The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: A Quirky Weekend Of Weather And Debris For The Networks by Phil Allaway -- Monday June 14, 2010

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Hello, race fans and welcome to our weekly NASCAR TV Critique. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup Series was at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday for the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400. They were supported by the Camping World Truck Series with their running of the VFW 200, while the Nationwide Series was in Kentucky for the Meijer 300 presented by Ritz on Saturday night.

However, before we start, there is a little bit of news to cover. Last week, SPEED personality Wendy Venturini announced via her Twitter feed that she is pregnant with her first child. The due date is December 27. Because that’s scheduled for the offseason, the plan currently is not for her to miss a week at the track. We at Frontstretch wish Wendy and her husband the best.

VFW 200

On Saturday night, the Camping World Truck Series raced in the VFW 200 at Michigan International Speedway. SPEED’s coverage started out with a recap of the last race in Texas, which is typical of a SPEED broadcast. That was followed by a recap of the Gillette Fusion ProGlide Prelude to the Dream, which two full-time Camping World Truck Series drivers – Ricky Carmichael and Aric Almirola – competed in.

There were nine pre-race interviews (Skinner, Todd Bodine, Hornaday, Almirola, Carmichael, Elliott Sadler, Dillon, Kyle Busch, and Buescher), which is actually above normal for NCWTS Setup. Of course, I’m not going to complain about it, I like it. There was also a sitdown interview with James Buescher, who has run excellently since returning to the series full-time with Turner Motorsports.

The race itself was full of side-by-side, three-wide and even four-wide action. Quotes voiced on air compared the trucks at Michigan to a restrictor plate race. At times, especially after restarts and pit stops, it was true. The last 15 laps were effectively a giant land rush.

The event was delayed for 40 minutes by rain, and during that time (quite brief, knowing that this is a two-mile racetrack), SPEED conducted interviews with multiple drivers. However, they also cut away to bonus coverage of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. I don’t know how you guys feel about that, but I’m fine with that standby being used as a stopgap measure in a pinch. However, since this delay was only 40 minutes, I don’t think the race was stopped long enough for the tactic to be used. I’d like to see your thoughts on this move.

By the time SPEED returned to the Truck coverage from Michigan, the track was dry and the trucks were back out under yellow. Like I said before, this was an unusual tactic for the network to use. The idea of returning so abruptly to trucks already on the track is even more weird. Usually, if a network breaks away from coverage like that for alternative programming due to rain, they would return roughly 10-15 minutes before the cars restarted. Just goes to show that they shouldn’t have left Michigan.

As a result of the 40-minute rain delay, the race ran long by about that amount of time. SPEED provided what amounted to minimal post-race coverage. There was an interview with race winner Aric Almirola and Kyle Busch, along with a check of the point standings before SPEED left the air. The unofficial results were only shown in the scroll.

Looking back at this coverage shows a rather unusual broadcast style for SPEED. Most of the telecast consisted of what we’ve come to expect from the network: enthusiastic announcers, great racing, etc. However, the rest was just plain quirky this week. They’ll have a month to regroup before Iowa, though.

Meijer 300

On Saturday evening, ESPN televised the Meijer 300 presented by Ritz from Kentucky Speedway. NASCAR Countdown was an affair typical of what we’ve grown used to this season. There was plenty of pre-race analysis from the Infield Studio. However, they spent a lot of time rehashing the Harvick-Logano confrontation from Pocono. ESPN, let’s be honest with ourselves and what series you cover right now. For the Nationwide Series, Harvick wasn’t even in Kentucky. It’s not like Harvick was going to be on the radio to Ernie Cope, forcing him to tell Mike Bliss to take out Logano like Larry Dennit, Jr. in Talladega Nights. C’mon, now.

Tim Brewer, in response to the Braun Racing tire-swapping penalty, conducted a Craftsman Tech Garage feature on how NASCAR keeps track of the tires distributed to Nationwide teams. It’s a little more than just teams putting number decals on rims – that was nicely done.

Race coverage was pretty good, but I noticed a couple of things. For one, I think Marty Reid mixed up the number of cautions in the race. He claimed that there were 12. In reality, there were ten, and this perplexed me for much of the second half of the race. I guess Reid simply misspoke. Then again, cautions in Nationwide races can come as fast as obscenities in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut.

Also, ESPN didn’t make any real mention of impending weather until well into the second half of the race. It’s not as if people at the track didn’t know that it was coming. In fact, ESPN’s own Allen Bestwick, when not giving recaps, was keeping track and posting about it on his Twitter. However, Bestwick referenced this oncoming weather on his feed an hour before the broadcast did. That’s not good, ESPN. I know you prefer not to talk about it, something on-the-road employees told me to my face before – at Watkins Glen last year. However, you’re doing a disservice to your viewers for not mentioning it as soon as it became a potential issue.

Post-race coverage was rather limited, and for good reason. The thunderstorm that was bearing down on the track was very close by the time the race ended. In their defense, Marty Reid explained to viewers that a quick off-air was likely going to be the result. I’m fine with that. Safety first. I want to see a good broadcast, but I don’t want a cameraman or pit reporter to get struck by lightning in order to get it done. ESPN still filled their slot and provided interviews with three drivers and the winning crew chief (Kevin Kidd).

Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400

On Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series returned to Michigan International Speedway for the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips 400. Countdown to Green was an OK affair. I still don’t understand why TNT feels the need to relegate so many of their pre-race interviews to RaceBuddy. Is this change the result of “well, we’ve got the service, let’s just move it there?” Regardless of the reason, there should be more interviews on TNT proper.

The Pride of NASCAR feature was on Davey Allison, a driver that, like Tim Richmond, came into the series, won his many races, and perished before the sport really took off in popularity. I thought it was an interesting look at Allison’s life, punctuated with insight from his family and friends. However, if you’ve read Peter Golenbock’s book, Miracle: Bobby Allison and the Saga of the Alabama Gang, then there probably wasn’t anything discussed in the piece that would be new to you. Davey Allison, despite being a promising talent in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, has been more or less forgotten by many fans, or outright not learned about by incoming fans, and this is a shame.

There was also a sitdown interview with Mike Helton that was conducted by Lindsay Czarniak. It was centered on issues such as the “Have at it, boys” mentality that has been encouraged this season, and whether the changes have increased the number of yellows or hurt NASCAR in general. Helton was his usual self here. I always say that he reminds me of Mr. Ferris, who was the Principal of Bell Top Elementary School in North Greenbush, New York when I was a student there in the early 1990’s. A quite imposing fellow to a young kid, somewhat stern – but generally friendly if you don’t cross him.

I will also note that a substantial amount of Countdown to Green (maybe 75 percent) is centered on Czarniak and McReynolds. Yes, this focus leads to moments when reality comes to light (Lindsay got busted for speeding on the way to the track, apparently), but I think the aforementioned duo is overworked in pre-race. The only person that does as much as they do on-air before the race is Jim Noble, and he’s all but RaceBuddy-only.

The race telecast was generally pretty good, with plenty of coverage of side-by-side competition. TNT accomplished a look throughout most of the field, despite a race with a green-flag feel and Denny Hamlin pulling away to an over ten-second lead late in the event. I had no real issues with Alexander in the booth, or the pit reporters. However, there were a couple of other concerns.

For one, TNT failed to show viewers the debris on track during the two debris cautions. From reading this column over the past year or so, you would just assume that I’m not pleased about that. Ryan Newman actually hit the debris during the first debris caution, which damaged his splitter and ruined his day.

However, my anger reaches a new level when they fail to identify on-track debris that completely changed the outcome of the race (for everyone except Kasey Kahne). Now, if there actually wasn’t any, then TNT would be absolved and all my vitriol would be centered at NASCAR themselves (and Kahne). During Mirror Driving, which will run Wednesday, we debated whether it was there or not. The determination was made that it was there, but didn’t make TNT’s broadcast (it did make the RaceBuddy service). If that is true, then we have an issue with the director failing to use the appropriate camera on air. And that, quite simply, is a crying shame.

Speaking of RaceBuddy, their leaderboard froze on Lap 122 on Sunday and stayed there for over 50 laps. I thought that my feed to RaceBuddy had frozen at the time. However, after refreshing once, exiting and re-entering, it was still the same. Then it quietly went back to normal right before the Lap 182 caution. I still have the same leaderboard complaints for RaceBuddy as I did last week (that it is slow to update (and thus, behind), and doesn’t include intervals). The tweet feature is not really the best. It’s clunky to use, and I’m not really sure how they’re getting these tweets. Are they from PR minions representing teams, or what? The camera footage is good, though.

Since the race only had four cautions (two of which for debris), TNT had plenty of post-race coverage. However, they didn’t fully use their slot. It could be argued here that they were effectively saving footage to use for the RaceBuddy-exclusive post-post race show. However, when FOX was in a situation where they had plenty of time left in their slot for substantial post-race coverage, they scrapped the extra show. This may have been a situation where TNT could have scrapped the RaceBuddy-exclusive post-race show, taken the content that was included in that and just included it in the regular post-race show – but they simply chose not to.

That is all for this week. Next weekend, NASCAR gets a case of road racing fever, and I couldn’t be happier, since I’m an unabashed road racing nut. The Sprint Cup Series will be at Infineon Raceway near Sonoma, California for the 22nd running of the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series will be in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin for the inaugural running of the Bucyrus 200. In addition, the Izod IndyCar Series will be at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa for the Iowa Corn Indy 250. Here’s your race listings for the week.

Friday, June 18
Time Telecast Network
3:00 – 4:30 PM Sprint Cup Practice SPEED
6:30 – 8:30 PM Sprint Cup Qualifying SPEED

Saturday, June 19
Time Telecast Network
12:30 – 1:30 PM Sprint Cup Practice SPEED
1:30 – 3:00 PM Sprint Cup Happy Hour SPEED
3:00 – 3:30 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
3:30 – 7:00 PM Nationwide Series Bucyrus 200 ESPN2
5:00 – 8:00 PM Rolex Sports Car Series EMCO Gears Classic presented by KeyBank SPEED
6:00 – 7:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying Versus

Sunday, June 20
Time Telecast Network
12:00 -2:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay Presented by The Home Depot SPEED
1:30 -2:30 PM IndyCar Central Versus
2:00 -3:00 PM Countdown to Green TNT
2:30- 5:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Iowa Corn Indy 250 Versus
3:00 -7:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350k TNT
8:00 -9:00 PM NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Izod IndyCar Series races in next week’s article here at Frontstretch.com. Also, on Thursday in the Frontstretch Newsletter, I will be covering the Prelude to the Dream from June 9.

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:

TNT
SPEED
ESPN

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.

Contact Phil Allaway

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Martin
06/15/2010 08:59 AM
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Instead of getting angry over tv not showing debris , why not just go to the races yourselves like writers are supposed to do . Then you could break out the binocs and see for yourself . Then , if you want to write a column about the tv coverage , use Tivo and give us some real insights from both .

Mark
06/15/2010 10:25 AM
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I’m confused over the almost constant tv exposure of Larry McReynolds . And for that matter Jeff Hammond and DW . These three are disliked by the majority of viewers of NASCAR . And now that FOX is gone , these three still remain , on different channels and shows .
I get the Waltrip thing , he’s a former champion . I guess the networks feel honored to get him . Though i have to say that virtually ALL of the former driver/announcers were and are far , far better at tv than Waltrip is . And you would think that the execs of these networks would notice that . They must have seen or heard Ned Jarrett , Benny Parsons , Buddy Baker , and Neil Bonnett . It’s pretty obvious that DW can’t touch any of those guys when it comes to presenting a race or doing an interview . And he can’t even come close to the other former drivers , Wally , Kyle , Dale . But , he’s a former champion , so he gets tv work .
But McReynolds and Hammond ?????? Good grief they’re horrible . Do those two prostitute themselves to the networks to get on every tv show available ? I know the networks can’t be pursuing them . There are many , many former crew chiefs who can do a better job of explaining racing . And they can do it in ENGLISH . Andy Petree comes to mind as one who can and does . And it isn’t about Hammond being gay . That doesn’t enter into his ability to do the job and it’s nobodys business anyway . He and McReynolds just aren’t very good at it . Every week , they give the same old worn out explanations and visuals . And their predictions of how a team , or a driver is going to react to a situation during a race is almost never accurate . So tell me Phil , why is it that these three keep getting their faces on every NASCAR themed show when much more talented and likeable personalities don’t .
Or is it maybe that no one else wamts to do those shows , that no one else is that desperate for self promotion ?

Kevin
06/15/2010 12:11 PM
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I’m in a unique situation with ESPN. It isn’t a part of my cable package, but it’s one channel above where mine ends, so I can still see a pretty good picture while I listen to the race on the radio. That’s probably a good combination. PRN (or MRN? I think it was PRN since it’s an SMI track) did a great job of talking about the approaching storms and blatantly said on several occasions that once the rain arrived, the race would be over, because it would take too long for the rain to end and the track to dry. I wish TV would be so upfront and honest about these things.

Richard in N.C.
06/15/2010 06:58 PM
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Ever thought of asking Mike Helton, or John Darby, or Robin Pemberton what the debris was? Knowing the facts can put a real hole in an article.

Wayne
06/16/2010 08:52 AM
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Mark, I couldn’t have said it better. Your points are all one I have been thinking for a long time. I wish the networks, especially FOX/SPEED would read all of your points and act on them.TNT was so good last year, even that guy Mark Fein was good. Now they get rid of him and rely heavily on Larry Mac, who will never be good as a TV broadcaster. What is so obvious to us seems to go unnoticed by these networks.Matt McLauglin once called Jeff Hammond the worst broadcaster on TV, I totally agree, but the Waltrips, and Larry are right there with him. I’m constantly cringing when they speak, as they don’t seem to get it.And I know there are other people, as you gave as examples, who could do much, much, better.I know most of my friends, and myself, don’t watch if a Waltrip is on, that’s how much viewers are sick of them.Racing used to be fun to watch, but these named TV people have ruined it for me and a growing list of viewers. NETWORKS it’s time to take action and remedy this situation.

Chris Evans
06/17/2010 10:46 AM
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Mark, couldn’t agree with you more. These guys need to be off the air after their portion of the season is over. They add nothing.

Chris