

There was a little discussion about Bristol being the last race for the much-maligned wings. This weekend at Martinsville, four inch tall blade spoilers will be back. When asked how it will affect the racing, the commentators in the Hollywood Hotel said that it would significantly improve the racing and just be better for the series. A glowing review. Of course, they haven’t even put a car out on an intermediate length with the spoiler yet, so that remains to be seen. Today’s test at Charlotte Motor Speedway will speak volumes.

The SAFER Barrier additions, which took up nearly an entire segment on ESPN’s NASCAR Countdown on Saturday, earned only a brief mention by Myers and Hammond at the very end of the pre-race show before opening ceremonies.

The race telecast was more of what we typically see from FOX. There was definitely a focus on the action up towards the front (meaning the top 10), while very little coverage was given to cars further back in the pack. This is a shame, to be honest. There is plenty of action back there to showcase from time to time. Having said that, Sunday’s race had a lot more action for the lead than the average race at Bristol. There were 29 lead changes, most of which occurred under green setting a record. It’s not an overall record. That is held with a dubious 40 from the 1991 Valleydale Meats 500. But, it’s the most lead changes at Bristol in years.

FOX did make note of Dave Blaney dropping to the rear of the field at the beginning of the race after qualifying third. The blank quarterpanels, and hood, and TV panel were noted and they outright stated that they didn’t think that Blaney was going to hang around on the track all that long. That, in itself is a shame.

Sunday’s race also broke a 55 race sellout streak at Bristol that dated back all the way to 1982. This was only briefly mentioned on the broadcast coming back from a commercial break on lap 246. Pictures showed a bunch of empty seats at the half-mile oval. Mike Joy described it as full on the frontstretch and spotty on the backstretch and turns. Previous to this year, you had to either “know someone,” buy tickets through StubHub for a ridiculous markup, or inherit them. Now, we know the reasons why this could be the case…the economy, extortion artists, weather, etc. I think FOX could have given this a little more than just lip service, though.

Same thing with the flat tires. There were quite a few tire issues on Sunday with blown or corded tires. However, I think that these issues were mainly setup-based, like Martinsville last year. Still, FOX should have covered that a little more closely.

Like Saturday’s Nationwide race, FOX’s post-race coverage was more skimpy than normal because the broadcast went over its timeslot. There were interviews with the top three finishers, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch, some post-race analysis, and a check of the point standings before FOX left the air.

Next weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series return to action at the .526 mile Martinsville Speedway. The Camping World Truck Series races on Saturday in the Kroger 250, while the Sprint Cup Series runs on Sunday in the Goody’s Fast Relief 500. These races will be included in next week’s critique, along with any other NASCAR TV-related news and notes.

Also, the Izod IndyCar Series will have their second race of the season, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday. I will critique that race 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 ESPN, or the SPEED Channel personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage of NASCAR, please click on the following links:

FOX
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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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Ken
03/23/2010 10:42 AM
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You didn’t mention the most annoying part of the coverage. The booth monkeys didn’t talk about what we were seeing on TV but what they saw elsewhere on the track. Dw’s mouth overshadowed everyone and made for a horrible race to try to watch. The direction was horrible with no flow.

Steve
03/23/2010 12:51 PM
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Some people have stated that McReynolds and DW do not do any prep work for the races and just basically wing it for the broadcast. When they run out of things to say, they start calling the race over Joy. I’m starting to beleive that as truth.

I saw at least 2 instances during the race where Joy was talking about one of the lesser known teams and giving them some airtime when McReynolds would chime in “There is a battle going for 7th place” or the like. Of course the camera would go to the 2 cars thus killing any airtime for that team or their sponsor.

At Atlanta they showed Ambrose for a full lap around Atlanta and didn’t say one word. Absolute silence. I’m all for silence in the FOX broadcasts, but I’m sure it had more to do with the fact they had no info on him. Its really unprofessional and basically shows everyone where FOX is at right now with their broadcasts.

I feel bad for Joy as I think he is one of the best in the business but is being brought down by the other 2 clowns in the booth.

Phil Allaway
03/23/2010 04:43 PM
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Larry McReynolds has stated multiple times in the past that he does a lot of prep work for races. He carries around a notebook full of information that he can use in the broadcasts (I’ve seen him in the garage before).

I don’t know about Waltrip, but I seriously doubt he thinks he can just waltz into the broadcast booth and “wing it” for 4 hours. He definitely does something to prepare. I don’t know what that is, but it’s something.

However, having said that, commentating on a race is not done to a static formula (at least, I don’t think it is). Pre-race, maybe, but not the race itself. Stuff happens, and whoever’s in the booth has to adjust.

Marybeth
03/23/2010 07:33 PM
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Fox could have saved themselves a lot of filler pre-race stuff by just watching the driver intros with their songs.

mkrcr
03/23/2010 08:25 PM
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I’m sure DW does prep work for the broadcast. Like my wife, he probably starts by jacking his jaws as soon as his feet hit the floor out of bed.
But Myers, in my opinion, has finally done the near impossible. Unseated DW as the biggest dimwit on TV.

Chris
03/24/2010 06:50 PM
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Something has to be done about FOX’s broadcast crew. They have brought down the bar of broadcasting to impossibly low levels. If their were Razzies given out to worst announcing crews they would win them hands down.

ESPN still has much work to do in improving their announcing but FOX continues to sink to new depths. I wouldn’t be surprised if their announcing hasn’t run away fans from watching and listening to the races on TV. I know quite a few of the races have been mediocre but the booth crew and the silly ‘Hollywood’ Hotel just make them that more unendurable.