The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Controversy Never Keeps ESPN From Jumping Ship by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday July 20, 2010

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Hello, race fans. It’s that time of the week again, the one where I go through race broadcasts with a fine-toothed comb. The Sprint Cup Series took this past weekend off. However, as you’re probably aware of by now, the events of this past Saturday night will probably play a role in Sunday’s Brickyard 400. Both the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series were in action at Gateway International Raceway, while the Izod IndyCar Series was in Toronto on Sunday.

Lots to talk about, so let’s get right into it …

Honda Indy Toronto

On Sunday afternoon, the Izod IndyCar Series held their tenth race of 2010, the Honda Indy Toronto on the streets around Exhibition Place in Toronto. This was the fifth and final ABC-televised race of the season.

Compared to Versus, ABC’s pre-race content is significantly less beefy. However, the network did provide viewers with some pre-race analysis from Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear in the broadcast, and five pre-race interviews (Paul Tracy, Danica Patrick, Will Power, Graham Rahal, and Dario Franchitti).

There were a few references to footage perhaps not being produced by ESPN for the broadcast. That will likely not be the case with the Nationwide Series race in Montreal next month, but has been the case in the past with the street races in Toronto. TSN2 televised the race in Canada, and they were likely in charge of the camera shots for the broadcast. As a result, there were some rather unusual shots used during the race. However, TSN didn’t miss most of the important things. The exception would be when Bertrand Baguette slid into the tires at Turn 3. There was no replay shown for it, and no reference to the incident possibly not being caught on camera.

I did like the split-screen pedal cam on Danica Patrick’s car. The footwell is a place that is rarely seen on an Izod IndyCar Series telecast, and this gave the viewers (including myself) a bit of a treat.

ESPN also did an “Onboard-only Up to Speed” on Lap 45. I guess it’s nice and all, but I don’t think that is the way to go in the future. First of all, there are only six cars carrying in-car cameras in normal Izod IndyCar races. Those cars could be completely scattered throughout the field (as they were on Sunday), or all grouped together. The normal way an Up to Speed is typically done is fine in this case.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief due to the six full course cautions during the race. As a result, there were interviews with winner Will Power (and his race strategist, Clive Howell), Dario Franchitti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Justin Wilson. In addition, there was a check of the point standings before ESPN left the air. The unofficial results stayed in the scroll.

It was an interesting race to watch on TV with all the strategy in motion and the on-track competition. ESPN did an adequate job bringing us the action, but TSN hurt the telecast with their sub par (at times) camera work. This is something that they can improve upon knowing that they will be shooting next weekend’s race in Edmonton.

CampingWorld.com 200

Originally, the Camping World Truck Series was scheduled to race Friday night at Gateway International Raceway. At first, everyone thought that was going to be the case. However, a power line failure in East St. Louis, Illinois put the kibosh on that.

Having said that, SPEED’s normal schedule went off without a hitch, thanks to generators (which would have been on-site, regardless of a power outage). NCWTS Setup started out with a typical recap of the Lucas Oil 200 from Iowa Speedway, complete with replays of Victory Lane interviews with Austin Dillon and car owner Richard Childress.

Austin Dillon was back on SPEED’s radar screen again this weekend, playing a major part in their pre-race coverage just days after scoring his first ever Truck Series victory at Iowa this week.

Continuing with the RCR theme, SPEED recorded a follow-up feature with Austin Dillon and crew chief Dan Stockman, basically for reactionary purposes. In addition to this feature, there were the typical number of interviews with drivers.

However, it was only at the end of NCWTS Setup that the viewers were notified (by Rick Allen) of the power issues that eventually delayed the race to Saturday afternoon. To fill what turned out to be two hours before the race was eventually called for the evening, SPEED conducted a series of interviews with drivers, crew chiefs, and team management while periodically giving viewers updates on the power situation. That is how we know the issue was centered in a swampy area of East St. Louis, and that it didn’t just affect the track. Traffic lights off the track’s property were out as well.

When SPEED came back on Saturday at 1:30 PM EDT (12:30pm CDT), it was effectively straight to the opening ceremonies. After the anthem, there was a brief recap of Friday night’s issues, and some pre-race analysis from the broadcast booth.

It was the usual crew on-air for SPEED on Saturday during the race, with Adam Alexander back on pit road now that his TNT obligations are over for the year. Since the Setup went off as planned Friday night, Krista Voda did not return for Saturday.

Watching this race, I had no real clue why the first caution was thrown. Yes, there was a lot of contact between Mario Gosselin and Stacy Compton, but that’s no reason to throw a yellow. There was also no mention of debris. This was a nothing caution. What the deuce. It should not have been thrown. Aside from showing the replays of the contact, there was no admission from the booth as to why the yellow was thrown. C’mon, SPEED. You have to be better than that. However, I do blame NASCAR for this ludicrously unnecessary caution.

Moving forward, SPEED also simply did not have a very good view of what happened to Ryan Sieg on Lap 50. The booth did point out that the center of the right front tire (sitting in the grass on the inside of Turns 1 and 2) was broken, meaning that a wheel failure likely caused the crash. However, neither of the replays aired showed the No. 39 hitting the wall. As we could see, it was a very hard hit for Sieg. No interview with Sieg was conducted on air, and since he drove the Chevrolet back to pit road, we have to assume that Ryan was OK.

There were some slight technical issues with the broadcast, including a couple of quick audio dropouts at certain points. I’m sure that everyone saw or heard those. What I’m not so sure that everyone witnessed was the screen freezing up briefly, especially early in the race. The issues were gone by Lap 25, but it was still annoying.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief, knowing that this was a rescheduled race. There were interviews with winner Kevin Harvick and his crew chief of the week, Ernie Cope. There were also interviews with Todd Bodine, Brad Keselowski, and Johnny Sauter. SPEED left the air at 4:00 PM after checking the unofficial results and point standings.

Aside from the technical issues, this was an OK race to watch. If you took Kevin Harvick out of the field, perhaps it would have been a more competitive race; but oh, well – that happens.

Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250

On Saturday night, the Nationwide Series returned for the first of two trips this year to Gateway International Raceway. Due to the final Izod IndyCar Series race of the season splitting up the on-air ESPN crew, a slightly different one was sent to Madison, Illinois. Gateway marked the broadcast booth debut of Dave Burns, normally a pit reporter. He was paired up with Ricky Craven and Rusty Wallace. Mike Massaro hosted NASCAR Countdown, and joined Shannon Spake and Dr. Jerry Punch on pit road.

NASCAR Countdown was a full hour this week. You know I’m not a fan of that from past columns, especially here, where I can’t really figure out a reason why this would need to be a full hour. However, this was not your average NASCAR Countdown.

Since the Infield Studio didn’t make the trip to Gateway (my guess is that its in the shop for maintenance before the long Sprint Cup haul coming up), Massaro hosted from pit road. There were 13 pre-race interviews, which is more than I remember ever seeing in a pre-race show that wasn’t affected by some outside entity (rain, power issues, raw sewage, etc.). Also, there was a feature about Justin Allgaier, his wife Ashley, and how they basically play off of each other. As I’ve said in the past, its always good to do these features in order to learn more about the drivers in the series. There was also a Craftsman Tech Garage feature focused on cooling brakes, and air pressure buildup.

Most of the discussion that would have normally occurred in the Infield Studio was done between Burns, Craven and Wallace in the broadcast booth. Perhaps that’s just better in general because they are the three people that will be calling the race.

Dave Burns appears to have been studying race tapes in anticipation of his booth debut. I generally believe that Burns was decent in the broadcast booth for the first time out.

I don’t think he’s the best at acknowledging S&P teams, though. Burns basically did one roundup of them around Lap 30, while also pointing out that Danny O’Quinn, Kevin Lepage and Chase Miller hadn’t parked yet, but “had all the signs of starting, but not continuing much further,” which was the truth, of course. This pun can work… but it came off as a little awkward.

I was quite peeved that ESPN was unable to catch what happened to Jason Keller’s No. 35 under the first caution. It appears that his right rear brake rotor exploded, then went through the tire and right rear corner of the car. It appears to have been quite the sight to behold. Unfortunately, the only people who would have seen it were the people at the track. ESPN only gave us live aftermath footage.

As for the finish of the race, the call was great. Obviously, I disagree with Ricky Craven’s notion that Carl failed to pull off a crossover move here. Knowing the backstory with these two, it was obviously intentional, but I guess Craven didn’t want to say that on air.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief, since ESPN was right up against the end of the timeslot. There were post-race interviews with Carl Edwards, Reed Sorenson, Bob Keselowski (Brad’s father, former racer himself) and pole-sitter Trevor Bayne. There was no check of the points at all, while the unofficial results stayed in the scroll.

With the situation that ended this race, I believe that ESPN2 did a disservice to the fans by leaving the air that quick. I know they had taped coverage of qualifying for the NHRA Autolite Nationals from Infineon Raceway to get to, but this needed an extra ten minutes of post-race. This lack of post-race coverage, especially after such a good pre-race show, really hurts Burns’ debut. In the future, ESPN would do well to make sure all corners get covered when there is a controversial ending to a race like this one.

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
Five Points to Ponder: The Time Is Now For 2011 Rules, Paying Back Cousin Carl, And More
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not Around The World Of NASCAR
Channeling My Inner Ricky Bobby: Realizing A NASCAR Dream
No Bull: Why Limiting Cup Drivers In Other Series Is Easier Said Than Done

That’s it for this week. Next weekend is the big show in Indianapolis. The Sprint Cup Series returns after a week off for the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This also marks the return of ESPN to the Sprint Cup Series. However, only a couple races will be televised on ABC this year due to the earlier start times instituted for this season.

Meanwhile, about 20 miles west of Speedway in Clermont, Indiana, the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series will run dual 200 lap races at O’Reilly Raceway Park. Here’s your listings for the week.

Friday, July 23
Time Telecast Network
8:00 – 9:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Germany, Free Practice 2 SPEED
2:00 PM – 3:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice ESPN2
3:30 – 4:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
5:00 – 6:30 PM Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
7:30 – 8:00 PM NCWTS Setup SPEED
8:00 – 10:30 PM Camping World Truck Series AAA Insurance 200 SPEED

Saturday, July 24
Time Telecast Network
8:00 – 9:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Germany Qualifying SPEED
10:00 AM – 12:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying ESPN2
12:30 – 1:30 PM Nationwide Series Final Practice ESPN2
2:00 – 5:00 PM American Le Mans Series Northeast Grand Prix SPEED
3:30 – 5:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour ESPN2
5:00 – 6:30 PM Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2
6:00 – 7:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying Versus*
7:30 – 8:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
8:00 – 10:30 PM Nationwide Series Kroger 200 ESPN2

Sunday, July 25
Time Telecast Network
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay built by The Home Depot SPEED
12:00 – 1:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN
12:00 – 2:00 PM Formula One Grand Prix of Germany FOX*
5:00 – 8:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Honda Indy Edmonton Versus
7:00 – 8:00 PM The SPEED Report SPEED
8:00 – 9:00 PM NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED

  • Tape-Delayed

I will provide critiques of the Brickyard 400, the AAA Insurance 200, and the Kroger 200 in next week’s regular critique, along with any TV news, if it breaks. This week’s edition of The Critic’s Annex (exclusive to the Frontstretch Newsletter) will cover last weekend’s NJMP 250 for the Rolex Sports Car Series. Next week’s edition will cover the Honda Indy Edmonton for the Izod IndyCar Series.

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 for 2010, 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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Swan Racing Announces Restructuring, No. 26 & No. 30 ‘Sold’ Off
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Vexing Vito: Three Drivers In Need of a Role Reversal
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Matt
07/20/2010 02:03 AM
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I can assure you that no one at the track saw what happened to the 35 either. It seemed to happen somewhere at the end of the backstretch, which is as far away from the stands as you can get. And, of course, everyone was looking at the leaders/pit road, just like ESPN was, since you don’t expect anything to happen to a random car somewhere in the pack. The caution came out for debris on the middle of the backstretch, so maybe it was related. No one really knows.