The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: The Script Hurts ESPN at Loudon by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday September 21, 2010

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Talking NASCAR TV: The Script Hurts ESPN at Loudon

Phil Allaway · Tuesday September 21, 2010


Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, where I look into the racing-related shows that we all watch. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series were at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. 175

On Saturday, the Camping World Truck Series ran 175 (definitely a mouthful). This race was likely shortened by 25 laps due to NHMS’ full slate of on-track action on Saturday (two Sprint Cup practices, Camping World Truck Series qualifying, an American-Canadian Tour race, and a 100-lap Whelen Modified event all held prior to the Truck race itself.) This information was only slightly broached in the broadcast, but it’s definitely an interesting discussion point to see a track squeeze so much racing out of one day.

NCWTS Setup started out by playing up the new feud between Kyle Busch and Todd Bodine before recapping the Built Ford Tough 225 from Kentucky Speedway, where the rivalry is said to have begun. Comments from both drivers really did nothing to diffuse this conflict during the Setup. Todd defended his choice of words against Kyle at Kentucky (and by default, to our own Jay Pennell and Doug Turnbull at Atlanta), while Kyle said that we would have to wait and see how he would handle Bodine. This comment apparently raised eyebrows in the booth, but in my opinion, it’s really par for the course with Busch. As we saw at Bristol in driver intros, Kyle Busch likes to play things up. We’re still waiting for actual results, though, because they were never around each other during the race.

SPEED ran a feature on Turner Motorsports about how the team drives to succeed on track. This was relatively interesting mainly because the majority of the focus was on the No. 31. Ricky Carmichael did get some airtime, but acknowledged that a lot of the notoriety that he has gotten this season has been for crashes. Had Buescher not signed with Phoenix Racing to drive the No. 1 Chevrolet, this team likely would have been full-time from Daytona.

The Vault was back this week, recapping the 2005 Sylvania 200, won by Rick Crawford. This is done in a montage-style format, like the regular recaps at the beginning of the show. It’s OK to watch, but it seems that it’s been shortened as the season’s gone along.

That one photo encapsulates the entire broadcast of Saturday’s Truck Series race at New Hampshire… any questions?

During the race, there was a substantial focus on Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick at the front of the field. This oversaturation was mainly because they were constantly fighting for the lead, running a lot faster than anyone else while doing it. The action was great up front, for sure, but this focus continued even when Kyle Busch pulled off to a good advantage and he had no one to battle.

There were multiple unnecessary full-screen replays during the race that cut out live side-by-side action. Especially since we’re talking about SPEED, I just don’t understand this move. You have the capabilities to use split-screen replays and live action – use them.

Two of the eight cautions on Saturday were for debris. SPEED failed to show viewers where this debris was on-track both times. They did give a general area (Turn 3) where it was located for the first one, but gave no indication whatsoever for the second one.

Speaking of the second debris caution, the yellow came out while SPEED was in commercial. This did not appear to be one of those local commercial breaks. Since the final round of pit stops occurred during this time, SPEED would have done well to break out of the commercial to show the stops. As it stands, SPEED rejoined the race two or three laps into the caution, then showed the stops in a replay.

The whole circumstance surrounding the damage to the left front of Ron Hornaday’s truck on Lap 158 was botched. SPEED showed the replay of Mike Harmon’s spin and Waltrip noted that he was spun out by Tim Bainey, Jr. Afterwards, cameras cut to a dented No. 33, and Ray Dunlap also sounded confused on pit road. It appeared that Waltrip thought it over during the next green flag run because after Hornaday crashed in Turn 3, they replayed Harmon’s crash and realized that Hornaday spun out Harmon. There is a better way to handle this situation, and the broadcasters should have taken another look so that they could been sure of themselves. In this case, Waltrip made himself look dumb. Of course, some of my readers would just claim that he does that, anyway, but unlike playing dumb, this is legitimate dumb (or careless).

The race went a little over time, so post-race coverage was a relatively brief. There were interviews with Kyle Busch, James Buescher, and Kevin Harvick. In addition, there was a check of the unofficial results before SPEED left the air. No check of the points was shown on-air. However, SPEED did show a replay of Kyle Busch flipping James Buescher the finger on the cool-down lap. Busch glossed over the final restart in the post-race interview, and Dunlap never called him on the move.

This telecast was, at best, an average one from SPEED. There are plenty of things listed above that should be addressed before next weekend. On the positive side, enthusiasm in the booth was appropriate for the action that we saw on the track.

Sylvania 300

On Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series returned to New Hampshire for the first Chase race, the Sylvania 300. This was also the first race where ESPN moved NASCAR Countdown over to ESPN2 so that Sunday NFL Countdown could stay in its normal timeslot.

NASCAR Countdown, like most of the run up to Sunday’s race, was heavily focused on the Chase. There was effectively 58 minutes of Chase discussion. The only real discussion of non-Chasers occurred when ESPN interviewed pole sitter Brad Keselowski and when ESPN talked about spoilers. This segment was done in a Quick Hits-style format, essentially saying, “by the way, here are a group of drivers that could snag a win or two the next couple of weeks.”

Richard Childress’ resurgence into the Cup Series spotlight this year is dangerously close to being overplayed by the media.

There was also a feature focused on the resurgence of Richard Childress Racing during the 2010 season. It started with a look back at a substandard 2009, where the team floundered virtually all season. Casey Mears, driver of the No. 07 last year, was noticeably absent from this part of the piece even though he could have possibly added some anecdotes about what was going on with the team. The feature then continues to show their successes from this year. I learned a little from this feature about RCR’s lack of direction last year, but took away nothing about 2010 that I didn’t already know.

Another piece focused on Kyle Busch. However, the majority of the footage included was part of Riding Shotgun: Kyle Busch. In other words, if you saw that show, then this mini-feature was not necessary. You saw it already.

ESPN’s analysts all came up with predictions for who would win the Chase. All but one of them claimed that based on numbers only, Jimmie Johnson would repeat once again. However, when actual gut feelings (and momentum) were incorporated, Brad Daugherty and Andy Petree stuck with Johnson, while Dale Jarrett went with Stewart, Ray Evernham went with Kyle Busch and Rusty Wallace went with Denny Hamlin. Interesting to look at what goes through the minds of these analysts, but it is nothing that race fans cannot do themselves.

Race coverage was almost as Chase-centric as NASCAR Countdown. The broadcast was focused on the Chase contenders, and some of the only mentions of non-Chasers running outside of the top 10 were when some of them were involved in incidents. In comparison, Chasers outside the top 10 generally (with the possible exception of Matt Kenseth) got the same coverage as those in the top 10.

The only non-Chasers that got a decent amount of coverage on Sunday were those who managed to get themselves high up into the running order. A.J. Allmendinger, until his fuel issue, was one of these drivers. However, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the example I’m going to use here. We know that Dale has struggled at times this year and when that happens, he’s invisible. On Sunday, he finally had a good day. ESPN definitely let viewers know that, in a very cheerful (at times) and booming way that is not typical of an ESPN broadcast (at least not since Jerry Punch subbed for Bob Jenkins at Bristol in 1997.) For some viewers, this type of announcing could be considered some type of favoritism. I don’t believe it was that… more amazement than anything else.

Speaking of Allmendinger, he was running third before the first round of green flag pit stops. However, according to Jamie Little, he ran out of fuel getting into his pit stall and lost a lap getting the car restarted. A.J. eventually got back on the lead lap via the Lucky Dog, but could not get back to the top 10 before the end of the race (he finished 12th, decent, but not a potential top 5). Since A.J. was in the top 5, I’m surprised that ESPN didn’t have Little covering his pit stop live. Had they done that instead of keeping the Chase focus, they would have caught the issues live instead of touching on the issue after taking a commercial break. Just another instance of the Chase taking precedence over the rest of the race. Had this occurred in the Gillette ProGlide Fusion 500, or the Brickyard 400, ESPN would have covered this better.

Post-race coverage was quite brief. There were interviews with Clint Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. In addition, there was the check of the all-important Chase points before ESPN left for Sportscenter (which simply included more Loudon coverage). I don’t understand the need to leave the air so quickly if that’s what ESPN is going to go to. Might as well just keep on with the actual telecast live from the track itself.

This race was full of action, and unlike Chase races in recent years, contained plenty of excitement on track. ESPN showed the great racing for position, but mainly if it involved the Chasers. They needed to split from the script more often to make this broadcast more memorable. As it stands, it’s just Exhibit No. 62 as to why I dislike this championship system.

That’s all for this week. The Chase for the Sprint Cup continues this weekend at the Dover International Speedway with the AAA 400. The Nationwide Series returns to action after a week off with the Dover 200. Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series will be at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway for a standalone event, the Smith’s 350k, on Saturday night. Due to SPEED’s coverage of the Barrett-Jackson Auction from Las Vegas, there will likely not be any coverage of Sprint Cup Happy Hour from Dover, or a NCWTS Setup from Las Vegas. Here’s your listings for the week.

Friday, September 24
Time Telecast Network
6:00 AM – 7:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore Free Practice 1^
9:30 – 11:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore Free Practice 2 SPEED
11:30 AM – 1:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
1:00 – 3:00 PM Nationwide Series Happy Hour ESPN2
3:00 – 4:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying ESPN2
^- Online-only, no commentary

Saturday, September 25
Time Telecast Network
10:00 AM – 11:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore Qualifying SPEED
10:30 AM – 12:00 PM Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2
12:30 – 1:30 PM Sprint Cup Practice SPEED
3:00 – 3:30 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
3:30 – 6:00 PM Nationwide Series Dover 200 ESPN2
9:30 PM – 12:00 AM Camping World Truck Series Smith’s 350k SPEED

Sunday, September 26
Time Telecast Network
7:30 AM – 10:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore SPEED
9:00 – 10:00 AM NASCAR Now Pre-Race ESPN2
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
12:00 – 1:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
1:00 – 5:00 PM Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 ESPN
7:00 – 8:00 PM The SPEED Report SPEED
8:00 – 9:00 PM NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED
10:00 – 11:00 PM NASCAR Now Post-Race ESPN2

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck Series races for next week’s critique here at Frontstretch.

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 ESPN or SPEED Channels personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage from last weekend, please click on the following links:


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.

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
Five Points to Ponder: Labonte Parks Again, Hornish vs. Allgaier, And Bowyer’s Meaningless Win
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not In NASCAR: New Hampshire-Dover Edition
Finally … We Are In Store For An Excellent Chase
Gambling Now or Later? Chase Strategy Ignites in Empty Fuel Tanks

Contact Phil Allaway

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Today on the Frontstretch:
NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
Five Points To Ponder: NASCAR’s Take-A-Breath Moment
Truckin’ Thursdays: Top Five All-Time Truck Series Drivers
Going By the Numbers: A Week Without Racing Can Bring Relief But Kill Momentum


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09/21/2010 11:02 AM

Sunday’s time slot 12-4:30

12-1 Pre-race crap

1:15 Start of race

Time allowed for race 3 hours

4:15 End of race

4:15-4:30 Interviews with Hendrick drivers

Actual time of race 2 hours and 58 minutes

No more Phantom cautions needed

09/21/2010 11:21 AM

“Just another instance of the Chase taking precedence over the rest of the race. Had this occurred in the Gillette ProGlide Fusion 500, or the Brickyard 400, ESPN would have covered this better.”

No they wouldn’t. They would have been talking about “if the chase ended now”. It started after the first ten laps of the 2010 Daytona 500.

09/21/2010 12:09 PM

Drop the chase.

09/21/2010 01:10 PM

When will ESPN learn that you can’t use a script to cover an auto race. But every race they have covered over the last 2 plus years has been just that. Maybe someday they will realize that letting the race play out on its own makes the coverage that much better.

By the way, tell your buddy McLaughlin that the race was entertaining on Sunday. He pretty much bashed the track in his entire article yesterday. I guess he would rather start the Chase in Chicago. Snore!!!!

09/21/2010 02:26 PM

12:00 – 1:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
1:00 – 5:00 PM Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 ESPN

Not Quite Accurate.

12-1 Pre-race crap

1:15 Start of “race”

Allotted time 3 and a half hours

4:45 End of “race”

4:45-5 Interviews with Hendrick drivers.

Don Mei
09/21/2010 04:48 PM

12 to 3, work in the garage on the Corvette.
3 to 4. Take a motorcycle ride.
4 to 6, nap.
6 to 7, grille some steaks, eat dinner, fill birdfeeders.
7 to 7;05, check online for race results, shrug and read the Times.

09/21/2010 08:38 PM

TV rating for the Cup race was down from 3.2 to 2.6. Is the trend continuing?