The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: SPEED Strong, But Broadcasting Bias Stood Alone At Charlotte by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday May 25, 2010

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Hello, race fans. It’s that time again, where I go over the NASCAR telecasts with a fine tooth comb. This week, the Sprint Cup Series held their annual Sprint All-Star Race and Sprint Showdown, while the Camping World Truck Series served as the main support with their race on Friday night.

North Carolina Education Lottery 200

SPEED brought us coverage of the Truck race on Friday night… or should I say Saturday morning. Due to the rains that ended up washing out qualifying for both the Sprint Showdown and the Sprint All-Star Race for the second year in a row, the race started about three hours late, at 11 PM EDT, and ended around 1 AM.

Torrential rains canceled qualifying for the All-Star race, forcing SPEED to seek “alternative programming” far into the night.

Way the heck before the race actually started, SPEED was supposed to bring us NCWTS Setup. Instead, the rains put a hold on that. Rick Allen and Phil Parsons talked briefly about the situation, then threw the coverage to last year’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200. It’s a typical standby move in these situations; they didn’t actually do interviews or anything like that at the time because no one was really available. During the track-drying process, Allen and Parsons would then cut back in every half-hour or so to provide an update.

After 90 minutes of this format, SPEED started NCWTS Setup (they stopped short of airing the entire race from 2009, missing out on the final 30 or so laps). New this week is a presenting sponsor for the Setup, Polaris. I find this funny, since Polaris was the presenting sponsor of the race last week in Dover and got the big stiffy. Money talks, man.

The Memory Lane feature, where Phil Parsons and Michael Waltrip talk about their favorite races from that particular venue, replaced the Vault feature this week. I’ll admit right here that I prefer the Vault feature instead. It just quenches my historical senses that much more. Also, there’s less of a chance of… bias coming in. In this case, Michael Waltrip selected the 2004 Charlotte race, mainly because he was in contention. That’s a weak move when you really look at it, although in his defense Michael did admit his bias when discussing the choice.

Friday happened to be NASCAR Day, an annual event where the sport makes massive donations to charities, with fans contributing via buying those $5 pins. To that end, SPEED spotlighted a volunteer day that members of the NASCAR on FOX team did with A Place For Hope, a community center in Rock Hill, South Carolina for disadvantaged children. It’s quite sobering, when you think about it, that they were talking about people living with no running water and no electricity inside our country. That was well done.

There was also a one-on-one interview with Aric Almirola, winner of the Dover 200. This interview was based mainly on his run to victory from the previous week. As a result, we didn’t learn very much from it (that is, not all that much if you watched the race from Dover). Still, it is good to see drivers getting additional exposure from SPEED.

There was approximately 50 minutes between the end of NCWTS Setup and the actual start of the race. To fill that amount of time, SPEED conducted additional driver interviews and talked a little about some of the adjustments that could be made to the trucks after the impound time ended (meaning air pressure, wedge, etc.).

Once the green flag dropped, the race telecast again showed the potential influence connected people can have on shaping its content. The first caution flew on Lap 10 for Austin Dillon smacking the wall on the backstretch. Originally, the booth commentators thought that David Starr had gotten in the back of Dillon and turned him into the wall, but the replays showed that wasn’t the case. Confusion reigned. Then, Tony Stewart apparently texted Michael Waltrip (or so he says) that Dillon had a flat left-rear tire that caused the wreck. Waltrip actually said that he was tweeted by Stewart, but it’s unclear whether Stewart actually has a Twitter page that he regularly uses. (There’s plenty of fake Stewarts, though.)

I’ll admit that I didn’t notice the flat until Waltrip mentioned the text, but sure enough, it was going down. Interesting. To expand that idea out, there should be some kind of way for fans to have more input on the broadcasts. The telecasts already have a Twitter page (@NCWTSonSPEED), so SPEED should make more use of it in case they notice something production doesn’t.

There were also some scroll issues early on in the race. Once again, it was the interval dropdown that malfunctioned, failing to show the proper seconds of each car behind the leader. After the 15th position, it simply showed those drivers as being a lap down even though they were not. SPEED’s response to the problem was quick this time; they pulled down the scroll, fixed it, and reloaded it two laps later. But that’s never a good thing.

There were also a couple of issues with SPEED’s coverage of Brent Raymer’s incident on Lap 80. I can understand the quick cut to the No. 85 on fire and Brent getting out. That’s fine. However, there are two things that they should have done, but did not. First off, the only reason why Raymer spun and hit the wall (and Ryan Sieg hit the wall trying to avoid it, which directly led to Sieg’s second wreck right after the restart) was that Raymer touched the grass. This was never actually referred to on air, although I took note as soon as I got a good shot of it. Second, when Ray Dunlap interviewed Raymer (a rarity when you think about it, but required in this instance), he decided to focus on Raymer’s supposed propensity for these high-profile incidents. He failed, however, to ask Brent just what the heck actually happened to cause this mess. That’s important, last I checked.

Post-Race coverage was quite brief. However, that could be assumed going in due to the fact that the race started after the telecast was supposed to be over. SPEED provided viewers with interviews of the winner (Kyle Busch), his crew chief, and Todd Bodine. In addition, there were checks of the unofficial results and the point standings before leaving the air.

This was an OK telecast to watch, but the issue with Raymer stands out. Here at Frontstretch, we’ve talked to Brent Raymer before (Atlanta, March 2009). He is trying to race with the big boys on a very limited budget, and it seems that the only time he gets referenced by SPEED is when something like this crash occurs, and everyone is saying something to the degree of, “We have to stop meeting like this.” It just doesn’t sit well with me.

Sprint Showdown / Sprint All-Star Race

Saturday night brought us the Sprint Showdown and Sprint All-Star Race, one of only two Cup race broadcasts that air on SPEED each year. Chris Myers didn’t make the trip to Charlotte, so Krista Voda hosted the pre-race coverage along with Jeff Hammond from an outdoor stage near pit road. Of note, Carl Edwards has spent the past couple of years serving as a pit reporter in place of Voda during the Sprint Showdown. However, this year, he had to race in it and was not replaced, leaving three pit reporters for both the Showdown and the main event.

Carl Edwards going winless for a year and a half didn’t just force him to race into the All-Star Race; it also took away a longstanding job as a pit reporter for the Showdown.

This newer, sleeker pre-race stage setup is completely different than the portable studio, and Hammond seems to be able to shine more here than with Myers. It is something for FOX to consider for next year, even if Myers stays – although the shtick needs to go.

Of course, the three hours of NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot that preceded it is a whole ‘nother story. I’ll be covering that later this week. Needless to say, this event does not need three and a half hours of pre-race programming.

After the first break, Jeff Gordon joined Voda and Hammond at the desk to discuss the Sprint Showdown. Gordon had some interesting viewpoints to share on the race. Steve Byrnes then interviewed Carl Edwards and Martin Truex, Jr. prior to the opening ceremonies in Grid Walk-style. Martin Brundle would be proud.

Graphics for the night’s action were a mixed bag. Most were normal ones used by SPEED during practice and qualifying sessions; however, the Starting Lineup used the normal FOX Sports graphics. Not sure why there was such a difference; a cost-cutting move, perhaps. All I know is that it looked out of place.

SPEED, in cooperation with Turner Sports, had “All-Star RaceBuddy” active for Saturday night. This provided an online method to follow the race with multiple camera angles, a leaderboard, and chat. I was happy to see the leaderboard feature returning for this go ‘round; if you remember the “TruckBuddy” from Martinsville in March, it was sorely missed.

The Triple split screen that FOX used in Dover returned early in the Sprint Showdown. My opinion remains the same on it. It’s a pretty good concept; however, it will never get all that much usage. The regular split-screen, which should get more airtime, was used with great effect on Lap 17, when SPEED was able to cover the race for the lead between Roush Fenway teammates David Ragan and Greg Biffle while also covering the one for fourth between Regan Smith, Jeff Burton, and Juan Pablo Montoya. This resulted in Smith and Montoya’s crash in Turn 1 being shown live.

Since the race was on cable (and in my case, Digital Cable), more radio chatter could be used. This is mainly because cable broadcasts are more or less out of the jurisdiction of the FCC’s content rules on obscenity. I’ll withhold my thoughts on the FCC, their content tribunals, and the fines they can and have imposed on networks… anyways, we didn’t see SPEED take advantage. Also, the aforementioned issue with the scroll from Friday night returned during the Sprint Showdown, but in this case, the network didn’t just remove it and take care of the issue. They simply left it up there. Not so good.

The “Hollywood Hotel” did come into use during the time in between the Sprint Showdown and the Sprint All-Star Race. However, it was not referred to as such. Voda and Hammond were just simply there. If you didn’t know that it was the Hollywood Hotel, then you wouldn’t have noticed.

Driver introductions for the main event were long-winded. However, they’re like that every year. It feels like All-Star intros with just 21 drivers takes longer than those for a normal 43-car field. Steve Byrnes and John Roberts served as emcees in this segment, with a whole bunch of cheering fans and live rock music being played.

Watching the telecast of the All-Star Race itself, I noticed that the coverage remained centered at the front. It’s an annoying habit, especially considering that these are the best of the best in Sprint Cup. There are no chumps in this bunch. Having said that, SPEED did do a dropback through the field prior to the mandatory pit stop in Segment One. That was great, although there was actually a good battle for fifth between Joey Logano and David Reutimann that they cut away from in order to continue the segment. They should have at least stuck with that battle until it came to a natural conclusion.

I’m not a fan of how the last lap was handled. Kurt Busch won the race in a green-white-checkered finish with Truex on his tail. I know this sounds Daly Planet-ish, but I know that more than three cars should be shown crossing the line before switching shots (in this case, to Kurt celebrating via his in-car camera). If you have to do that, just put it in a small box on the screen, maybe a dropdown from the scroll.

Post-race coverage was actually quite brief, with the final segment taking forever because of the multiple incidents and yellow flag laps not counting. As a result, there were only interviews with the top two finishers (Kurt Busch and Martin Truex, Jr.), as well as a check of the unofficial results before moving on to NASCAR Victory Lane. I didn’t like this approach. However, since SPEED televised the race, this move was possible to allow NASCAR Victory Lane to be aired live instead of tape-delayed. I will say this much: the transition was very seamless, almost to the point I didn’t notice the switch at first.

Still, looking back there were actually more interviews shown after the end of the Sprint Showdown as compared to the Sprint All-Star Race. That doesn’t make sense, and it’s clear they could have gotten a couple more interviews before leaving. Even a switch to Victory Lane is enough to get most fans watching the race to move on to something else, and they missed out on extra storylines they could have seen in the post-race show instead.

The broadcast was OK, but it’s quite telling that the driver who finished second barely got any air time before the last couple of laps of the race. It’s almost like SPEED has a frontrunner bias, like the Yankees-Red Sox one that some national outlets have been accused of having in regards to baseball. Of course, it’s going to be nine months before SPEED televises a Sprint Cup race again, but it never hurts for someone to point out errors.

That’s all for this week. This weekend is the biggest one for motorsports all year. The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are in Charlotte, while the Izod IndyCar Series has its crown jewel, the Indianapolis 500. Here’s your schedule.

Thursday, May 27
Time Telecast Network
2:00 – 3:30 PM Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
3:30 – 5:00 PM Sprint Cup Practice SPEED
5:00 – 6:30 PM Nationwide Series Happy Hour SPEED
7:00 – 9:30 PM Sprint Cup Qualifying SPEED

Friday, May 28
Time Telecast Network
7:00 – 8:30 AM Turkish Grand Prix Free Practice 2 SPEED^
11:00 AM – 4:00 PM Carburetion Day Versus

Saturday, May 29
Time Telecast Network
7:00 – 8:30 AM Turkish Grand Prix Qualifying SPEED^
9:30 – 11:30 AM Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
11:30 AM – 12:30 PM Sprint Cup Practice SPEED
12:30 – 2:00 PM Sprint Cup Happy Hour SPEED
2:00 – 2:30 PM NASCAR Countdown ABC
2:30 – 5:00 PM Nationwide Series TECH-NET Auto Service 300 ABC
5:00 – 7:00 PM Australian V8 Supercars Round 6: Winton SPEED*

Sunday, May 30
Time Telecast Network
7:30 – 10:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Turkey SPEED^
11:00 – 4:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 ABC
3:00 – 5:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
4:30 – 5:00 PM Indianapolis 500 Post-Race Show Versus
5:00 – 6:00 PM FOX Pre-Race FOX
6:00 – 11:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 FOX
11:00 PM – 12:00 AM NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED

*Tape-Delayed
^Blacked Out in Canada

I will provide critiques of the Coca-Cola 600 and the TECH-NET Auto Service 300 for next week’s critique. In addition, I will also cover ABC’s telecast of the Indianapolis 500. The Critic’s Annex for this Thursday will cover NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot from Charlotte, with emphasis given to the Pennzoil Ultra Victory Challenge held within. This is a change from last week due to the fact that, while interesting, Hall of Fame induction ceremonies are generally not all that exciting. Sad, but true.

For next Thursday’s edition of The Critic’s Annex, I will cover the Freedom 100, a race for the Indy Lights Series at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that will be held Friday afternoon on Carb Day.

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 the SPEED Channel personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage from last weekend, please click on the following link:

SPEED

As always, if you choose to contact the network 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.

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RamblinWreck
05/25/2010 10:37 AM
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It has always seemed odd to me that instead of putting its all-star event on a big network where everyone can see it, they bury it on a cable channel. If any race should be on FOX (or heck, ABC or elsewhere; they could put this race separately into the tv contracts), it’s this one. You’d think NASCAR would want not only everyone interested being able to see it, but also anyone that might be flipping through channels and deciding to stick with it. If you’re not already a fan, you won’t be watching Speed just to see what’s on.

Chris Evans
05/25/2010 04:14 PM
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Excellent recap as usual.

I couldn’t agree more about the excessive pre-race coverage. I liked when TNN covered the event in that they would usually go right into race coverage instead of hyping everything to high heaven.

I agree RamblinWreck. It seems to me to be a little self defeating to put the event on one of their smaller networks.

mkrcr
05/25/2010 09:48 PM
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Split screen or multi screen it’s not going to matter. It costs too much money to monitor camera shots for NA$CAR, being careful not to show the empty stands. Plus multiple cameras are not necessary when you only care about tight shots of the first 3 cars. I can’t wait for these TV contracts to expire. With mud scraping ratings maybe a lesser network will have a chance to provide quality coverage for mud scraping prices. More likely though, the big ones will renegotiate at a lower cost and still show as many commercials.