The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Botched Ending By ESPN At Talladega? by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday November 2, 2010

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Talking NASCAR TV: Botched Ending By ESPN At Talladega?

Phil Allaway · Tuesday November 2, 2010


Hello, race fans. It’s that time of the week once again. Time to look into the race broadcasts that we all watch. The Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series ran at Talladega Superspeedway for another helping of drafting, bumping, and blowovers. Meanwhile, SPEED also gave viewers coverage of the premiere DirtCar Modified race in the Northeast, the SEF Small Engine Fuels 200.

SEF Small Engine Fuels 200

SPEED brought viewers coverage of the crown jewel of Super Dirt Week XXXIX on Saturday night; however, the race was actually run on October 10. The event has historically been covered by a number of networks. In 1980, ESPN provided coverage of the then-200 kilometer race with Bob Jenkins and the late Larry Nuber in the booth. For those of you unaware, that was the year in which Gary Balough showed up with a “Lincoln Continental” modified with ground effects. This advantage allowed Gary to stomp the field. Lately, coverage has been either on SPEED or Fox Sports Net.

The race was originally a 100-mile event, eventually being lengthened to 200 kilometers, then 300 kilometers before reverting to a 200-mile race. Shane Andrews and Kenny Wallace provided commentary for SPEED. However, I’m fairly certain that neither of them were actually at the track. It just had that feeling of the two men watching the race after the fact, taking notes and then doing the commentary in post-production, not dissimilar to how Rick Benjamin and Scott Sutherland used to do USAR Hooters ProCup Series races for SPEED. However, Kenny’s statement about families actively supporting Modified racing in the Northeast is right on. Going to local Modified races all summer, I saw the same type of feel at Lebanon Valley. In fact, many of the people I met at the track this season were out there for the whole week.

Pre-race coverage consisted of a recap of Saturday’s Salute the Troops 150 for 358 Modifieds, and of the King of the Mile exhibition for the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars. The World of Outlaws raced at Syracuse until 1995, where the all-time average speed record for a dirt mile oval was set in 1994 when Billy Pauch won the pole at an average speed of 144 mph and change. In addition to the pre-race analysis, there were interviews with point leader Matt Sheppard and pole sitter Jimmy Phelps. Only the top-20 starters were shown in the starting grid before the green flag was thrown. As a result, several drivers who finished well (Ex: Kenny Tremont, Jr.) weren’t listed at all.

The race brings in several unknown quantities to the teams. For example, having to stop for anything is rare. Teams actually using pit boards like they did in Syracuse is very rare. Two-way radios are allowed only in this race.

Kenny Wallace is very excitable in the booth. It’s like he’s using the persona from NASCAR RaceDay in his commentary. Using that persona means that we don’t have to worry about enthusiasm. However, it does mean that we have to worry about certain things. When Tim McCreadie broke a hub and crashed, Wallace made reference to looking over with binoculars at the No. 39. When you’re not at the race itself and providing commentary, never make reference to something like that. Kenny simply made himself look stupid. Also, Kenny mistook David Hebert for Richie Tobias, Jr., using the fact that they both drive cars with the No. 1 as an excuse.

The race had 11 caution flags, mostly for wrecks, but very few replays were shown. For example, SPEED’s cameras cut suddenly to Donnie Corellis’ No. 57 on its side exiting Turn 4 late in the race. No indication was ever given as to how Corellis got there. Also, roughly 40 laps of the race were cut out for time restraints.

There was a healthy amount of pimping of SEF products during the race telecast. I find this interesting because they were only named as the title sponsor of the event three weeks before it ran.

Post-race coverage was decent. There were interviews with winner Stewart Friesen and crew chief Ron St. Marie, Jimmy Phelps, and Jimmy Horton. There was also a race recap before SPEED left the air.

The telecast was OK to watch, but it had a somewhat unprofessional feel to it. Kenny’s screaming did take away from the show a little. Two hours of that is a little much to take. Of course, I should be happy that I have the opportunity to critique a race broadcast from this series. In the mid-1990’s, all the races were televised on basic cable here in the Northeast. Now, only this race and the World Finals are on SPEED. Everything else is either not televised at all, or an exclusive of Dirtvision online.

Mountain Dew 250

SPEED, the Camping World Truck Series, and Halloween. You know what that means. For the third year in a row, the broadcast crew dressed up in themed costumes for the Setup. The theme was Gilligan’s Island, the Sherwood Schwartz-produced 1960’s sitcom. Of course, there is the ever-present issue of “lack of estrogen producers” on SPEED’s crew, so Michael Waltrip had to dress in drag, while they brought in a ringer to play Ginger — Jennifer Jo Cobb. She stayed in costume for maybe 15 minutes or so before bolting to change for intros.

With action fast and furious during the Camping World Truck race, SPEED worked to cut commercial breaks short.

One feature of pre-race was a segment in which SPEED followed Cobb on an outing with the U.S. Army Parachuting Team. I don’t understand why she did the outing with her fire suit on instead of a normal parasuit. I guess they thought it would work fine.

Another feature focused on Justin Lofton taking some drivers and his crew out, along with Ray Dunlap, to drive a trophy truck in the desert south of Las Vegas. It was an interesting look into Lofton’s racing past before he got into stock car racing.

Since the Setup was extended to an hour for this week only, there was plenty of time for interviews. No less than 13 drivers were interviewed prior to the green flag.

During the race itself, SPEED decided to shorten some of their commercial breaks to as little as one minute during green flag racing since the on-track action was so fast and furious. An interesting move. I doubt that it will be used in races outside of Daytona and Talladega in the future, but it’s a good policy to use. It makes me wish that SPEED could develop something similar to the Side-by-Side used by ESPN for their Izod IndyCar Series telecasts. Of course, they’d have to call it something else, but the ratings for the trucks are not that much higher than what the IndyCars get. It could work.

There was a good amount of usage of cameras mounted on helicopters on Saturday. Such a strategy would help SPEED show more of the on-track action since Talladega is so huge. Good to see. One thing that concerned me on Saturday was Waltrip constantly worrying about the pack, as if he were their mothers or something — simply annoying.

Post-race coverage was relatively short since the race went over its timeslot. There were interviews with multiple drivers, checks of the unofficial results and point standings before SPEED left the air.

This event was an exciting race to watch and SPEED did a very good job in covering the on-track action. There were even some funny moments during the telecast, like when Michael mentioned that the on-track action was making his makeup run. Completely random, but still funny.

ESPN could have done a better job saying their farewells to Jim Hunter.

AMP Energy Juice 500

During NASCAR Countdown, Allen Bestwick read a brief eulogy of Jim Hunter. Simple in its presentation, but based on how Hunter was described in the many online articles leading up to the race, perhaps it just wasn’t enough. The news may have come a little too late for ESPN to create a proper memorial.

The main feature talked about big wrecks and how drivers deal with them. The piece featured clips of big crashes from many different tracks and drivers (and Chad Knaus) talking about their thought processes. I didn’t really learn anything from this piece.

Another feature had Carl Edwards talking about racing at Talladega with input from crew chief Bob Osborne and other team members at the shop. Since the piece also gratuitously featured more clips of wrecks, I consider it to be a quasi-extension of the previous snippet.

Countdown also saw the first discussion of the battle to stay in the Top 35 from ESPN this season. I’m really surprised that it took them that long to even give the topic lip service. Of course, since Travis Kvapil failed to qualify, the issue more or less took care of itself.

ESPN botched the end of the race. The cameras were kept in tight on the six leaders in their two-car draft locks. As a result, the big crash that brought the festivities to an end was cut to in progress. Also, maybe its just me, but the reaction to the big crash, including Allmendinger’s roll was “whoop-de-do.” As if nobody cared about the wreck since it didn’t involve any Chasers. Never thought I’d have Jerry Punch flashbacks during a plate race.

Since the race ended ahead of schedule, ESPN had plenty of time for post-race coverage. They filled the time with interviews with Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin. In addition, there was a check of the point standings and some additional wrap-up discussion before ESPN left. My best guess is that because of the wait to figure out who had won the race, ESPN thought that they had chewed up their timeslot, and that is why they left so fast. Truth is, they ended up leaving Talladega for Sportscenter ten minutes early. Whoops.

Now, I understand that much of the first half-hour of that particular Sportscenter is focused on the Cup race and includes Carl Edwards’ studio jaunt, but it just doesn’t feel like its part of the main broadcast. At the very least, I like for my broadcasts to use their full timeslot.

This race was OK to watch, but it’s very difficult to screw up a restrictor plate race unless you’re actively trying to pimp something. FOX managed to do this last year with their Daytona 500 broadcast. However, the setup at the end of the race does leave something to be desired, and ESPN should take a look at that in order to fix it for the future.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the season reaches the homestretch. From here on out, all three of NASCAR’s major series will share the bill each week. The Sprint Cup, Nationwide, and Camping World Truck Series will return to Texas Motor Speedway for their second visits of the year.

Friday, November 5
Time Telecast Network
10:00 AM – 11:30 AM Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
12:00 PM – 1:30 PM Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil Free Practice 2 SPEED
1:30 – 3:00 PM Nationwide Series Happy Hour SPEED
3:00 – 4:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
4:30 – 6:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
8:30 – 9:00 PM NCWTS Setup SPEED
9:00 – 11:30 PM Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino 350k SPEED

Saturday, November 6
Time Telecast Network
9:30 AM – 10:30 AM Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
12:00 – 12:55 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
12:00 – 1:30 PM Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil Qualifying SPEED
12:55 – 3:30 PM Nationwide Series O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge ESPN2
8:00 PM – 12:00 AM World of Outlaws World Finals SPEED

Sunday, November 7 (Times here are in Eastern Standard Time due to Daylight Savings Time ending)
Time Telecast Network
9:00 AM – 10:00 AM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
9:30 – 10:30 AM NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
10:30 AM – 1:00 PM Formula One Grand Prix of Brazil SPEED
1:00 – 2:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot, Special Edition SPEED
2:00 – 3:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN
3:00 – 7:00 PM Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 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

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races for next week’s edition of Talking NASCAR TV here at The World Finals will be covered for next week’s edition of the Annex in our Newsletter. Also, note that Daylight Savings Time ends early Sunday morning. Don’t forget to turn your clocks back before you go to bed, or, if you’re like me, when it hits 2:00 AM for the first time.

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 either the SPEED or ESPN 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 a 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 ones full of rants and vitriol.

Contact Phil Allaway

Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
5 Points to Ponder: EGR Keeps The Bowtie, The Not-So-Wild Card, and the Yellow Line Club
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in NASCAR: Talladega-Texas Edition
No Bull: Did Kevin Harvick Say What Everyone Was Thinking?
It’s Not All About the Big 3: Five Men Who Have Three Races To Prove Themselves

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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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Michael in SoCal
11/02/2010 11:02 AM

Just curious if you had any broadcast issues during the truck race? In SoCal, the TV froze a number of times, which was really frustrating, especially with it being a plate race.

11/02/2010 12:04 PM

No broadcast problems for me up in Canada for the Truck race.

I watched the Big Block Mods as I do every year on SPEED—being a week delayed doesn’t bother me too much. The Aussie v8 Supercars are a week delayed too and I watch the whole season.

The Syracuse race was just plain awesome, amazing how strategy in a single dirt car race can be more fascinating than an entire season’s worth of strategy in the Cup series. Just a great race.

Kenny Wallace was annoying as hell though.

11/02/2010 12:38 PM

Just for your info. I always vote when you have a place too. Only 1 registered today.

11/02/2010 01:55 PM

I enjoyed the truck race camera work very much. I always get a laugh out of the Halloween getups — Waltrip’s NAPA sticker was annoying though. As you said, Mikey’s constant worrying about the pack was annoying to me as well — just call the race.

I thought ESPN did a mediocre job at Talladega. I skip all the pre-race garbage since its all the same junk each week and I refuse to subject myself to Kenny and Rusty Wallace and Brad. I don’t care what they think — if it was just AB in the booth, I’d be fine.

The end was a colossal fail – did they really only have one shot of the end of the race? Then the booth continued useless yakking until NASCAR finally came up with something for the end of the race. I did like Bowyer’s decision to go ahead and do a burnout — good for him. The only thing I’d have done in his place is “accidentally” hit the wall with my car — it would screwup any other nonsense NASCAR wants to pull when they take it back to the tech center.

Why is ESPN always in a hurry to get off the air? I’d like a decent post-race show and I don’t mean SC. I don’t bother with SC any other time, since they simply use the recorded stuff and have no idea what they are talking about – except for Craven and maybe Edwards.

11/02/2010 02:14 PM

If Speed would send both Kenny and Michael to Mars to cover the “Space Race” this would greatly improve all of thier other race broadcast.

11/02/2010 04:08 PM

Actually going from 300km to 200 miles is longer by 14 miles (186 vs 200 miles). The traditional short-track rule is 5/8.

But it’s interesting how ESPN has intentionally dropped coverage quality on sports when they move events to cable-only instead of network television. The ratings show it.