The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: SPEED Shines While FOX Fickle At Martinsville by Phil Allaway -- Thursday April 1, 2010

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Hello, race fans and welcome back to our weekly TV critique, where I look into the race telecasts that we all watch on television. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series were both at Martinsville Speedway for the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 and Kroger 250, respectively. The Izod IndyCar Series was in St. Petersburg, FL for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, a 100-lap race on a 1.8-mile street circuit.

Kroger 250

On Saturday, the Truck Series raced in the Kroger 250. SPEED provided the coverage with its usual on-air crew of Rick Allen, Phil Parsons, and Michael Waltrip in the booth, with Adam Alexander and Ray Dunlap in the pits.

NCWTS Setup, hosted as always by Krista Voda, started off with the typical recap of the last race, the E-Z-Go 200 from Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Setup also included a brief sequence in which Timothy Peters went to his hometown of Danville, Va. (located a couple of counties east of Martinsville) and giving a somewhat random woman free tickets to the race. Touching. She was absolutely overjoyed and pledged to be at the event on Saturday to root Timothy on.

Additional features included “Ricky Carmichael University,” which was a riding school held at Daytona International Speedway during Bike Week. SPEED’s own Rutledge Wood and Kyle Petty participated in the school as part of the feature, which had actually already gotten some publicity back in Atlanta. Rutledge and Kyle weren’t really the focus, though, which is good. They’re on SPEED enough already. Instead, the feature focused on the actual education and the groups of regular people that attended the school. Good stuff to watch.

The race coverage was fairly good from SPEED, albeit heavily focused on the frontrunners. I know I probably sound like a broken record when it comes to issues like this over the past year and change, but if there is no action up front, there is no issue with taking a look further back in the pack, where there often is action.

I’ve noticed that the SPEED Spotlight drivers are getting a little more air time this year as compared to last year. Since the majority of the drivers that are profiled here are drivers campaigning for smaller teams, this can only be good. This week’s Spotlight drivers were Chris Eggleston (No. 21 for Gun Broker/SS-Green Light Racing), Clay Greenfield (No. 46 for Team Gill Racing), Narain Karthikeyan (No. 60 for Wyler Racing, making his NASCAR debut) and Brian Johnson, Jr. (No. 76 for Hackett Racing).

Also of note, there was a point during the fourth caution in which Michael Waltrip called out Chris Lafferty, driving his own No. 89 Chevrolet, as being someone that was holding up the pack. This is true, although I‘d take it a step further and refer to Lafferty as a “Rolling Chicane.” I know that Lafferty doesn’t have the best equipment on earth, but in that case, he needs to know when to get out of the way. Lafferty caused two of the first three incidents in the race by making contact with faster trucks.

Also of note, Saturday’s Kroger 250 was also covered via NASCAR.com’s RaceBuddy service. What did I notice about RaceBuddy’s coverage? It appeared to be about two to three seconds behind the coverage on SPEED. Most of the battle shots were of the same action that SPEED was showing, as well. I don’t know how most viewers use RaceBuddy, but I tend to use it as a supplement to the actual SPEED coverage. As a result, this type of RaceBuddy coverage is not exactly ideal for me, but might work for others. Also, more importantly, there was no active leaderboard. This is normally one of the best features about RaceBuddy, and nascar.com gave us nothing. Weak.

Having said that, one of the main advantages of having RaceBuddy around is the fact that you can figure out the reasons for cautions that come out during commercial breaks on SPEED before the commercial break ends. The last three yellows all flew during commercial breaks, so it definitely came in handy. I will also admit that the frequency of this has led to me beginning to note which cautions fly during commercials for the rest of the year.

Rain through a wrench in the plans for the Cup Series and IndyCar broadcasts. How did they fare on Monday?

Post-race was fairly extensive compared to what we’ve been getting recently. SPEED provided us with eight post-race interviews, in addition to checks of the unofficial results and the point standings. Also, SPEED gave us coverage of the confrontation between Johnny Sauter and Ron Hornaday. This was done from a camera on top of the roof (of the press box) at first. Once that view was blocked, SPEED then switched to the roof cam on Ron Hornaday’s truck, which provided a nice view of the argument. SPEED also earned a coup by getting both Hornaday and Sauter to agree to on-air interviews afterwards (Sauter more than Hornaday). All in all, this was pretty good post-race coverage. I can’t complain.

Goody’s Fast Relief 500

On Sunday, the Cup Series attempted to hold the Goody’s Fast Relief 500. However, rains prevented this from occurring. In lieu of actual racing, FOX presented viewers with their typical pre-race show at first. There was a feature on the new blade spoiler and quarterpanel extensions that eventually made their race debut on Monday. Chris Myers also conducted a serious sit-down interview with Roger Penske.

FOX brought in their Storm Scout, Rick Dickert, to discuss the weather that could be an issue. However, knowing what actually ended up happening now, I believe that they were being ultra-conservative in their forecast. They basically made no predictions about when the action would get underway.

During the coverage, I was under the opinion that they simply didn’t want to jinx anything by actually referencing the rain. We’ve been over this before. I’m not a fan of this. I know no one wants a rainout, especially the TV partners. I feel for those unfortunate souls who have to rebook all the hotel rooms for FOX’s staff (I don‘t know how many people FOX has at the track for Cup races, but I want to assume somewhere between 50-100). To be fair, it was actually raining during the pre-race ceremonies and FOX more or less ignored this by never really showing the track. It was weird. I personally knew that the chances of getting the race in weren’t great when I could see that the track was almost “gone” during the post-driver introduction pickup truck rides.

FOX also passed the time by conducting multiple interviews (ten to be exact), and they unveiled the Top 10 finishes on FOX from 2001-2009. Unsurprisingly, the Craven-Kurt Busch finish from Darlington in 2003 won. I think this was supposed to air around the Coke 600 in May, but I’m not sure. Also, Mike Joy gave a glowing review of Mark Bechtel’s, “He Crashed Me So I Crashed Him Back,” a book about the 1979 Winston Cup season. I’ll admit right here that I finished the book myself Monday morning, and it is very good. I’m just not sure whether this was the appropriate forum to pimp the book.

Once NASCAR postponed the race to Monday, FOX scurried off the air really fast. I believe this caught the affiliates off guard (or at least, my FOX affiliate (WXXA, Albany, NY). There was about three minutes or so of nothing before they switched to an episode of TMZ.

On Monday, FOX came on the air at noon, cut to the Hollywood Hotel for a welcome to the broadcast. There was also a quick check with the Storm Scout before going to the Opening Ceremonies.

The race coverage was pretty good at some intervals, however, I do have some thoughts. As you may remember, there were a lot of blown tires during the event, mainly due to bead issues. After the first one, which struck the No. 87 of Joe Nemechek, FOX cut down to Jeff Hammond, who did a mini-feature during the yellow about the brake packages. That’s good and all. There is one thing that FOX failed to mention. Remember this race last year. The same thing happened. The setup of the race car is the primary reason why this happens. Yet I don’t believe FOX mentioned that part of the issue on air all day. Note how it is always the same cars that have the blown tires. Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Regan Smith, and Robby Gordon are examples of drivers who had multiple right front tire failures.

Another thing I didn’t like is the fact that with all the cameras FOX had at Martinsville (once again, I don’t have the number handy, but it’s more than two dozen), they somehow missed David Reutimann’s spin on Lap 75. All FOX gave us was a replay of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano getting together. This caused a stack-up that contributed to the crash, but FOX never told us who actually caused the wreck.

I was not a fan of the coverage of the sixth caution, which was when Elliott Sadler spun as a result of a chain reaction entering Turn 3. FOX had only one somewhat blurry replay of the wreck. This also did not really show the real wrecking very well at all. We saw A.J. Allmendinger and David Stremme with severe damage, but we all but couldn’t see how they got the damage.

However, the worst part of the coverage was during the tenth caution, which came out for David Stremme stopping on track. Of note, this happened during a commercial break. There was no mention of what happened to Stremme’s car to cause it to stop on track, and no replays of the round of pit stops that occurred while FOX was in commercial. This was wrong. I don’t know what was going on here.

The coverage at the end of the race was OK, although a little “cheerleadery,” if you know what I mean. This was very exciting, and I swear that Waltrip and McReynolds sounded like little girls overflowing with happiness. I had to rewatch the last couple of laps in order to understand what they were saying.

Post-race coverage was a little underwhelming, to be honest. FOX provided us with the quickie post-race coverage. This means post-race interviews with the top 4 finishers (Hamlin, Logano, Jeff Gordon, and Newman) with the unofficial results in the scroll at the top of the screen. There was also a quick check of the points before FOX left the air.

I’m not really sure what kind of a timeslot a race will be allotted in a last minute scenario such as this. According to my on-screen guide, the race was slotted in until 5 PM, although I doubt that the slot was that large. I guess it could be assumed that they would be trying to get back to regular programming as quick as possible (even though FOX technically doesn’t have a weekday afternoon schedule, like the Big Three (ABC, NBC, and CBS).

Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Originally, the Izod IndyCar Series was scheduled to have their second race of the 2010 season start around the time that the Cup race in Martinsville was supposed to end. However, that wasn’t meant to be. Heavy rains, high winds and lightning scrubbed the race, forcing the event to be rescheduled for Monday at 10 AM.

The Sunday broadcast on ABC started out with some pre-race analysis from Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear in the temporary broadcast booth, followed by a recap of the season-opening Sao Paulo Indy 300. The downtime was spent having the pit reporters (Jamie Little and Vince Welch from ESPN’s NASCAR broadcasts — although they worked IndyCar Series races before ESPN regained the rights in 2007 — and Rick DeBruhl) conduct interviews for the most part, and in the case of Helio Castroneves, Helio conducting an interview of his own teammates (Will Power and Ryan Briscoe). Always good for laughs.

However, there was also a completely unnecessary look back at Danica Patrick’s escapades in the ARCA Series and Nationwide Series over the past couple of months, prior to her obligatory interview. I don’t tune in to an IndyCar Series race to watch Danica struggle in a stock car. Don’t do that again, please.

The rescheduled broadcast on Monday started off with a brief delay due to IndyCar Series officials determining whether the event would start under a wet or dry declaration. Once the dry declaration was made, the race got underway.

Since the race got delayed to Monday, there was no Side-by-Side coverage. Instead, there were regular commercials during the telecast on ESPN2. Reid notified the viewers about this right before the first in-race commercial break. At least we knew this change before it happened, but I think Reid should have informed the viewing audience before the race started.

I still believe that Danica Patrick receives too much attention on the broadcasts. However, it is nowhere near as bad as when Todd Harris (of the Met-Rx World’s Strongest Man telecasts) was the play-by-play commentator back around 2006. The Patrick pimping at that point was just ridiculous. Here, ESPN dropped back and did an update on Patrick when she was the last car still on the track in 22nd.

Aside from those thoughts mentioned earlier, the telecast was fine. For St. Petersburg, the action was quite furious and it was a great race to watch. Just wish it could have been held Sunday instead of 10 AM Monday morning.

Since this was a rescheduled race and the telecast had gone over time due to the late start, post-race coverage was very brief. There were simple interviews with the top finishers and a check of the points (the unofficial results were in the scroll during the interviews) before ESPN2 left the air.

That’s all for this week. This weekend is Easter Weekend, a traditional week off for the Cup Series for as long as I can remember, and then some. However, the lesser NASCAR touring series don’t always follow this norm. The Truck Series and Nationwide Series are both at Nashville Superspeedway this week for a doubleheader.

The Truck Series event, the Nashville 200, is actually a new event to the schedule. Previously, the trucks raced only once a year in Nashville, as the support to the Izod IndyCar Series event in August.

Despite having two races this weekend, there is very little coverage of the action. In fact, outside of the races themselves, there is none. The Truck Series coverage starts with NCWTS Setup at 7:30 PM EDT (6:30 PM CDT) on SPEED. Race coverage starts at 8 PM.

Coverage of the Nationwide Series Nashville 300 starts Saturday afternoon with NASCAR Countdown at 3:30 PM EDT (2:30 p.m. CDT) on ESPN. Race coverage of the Nashville 300 follows at 4 PM. Of note, Saturday’s Nashville 300 will feature the booth debut of Ricky Craven as an analyst. Previously, Craven’s TV experience consisted of appearances on NASCAR Now. Generally, these have been well-received, so ESPN is giving Craven the chance to flex his muscle. Craven will be replacing Andy Petree, who will be taking the weekend off as part of ESPN giving each of its on air talent a vacation week or two during the season. I will be providing critiques of both of these races in next week’s edition.

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 FOX, 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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Mark
04/01/2010 11:48 AM
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You seem a little confused over the IRL broadcast Phil . You see no reason for a review of Danica’s ARCA races ? I got news for you , the fans who tuned in for that race are IRL/possibly Danica fans , not NASCAR tv critics , probably not even NASCAR fans . They were happy to get the Danica coverage . And Danica pimping by the broadcast team ?? We were watching two different IRL races my friend .
You’ve made it very clear in past columns that you feel women don’t belong in race cars , at least not in big league racing . We get it .
As for the confusion at the Albany FOX station after the race broadcast ended , the FOX affiliates are just as incompetent as FOX itself , otherwise they wouldn’t be FOX affiliates .

George near Fontucky
04/01/2010 11:54 AM
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Great review as always Phil. I always look forward to your column. Speaking of “Rolling Chicanes,” how about Norm Benning? At least Lafferty only ran 40 % of the laps. Norm tried to go the distance falling 12 laps short, albeit, constantly in the way of battles in the front. After the Fontana truck race last year, I was shooting the breeze with some guys afterwards and they were talking about how bad the race was, I respectfully disagree with this on the truck and Nationwide fronts. Apparantly, they had talked to Norm right after the race and he told them, “I’m not coming back to this race next year.” I’m sure that if Truck Series officials got word of Norm’s intentions, they would soil their pants at the thought of such a marquee driver missing the event. Fortunately for Norm, they pulled the plug on the race for 2010 and he doesn’t have to worry about missing the race and putting a damper on his championship run.

Wayne
04/01/2010 05:15 PM
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FOX and SPEED are the same for me. They both have a Waltrip and the broadcasts are akin to watching a rerun of the Beverly Hillbillies. Time to get professional and rid the broadcasts of the goofy, unprofessional people they have.

mkrcr
04/01/2010 10:46 PM
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But goofy and unprofessional is what NA$CAR/WWE has become because of their goofy and unprofessional leader. Perfect match.