The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: ESPN Successful With New NASCAR Producer, Leadership by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday October 12, 2010

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Hello, race fans. It’s that time once again. It’s time to talk about race broadcasts. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were at Auto Club Speedway for their final Fall visit to the two-mile, D-shaped tri-oval. Meanwhile, the ARCA Racing Series presented by Re/MAX and Menards held their 20th and final race of the season from Rockingham Speedway.

However, before we start:

SportsBusinessJournal.com is reporting that ESPN has fired Neil Goldberg, the network’s former Senior Producer for Motorsports coverage. This incident comes less than a week after Goldberg turned himself in on charges of trespassing and disorderly conduct, amongst others. Also, Goldberg’s longtime No. 2, James Shiftan, has taken a temporary leave of absence from work at the track due to personal reasons. As you may remember, Shiftan, often referred to as “Shifty” by nearly everyone in the ESPN compound, was the producer that conducted my tour of the TV compound at Watkins Glen last year. We here at Frontstretch wish James all the best. These circumstances mean that Neil’s former boss, Jill Fredrickson, was put in the chair on a temporary basis starting in Fontana and will continue to work in that capacity, in addition to her duties as a Senior Coordinating Producer, until the end of the season.

American 200

SPEED’s telecast of the ARCA season finale started with a montage of their first 19 races, emphasizing the close points competition and the fact that 14 different drivers won races this season (12 first-time winners). This series is not the ARCA of 2001, when it was Frank Kimmel and everybody else while the veteran romped to another record-breaking title run. In addition, there were interviews with the three championship contenders (Patrick Sheltra, Craig Goess, and Tom Hessert) and a check of the points before the race started. The only changes in SPEED’s on-air crew was the addition of Ray Dunlap on pit road, as Wendy Venturini and Darrell Waltrip were both in Fontana for the Cup race.

This race, much like last weekend at Kansas, was time-shifted. As a result, SPEED could skip things if they felt like it. Here, the national anthem and the command to start engines were actually cut out of the broadcast. They did the aforementioned interviews in the first segment, went to commercial, and came back for the pace laps. I’ve never seen that strategy used before and it might anger some viewers not to hear the command. I was more confused than anything else.

The race itself was very entertaining to watch. There was plenty of action for position, and SPEED did not constantly show the leaders instead of that racing for position. However, there was a lot of focus on the three championship contenders mentioned above. This shift is somewhat understandable due to the fact that it was the final race of the season and the points were just so close.

However, there were some moments where there remained a lack of clarity. I’ve watched the race twice all the way through, yet I’m still confused about what Allen and Parsons were saying about Craig Goess late in the race. I knew that he had to finish three positions ahead of Sheltra to win the title; that I’m clear on. However, they were alternatively talking about Goess racing Sheltra for position and being a lap down within a lap of each other. This back-and-forth conversation simply does not make sense. (Note: Goess was, in fact, on the lead lap and finished fifth).

Post-race coverage was fairly typical. There were interviews with series champion Patrick Sheltra and crew chief Jon Wolfe, race winner Ty Dillon, Craig Goess, and Tom Hessert. In addition, there were checks of the unofficial results and final point standings before SPEED left the air.

This broadcast was a pretty good one to watch. Very simple, by today’s standards, but still very good. Allen and Parsons were definitely on task, and had the advantage of not having Darrell or Michael Waltrip in the booth to add random things that may or may not have had to do with the actual race.

CampingWorld.com 300

Unlike the past couple of weeks, there was no conflict with live college football for the Nationwide broadcast… thankfully. I guess that’s the benefit of not starting at 3:30 PM. NASCAR Countdown began with a montage that covered the last two races (Dover and Kansas) before cutting to some pre-race analysis from the Infield Studio.

There were pre-race interviews with Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Danica Patrick, Martin Truex, Jr., Brad Keselowski, and Ricky Carmichael. There was also a Craftsman Tech Garage feature on aerodynamics and how they are affected when cars are running side-by-side. I guess it was a little informative, but by this point in the season, there isn’t all that much that Brewer can add to the discussion about this aspect of the race cars.

ESPN caught lots of side-by-side action under new leadership… but missed out when it came to wrecks.

The race broadcast was actually quite solid. Especially towards the end of the event, there was plenty of action for position. I had no issues with enthusiasm from the broadcast crew, which is always good to see.

There were two issues I saw with this broadcast. The first, and likely bigger one, is centered around the crash involving Michael Annett and Brendan Gaughan which brought out the fourth caution of the day. This wreck occurred just as ESPN was going to a local commercial break.

I can understand ESPN not breaking away from a local break because those commercials have to air. They cannot be pre-empted. (There’s nothing like being forced to watch Fuccillo car dealership ads while critiquing a live race broadcast. Of course, while I can rant about Billy’s “Huge” refrain all day and all night, that’s not why I’m here.)

My main issue is that the crash happened, and ESPN cut to it, with commentary from Allen Bestwick in the Infield Studio. Then, it cut directly to a commercial. Since they showed the crash, they could technically still stay with the coverage, show replays and all the good stuff. After that was done, then they could take the local commercial break. As it stands, ESPN showed two commercials before returning as quick as they could, according to Marty Reid. After they made the blunder of going to break, this was probably the best move they could have done. However, they should have never made the mistake in the first place.

The other issue, and this is a minor one, is that Andy Petree more or less screwed up the commentary on the replays of Danica Patrick’s wreck on Lap 141. Originally, he claimed that James Buescher had someone run into the back of him (he erroneously thought it was Ricky Carmichael), and that was why Buescher got into Patrick. Even with the live shot, I knew that wasn’t true. The booth seemed to be convinced that Buescher got pushed into Patrick, likely by Brian Scott since he was right behind her. However, to me at least, it was obvious that Buescher took her out.

Post-race coverage was fairly typical of what we’ve seen recently. There were interviews with winner Kyle Busch and crew chief Jason Radcliff, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Justin Allgaier, and Carl Edwards. In addition, there were interviews with Danica Patrick and Ricky Carmichael, who were eliminated in the crash with 9.5 laps to go. Like last week, there was no check of the points before ESPN left the air.

This was an OK broadcast by Nationwide Series standards. The issue mentioned above with the commercial when a wreck on-screen was occurring should never happen again, though. It could be argued that it was some jitters from a producer in the chair that hasn’t been in the chair for a NASCAR race for awhile. We’ll have to see how the remaining five Nationwide Series broadcasts pan out.

Pepsi Max 400

Sunday’s edition of NASCAR Countdown returned to ESPN for the first time in weeks since being banished to ESPN2 due to Sunday NFL Countdown. That, in itself, is another rant for another day. My best guess is that the NFL Countdown show for games that don’t even air on the ESPN family of networks gets better ratings than the pre-race show for a race that does air on ESPN.

The Jimmie Johnson love from ESPN continued Sunday, with another extended segment in the pre-race show dedicated to the success of the reigning four-time champ.

This week’s edition of NASCAR Countdown started with a recap of the Kyle Busch-David Reutimann incidents from Kansas, their interviews after the race, and earlier in the weekend in Fontana. This segment flowed into additional discussion of the incident and who was to blame.

There was a feature based around a week in Jimmie Johnson’s life. Here, cameras followed Johnson to an appearance at Kearny Mesa Chevrolet, while he was spending time with little Genevieve and doing fundraisers. This feature was all over the place. Then again, so was Jimmie. Ever since ESPN did Riding Shotgun: Kyle Busch, they’ve really fallen in love with the idea of trailing someone for a week. It’s like they watched The Truman Show and decided to replicate it.

Another feature (replayed from earlier in the weekend) saw cameras follow around Greg Biffle’s team for the week for a mini-feature. This one was focused on the actual race team, their time at the shop, and practice sessions for the pit crew (you could say this segment is also known as the time Kyle and/or Sam weren’t on camera on Riding Shotgun – very similar in tone.) However, unlike that show, we weren’t privy to meetings between Biffle and Greg Erwin. They simply shut the door on the cameras, meaning we basically didn’t learn anything here.

While in the Infield Studio, Brad Daugherty effectively claimed that now that Jimmie Johnson was in the points lead (mind you, it was by eight points with seven races to go), that the Chase was over and he would win the title. That’s crazy. It infuriated me. Yes, Brad is there to facilitate discussion, but not crazy discussion. There were still seven races to run, 2,975 miles of action, and you’re going to claim it’s over now? Not buying it.

Another piece was based around “going three-wide” and what that entails. The short piece had thoughts from drivers and was generally fairly interesting. Something that should have been excised was the taped footage of Kenny Loggins singing “I’m Alright,” though. If I wanted to listen to that, I’d watch Caddyshack. (Of note: Loggins actually performed at Auto Club Speedway over the weekend.)

The race broadcast was once again pretty good, quite similar to the Nationwide race in that there were no major problems with the broadcast. Nothing gigantic stood out. However, I did have a couple of issues.

ESPN seemed to have problems with overestimating the length of cautions on Sunday. Because of this confusion, ESPN was airing taped radio conversation during restarts on two separate occasions during the race. It was annoying, for sure, but I can live with it. On another occasion, ESPN technically missed a restart because they were still off in commercial. This mistake, I’m not as forgiving towards.

On Lap 35, ESPN took a normal commercial break. However, they were forced to cut out early when pit stops started. They have radios so that they can listen in on the teams. I don’t understand how they could not have known that they were coming up.

Another thing that grinds my gears is that with the field stretched out, ESPN should have done more than one Up to Speed on Sunday. In addition, that one Up to Speed should not have been Chaser-only. I’m already on record about how much I despise the Chaser-only Up to Speed, but I feel that I need to reiterate myself here. I know it’s Chase time. That doesn’t mean that you can ignore everyone else. End of story.

Since the race ran right up against the end of ESPN’s 3.5-hour timeslot, post-race coverage (in the actual coverage) was relatively weak. There were only time for interviews with race winner Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, and Jeff Gordon. In addition, there was also a check of the all-important point standings before ESPN went to Sportscenter.

As for ESPN’s Sportscenter coverage, I don’t really consider the Sportscenter coverage to be part of the race coverage. However, I’m really torn on the issue.

This telecast was decent, especially for Jill Frederickson in her first time in the chair for a Cup race (she has done Nationwide races before, and the Truck races in 2001). However, the gripes listed above are points of interest where the broadcast can definitely be improved going forward. ESPN is in a period of transition in their NASCAR broadcasts, and they have shown that they definitely want to be considered the best. This “changing of the guard” is just one more chance to prove that they’re the best.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series returns to Charlotte, North Carolina for a rare home game (unless you’re Furniture Row Racing, then it’s a long haul). The Nationwide Series will race Friday night, while the Sprint Cup Series has their only Saturday night race in the Chase. Here’s your listings for the week:

Wednesday, October 13
Time Telecast Network
3:00 – 4:00 PM NASCAR Hall of Fame Preview SPEED
4:00 – 5:00 PM NASCAR Hall of Fame 2011 Class Announcement SPEED^
^Announcement will be simulcast on nascar.com

Thursday, October 14
Time Telecast Network
3:30 – 5:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice ESPN2
7:00 – 9:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying ESPN2

Friday, October 15
Time Telecast Network
3:00 – 5:00 PM Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2
5:00 – 6:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice ESPN2
6:30 – 7:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour ESPN
7:30 – 8:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
8:00 – 11:00 PM Nationwide Series Dollar General 300 ESPN2

Saturday, October 16
Time Telecast Network
2:30-3:30 PM NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour SPEED*
5:00-7:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
7:00-7:30 PM NASCAR Countdown ABC
7:30-11:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 ABC *Tape-Delayed

Sunday, October 17
Time Telecast Network
12:15 AM – 1:00 AM NASCAR Now, Post-Race ESPN2
3:00 PM – 5:00 PM V8 Supercars Supercheap Auto Bathurst 1000 SPEED*
7:00 – 8:00 PM The SPEED Report SPEED
8:00 – 9:00 PM NASCAR Victory Lane SPEED

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series, and Whelen Modified races from Charlotte for next week’s critique. For the Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter on Thursday, I will be covering the South Park Episode, “Poor and Stupid,” which spoofed NASCAR.

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:

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

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
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Five Points to Ponder: Fontana Surprises, Hamlin Holds Serve, And A Missed Opportunity
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not In NASCAR: Fontana-Charlotte Edition
Despite Sponsorship Uncertainties, Kevin Conway Ready to Talk RGM, 2011
No Bull: This is How You Make a NASCAR Conspiracy

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…
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Jacob
10/12/2010 09:10 AM
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OK, I’ll admit that I didn’t actually watch the pre-race or even pay attention to most of the race. So I’ll ask you what exactly did Brad Daugherty say? Did he actually say that Jimmie Johnson couldn’t be beat, or did he point out that he was now the points leader and looking every bit as strong as he has for the last four years?
If it was the first, then you have a legitimate gripe. If it was the second, then not so much. It is understandable that a journalist would be walking a razor’s edge right now. Of course they would like to keep up the pretence that the championship is still wide open and nobody has been mathematically eliminated. But how can a responsible journalist ignore the historic significance of the 48 being in front with every track left being golden to platinum for them? Even Talladega isn’t the wild card people would like it to be. Should the 48 crash there the odds are virtually zero that he will be the only chaser to go, so that levels the playing field quite a bit.

Until someone takes the points lead from the 48, I will have to believe that he is the odds on favorite, no matter how little that prospect may thrill me.

Phil Allaway
10/12/2010 09:55 AM
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It was a combination of both, Jacob. Still infuriating, though. Brad was all but saying that they should engrave the trophy now. He did preface it by saying that a lot of people probably didn’t want to hear it. It’s too early to be making those types of statements, regardless of whether Jimmie was looking at Brad when he was doing it.

DoninAjax
10/12/2010 10:05 AM
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Brad should be in the pits of the team he owns giving them the benefit of his knowledge. He is totally useless as another “expert” panelist who shouldn’t be there. He is another reason for the mute button.

Time Allowed for “race” 3 hours.

Actual time of “race” 3:02.

Last week was 2:54. Could have used a “debris” caution at the end, like Fontana.
“Debris” cautions are for commercials.

Why did the Fontana race start at noon PT? Isn’t that too early? Not enough time for church.

Jacob
10/12/2010 10:11 AM
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Oh, ok, then I would have to agree with you, Phil, that was wrong to say and out of line.

I don’t doubt that the 48 is poised to win their 5th straight, but I am not a paid correspondent with (probably) millions of people watching. There should be integrity in the booth and at the front office, sadly neither shows any.
Thanks for clarifying that for me. I appreciate your candor, and giving me the benefit of the doubt that I wasn’t just spamming your column.

DoninAjax
10/12/2010 10:14 AM
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The difference in the telecast between Jill and the bozo before her was night and day and it was evident the whole race. She should get the job on a permanent basis and get a raise. They can get rid of Brad and give the money to her. She’s earned it.

Mike
10/12/2010 12:28 PM
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Nobody has any right to complain about ESPN’s love affair with Jimmie Johnson! It was only fitting that they pay as much honour and attention to the greatest driver in NASCAR history, bar none! And I agree with Brad Daugherty that there is no way anyone, not even Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart, can beat him and Chad! They better be engraving his name on that trophy right now! The show is over!

By the way, I watched the entire race, and was hoping Jimmie could make a better run at Tony. The best parts? Watching Biffle blow up! Watching useless Edwards drop out! And watching that washed up former champ whose bogus championship forced the chase on us blow up too! Gave me the greatest pleasure to phone up my ex-wife and her current loser husband and rub their Roush-loving noses into it! Ha! Ha! Ha!

Steve
10/12/2010 03:58 PM
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Mike: “It was only fitting that they pay as much honour and attention to the greatest driver in NASCAR history, bar none” Too funny!! He certainly is the best 10 race champ alive isn’t he? Greatest driver in Nascar history? Hardly!

Anyway, Phil, you went after Versus last week about showing the championship contenders too much and now this week its ok in the ARCA series? You are definately inconsistent with your critiques. That and your obviously not a big fan of the IRL.

DoninAjax
10/12/2010 07:20 PM
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Mike, looks like your ex-wife is happier now.

Wingcars6970
10/12/2010 08:58 PM
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Phil it’s not HUGE, it’s YUGE!

Mr. Goldberg did his Eskimo peeping Tom…..Tommy Tookalook…

BoxCar
10/12/2010 11:07 PM
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Pants on the Ground

Shirleeanne
10/13/2010 11:30 PM
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What’s with the tape-delayed Sprint Cup Race this weekend?? Are we back in the 70s?