The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: ESPN Errors Muck Up Charlotte by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday October 19, 2010

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Talking NASCAR TV: ESPN Errors Muck Up Charlotte

Phil Allaway · Tuesday October 19, 2010

 

Hello, race fans. It is that time of the week once again. Phil’s the name, and critiquing race telecasts is my game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were back home in Charlotte. In addition, the Whelen Southern Modified Tour served as the tertiary series with a race on Thursday night after Sprint Cup qualifying.

Before we start, Fang’s Bites is reporting that Fox Sports has gone to a uniform musical theme for all of their sports programming, effective immediately. The theme used for FOX’s NFL broadcasts, which has been used since 1994, will now become the one for FOX’s NASCAR telecasts next season. On paper, it comes off as a cost-cutting move since they may have come to the conclusion that the country theme from Toby Lightfoot (interspersed with Darrell’s infamous refrain) may have run its course. Having a football “song” as NASCAR’s theme music on FOX will take some getting used to, although the concept has been used before; ABC in the late 1990’s did something similar with their four Winston Cup and two Busch Series races.

UNOH Southern Slam 150

On Thursday night, the Whelen Southern Modified Tour held their season finale at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s quarter-mile infield oval. SPEED aired the race at 2:30 Saturday afternoon on tape delay. Unlike other modified races aired on SPEED this year, Rick Allen and Phil Parsons were in the booth instead of Mike Joy and Dick Berggren. Relative unknown Derek Pernesiglio served as the lone pit reporter.

The NASCAR modifieds typically put on a great show … but at Charlotte, there just wasn’t enough room for the side-by-side racing you see here, making it difficult for SPEED to cover the 150-lap event.

Prior to the start of the race, there were interviews with Burt Myers, James Civali, and Andy Seuss. These interviews were actually held during Sprint Cup Qualifying.

Having the Whelen Southern Modifieds race on the quarter-mile infield oval is not the most exciting kind of racing out there. It’s like they’re too big for the track. Passing is nearly impossible, while the straights are too short to really get a run on anyone unless you’re substantially faster than the car in front.

Race coverage was heavily tilted in favor of the championship contenders (Burt Myers, Civali until he spun out, Seuss, etc.) You may already know from other critiques that I’m not a fan of this tactic. However, there simply was not that much actual racing for position. As a result of the lack of action, most coverage was situated at the front of the field for the vast majority of the race.

Since the race was tape-delayed, SPEED used their time-shifting policies for this event. Commercials taken during green-flag racing would not sacrifice any action for the fans. During cautions, laps during commercial would not be shown.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief. There were interviews with race winner/champion Burt Myers, Tim Brown and Zach Brewer, along with checks of the unofficial results and final point standings before SPEED left the air.

I found this telecast to actually be a little boring. That’s not really the fault of Allen and Parsons, although they aren’t very experienced in commentating on Modified races. It was the on-track action. SPEED could have shown some more stuff down the order, but with only 19 cars racing and basically no one able to pass, there was only so much competition that could be shown. As a result, viewers heard a lot of the same topics being repeated over and over again because there was very little action to commentate on, which was a shame.

Dollar General 300

ESPN’s NASCAR Countdown started off with a brief recap of the first three races run with the new Nationwide COT car. There was some file footage shown of the Buescher-Patrick incident from Fontana and reaction during the Charlotte weekend from each driver (Patrick during her press conference, and Buescher during a one-on-one interview with ESPN). The Infield Studio discussed the incident after the clips played and concluded that Buescher took Patrick out. That’s nice and all, guys, but perhaps this analysis should have been done last Sunday before the Cup race in Fontana.

There was a feature on the beginnings of racing in go-karts for Gray Gaulding, an up-and-coming 12-year-old driver currently racing in the Legends ranks, but who also drives go-karts. This clip included sound bites from family members, from Sprint Cup veterans, and most notably Kevin Harvick, who has raced against him at the driver’s personal go-kart track. It’s great to see someone like Gaulding get some national press, but this segment is something that should have been on NASCAR Now. ESPN should be promoting Nationwide Series drivers on Nationwide telecasts before touting can’t miss phenoms that can’t even race in the series until 2016 at the earliest.

ESPN handled the caution thrown for Brian Scott, well… it was NASCAR that slowed down the proceedings at that point.

Continuing on with Countdown, there were also pre-race interviews with Brad Keselowski, Danica Patrick, and Clint Bowyer. All in all, a little thin interview-wise, but not horrible.

Before the race started, ESPN replayed their explanation of the new car that has run during all three previous races. C’mon now; we’re not stupid. More than likely, almost everyone watching Friday night has a pretty good understanding of how this beast works. That is unnecessary.

Race coverage at Charlotte was marked by relatively slow camera work. Of note, ESPN was slow picking up the second caution of the day when Michael Annett, Shelby Howard, and Joe Nemechek crashed, simply choosing to use radio chatter to announce the caution. This tactic is normally used when there is debris on the track somewhere. However, a three-car wreck is a lot more than just debris. There also seemed to be some confusion in the booth as to what was going on, like they were just watching their own feed and commenting on that.

ESPN handled the competition caution to give Brian Scott his position back fairly well. Reid basically explained what happened clearly to the viewers. Petree chimed in with his own thoughts, since he’s one of the few people who have ever had this scenario happen to them (Rockingham, October 1995). Thankfully, this caution didn’t take anywhere near as long as the one with Dale Earnhardt did. However, since this random yellow is at least the second time they’ve done it, NASCAR should have a policy for these scenarios besides “we’ll throw a normal caution and let the offended party take their spot back.” My suggestion is a caution where pit road never opens, one that should not affect the overall strategy of the race.

It should be noted that ESPN broke out of a commercial break to show the final pit stops during a late-race caution. Would have been nice if they cut out right as the yellow flag flew as opposed to when they did (knowing that it was not a local break), but getting thrown a bone at all is nice these days.

Post-race coverage was decent. There were interviews with winner Brad Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe, Martin Truex, Jr., Justin Allgaier, Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer, and Joey Logano.

This race coverage was OK. Although Danica got the longest post-race interview of anyone not named Brad Keselowski, she didn’t get covered much more than anyone else. The “Danica love” is nothing compared to what IRL fans sat through for the first couple of years Danica was with Rahal-Letterman Racing (Todd Harris drove me insane). However, I fear that the tardiness on things like name calling is due to fatigue, a reminder that the series needs a dedicated broadcast booth to do nothing but Nationwide races. Right now, my picks for that would be Dave Burns, Ricky Craven, and the third person (if necessary) would be either Rusty Wallace or Ray Evernham. If ESPN ever reinstates Randy LaJoie, he would be in the running as well.

Bank of America 500

ESPN’s NASCAR coverage was back on ABC for their only appearance of the Chase on over-the-air television. Because of this adjustment, and the fact that Charlotte was a night race, NASCAR Countdown was only 30 minutes in length this week instead of the now-typical hour.

The telecast started out with a recap of the issues for Chasers in Fontana before going into the Infield Studio for pre-race analysis. There were only a few pre-race interviews, and the vast majority of these were scrunched into the last few minutes.

This week, ESPN’s cameras followed Tony Stewart between races. How much of this kind of coverage do we really need?

ESPN’s fixation with trailing people continued with yet another feature where they followed a driver around for the week. This time, it was Tony Stewart being selected, but the end result wasn’t anything different than the other two. It’s to the point now that viewers aren’t learning anything anymore (at least viewers that have watched the telecasts over the past 2-3 weeks). Isn’t the point of doing features like this one to educate fans in a enjoyable fashion? Watching this segment is almost like reviewing for a New York State Regents Exam.

Since pre-race coverage was so short, the Jayski News and Notes weren’t shown on the broadcast until Lap 93 of the race. What the heck? If you’re going to show it all, show it during pre-race. Preferably, the News and Notes would be in the first segment of NASCAR Countdown.

Saturday night’s race coverage featured Marty Reid making multiple errors while identifying drivers, confusing the Busch brothers for each other, amongst other mistakes. After doing races for this long, did Marty simply not prepare as much as normal due to the short week? I know that the booth commentators don’t just sit on their butt cheeks all week and do nothing but get fat. They have conference calls and outside preparation work they perform to prepare during the week. At the very least, Marty could have looked at a spotter’s guide that had all the drivers and a picture of the car they were driving Saturday night.

Another reason for all these errors could be simple nerves. If true, it would be out of character for Marty since he’s been on-par for much of the season, especially early on. Overall fatigue from calling 50+ races this year could also be playing a role here.

Some of the issues surrounding radio chatter that plagued telecasts last year (Ex: Nationwide Series Bashas’ Supermarkets 200 at Phoenix (April 2009)) came back to haunt ESPN Saturday night. ESPN was talking about Kyle Busch having his throttle issues for ten minutes after he had mentioned that it had fixed itself. The pit reporter assigned to him also listens to his radio; couldn’t they have picked up that bit of info and relayed it to the booth?

This week, there was an unusual circumstance during a long green flag run. Instead of an all-Chaser Up to Speed (which I openly despise), there was an all non-Chaser Up to Speed, clearly in reaction to complaints that non-Chasers are being ignored in telecasts by various race fans. Interesting. I’ll admit to ranting about this problem in the past, but the solution isn’t exactly what I imagined. What I was thinking was more along the lines of a long dropback through 15th or so, covering everyone. Instead, the production jumped around quite a bit.

Tim Brewer got a bit more on-screen time than normal on Saturday, four short segments during the race, and one during NASCAR Countdown. However, these pieces were not all that helpful to the telecast and a little slow.

ESPN was also very slow in reporting that Kasey Kahne had left the track. The first time I realized that he was gone was when I looked up in the scroll and saw Yeley’s name next to the No. 9. I thought that ESPN had made a scroll error. It was another 15 minutes or so before the network broached the issue. You have to be faster than that, especially with fans often using alternative means these days (those Sprint FanView devices, TrackPass, etc.) to view the action. Waiting that long would make some fans assume that you don’t care about that situation.

Since the race was running right up against the end of the timeslot on ABC, post-race coverage was relatively short. There were interviews with the top four finishers (Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin), along with Jamie’s father, Jim. There was also a check of the all-important point standings before they left the air to get to the late news, having gone over their slot by a few minutes.

This race showed signs of somewhat shoddy leadership, unfortunately. I know that Jill Fredrickson, although experienced with NASCAR races, is coming in rather cold to being in the chair for Sprint Cup. I can understand making mistakes. However, you have to rectify them quickly. You have to be on your feet. You have to be quick. ESPN was not on Saturday night, and their performance needs to improve going forward.

That’s all for this Tuesday. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series returns to Martinsville Speedway for their second and final visit of the season. They will be supported by the Camping World Truck Series, returning to the track after nearly a month off. Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series will be making a second trip to Gateway International Raceway for what may be the last event at the 1.25-mile oval for the foreseeable future. Here’s your listings for the week:

Friday, October 22
Time Telecast Network
1:00 AM – 2:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Korea Free Practice 2 SPEED
11:30 AM – 1:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
1:00 – 2:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Happy Hour SPEED
3:00 – 4:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying ESPN2
4:30 – 6:00 PM Nationwide Series Happy Hour ESPN
6:00 – 7:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED*

Saturday, October 23
Time Telecast Network
1:00 AM – 2:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Korea Qualifying SPEED
10:00 – 11:00 AM Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
10:30 AM – 12:00 PM Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
12:30 – 1:00 PM NCWTS Setup SPEED
1:00 – 3:30 PM Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 SPEED
3:00 – 3:30 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
3:30 – 6:30 PM Nationwide Series 5 Hour Energy 250 ESPN2

Sunday, October 24
Time Telecast Network
1:30 AM – 4:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Korea SPEED
9:00 – 10:00 AM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
10:00 AM – 12:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay presented by The Home Depot SPEED
12:00 – 1:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
1:00 – 5:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Tums Fast Relief 500 ESPN
7:00 – 8:00 PM The SPEED Report SPEED
8:00 – 9:00 PM NASCAR Victory Lane fueled by Sunoco SPEED
10:00 – 11:00 PM NASCAR Now Post-Race ESPN2 *-Tape-Delayed

I will be providing critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races for next week’s critique here at frontstretch.com. The Annex in our FREE Frontstretch Newsletter this week will cover Tim Richmond: To The Limit, ESPN’s 30 for 30 short film produced by the NASCAR Media Group.

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 Channel 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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5 Points to Ponder: Kahne Out of Line, RPM Out of Control, and NNS Regulars Out of Luck
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not In NASCAR: Charlotte-Martinsville Edition
No Bull: When Did NASCAR Institute Elimination into the Chase?
One Last Look At NASCAR’s Hall Before Closing The Door On Next Year

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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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wcfan
10/19/2010 09:36 AM
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While I’m not a fan of Phil’s start and park teams. I believe He and Rick RUN CIRCLES around the other announcers from the other networks.

These two give good info without the fluff and self promotion of the other announcers.

Keep Mickey as far from the track as possible because he totally ruins these broadcast.

Jacob
10/19/2010 10:04 AM
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Phil, I will have to disagree with you on one point. There are a lot of stupid people left watching na$car.
With so many informed viewers getting fed up and leaving the sport, I would guess that the stupid viewers outnumber the informed ones 3:1. If you are preparing a show geared towards the ADD crowd, then repetition and simplicity are your best friends.

Sherri T
10/19/2010 11:35 AM
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Regarding the Sprint Cup Race:

I don’t worry as much about the pre-race as you do, however, I agree with the Marty Reid observances. I don’t like him because he seems to feel that we can’t see the action ourselves and wants to do “play-by-play” of the action as if we were only listening to radio. It’s annoying because it sounds like he’s trying to fill “dead-air” and it’s not necessary.

The rest of your observances I don’t necessarily disagree with as much as I feel they’re unimportant…

What I would like to give ESPN & ABC coverage cudos for is their camera work changes! They were taking much more wide angle shots and showing more of the racing and it made the racing so much better for the TV audience. I noticed it especially because every time the camera person zoomed in, it seemed the director would remind them to zoom out. It was GREAT! Keep up the great work!! It actually looked like a race for a change! If I were to guess, some of the missed Friday night crash that we didn’t see was because the crew was getting used to the change. It seemed they had a better handle on it on Saturday night. I hope they continue this trend and that the other networks follow!

AnnieMack
10/19/2010 12:06 PM
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Was I the only one who was uncomfortable with Jamie’s explanation for his crying jag at the Daytona 500? I am all for freedom of religion, but that could have been covered on his home page, twitter, or facebook. To be honest, I didn’t even remember him dissolving into tears at Daytona so that made it all the more weird for me. I wanted to hear his views on the race, not his faith.

Jeff P
10/19/2010 12:26 PM
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The announcer need to learn to just shut up from time to time. Let us watch the race and hear the engines. We can see what is happening and don’t need to be told that there is a side by side battle on the screen. Also it is not necessary to show the car/driver they are discussing while completely ignoring the 3 wide battle happening elsewhere.

wcfan
10/19/2010 12:27 PM
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AnnieMack

That is why YOU have a volume button and channel button if YOU do not like what is on turn the channel. I do.

Jamie Mac is a fresh, honest change of pace and it is good to see HIS honest feelings and thoughts.

Shoeman
10/19/2010 12:39 PM
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Mikey Waltrip is great to watch. He is well inform and he makes sure sponsors get their money’s worth. But, the one thing I love about Mikey is his body language. Don’t ever change Mikey, you do have more fans than you’ll ever know.

AnnieMack
10/19/2010 12:48 PM
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wcfan, thank you for pointing out how my remote works. I couldn’t have done it without you and God.

wcfan
10/19/2010 01:18 PM
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AnnieMack
You are welcome.
I did not know the racing world revolved around you and YOUR wants.

Ken
10/19/2010 01:54 PM
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Shoeman, I think you are in the minority. I tune out all Waltrips and all Wallaces. The sponsors would get their money’s worth except most people tune Mikey out and ignore him. I am so sick of the Carnival Barker type of self promoter, I could puke.

Steve
10/19/2010 02:17 PM
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Mikey and his brother would be easier to take if they didn’t always have an agenda while on the broadcasts. Meaning self promotion of their sponsors, manufacturers, drivers, teams, or themselves.

I’m getting the feeling that there is an oversaturation of the tv market. In nascar’s golden days, you didn’t hear much during the week until the prerace on weekends. And that consisted of about 15 minutes before engines were fired, if not less. They would actually talk about it while the race was going on.

Now every relevant channel has a show daily about Nascar. By the time we get to the prerace, everyone is up to date on what happens during the week, so I ask, do we really need a prerace show anymore? And if it were just eliminated all together, wouldn’t it make the racing broadcasts that much better since they can address these things during the race especially when things get boring?

Jacob
10/19/2010 03:23 PM
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Steve, I aree with you completely. The 15 minute pre-race shows built excitement, and the race was on. then you had knowledgable announcers call a race and not create drama. When it was over, you were already looking forward to the next weekend’s action.
Now there is probably 50 hours of na$car programming when the cars are silent in the shop, and you get tired of hearing about na$car before the cars even get to the track. At least I do.

Dan
10/19/2010 04:39 PM
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There is another SNAFU to add — Jamie Little mentioned that Clint Bowyer’s car (belive it was his) had a decal honoring the 30 Chilean miners who were recently rescued. Nice touch on RCR’s part and nice of Jamie to mention it; however, there were 33 miners, not 30. One more of many things that were off during the broadcast.

Bob
10/20/2010 12:41 PM
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At the beginning of the Cup race, Marty said the one thing that showed how the rest of the broadcast would go: “The CHASE to the RACE”!!!