The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Why, Networks, Do You Embroil in Needless Controversy? by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday March 8, 2011

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Hello, race fans, and welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, where dissection of race broadcasts is the name of our game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series were back in action at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

However, before we start, FOX Sports announced Monday that Darrell Waltrip has been signed to a two-year contract extension that will run through the end of 2014. As a result, Waltrip will stay in the broadcast booth for the first 13 races of the season for the next three seasons beyond this year. Financial terms were not released.

In the press release that FOX Sports issued, Waltrip was extremely pleased at continuing in his current position.

“Being part of the NASCAR on FOX team has given me an opportunity to share my passion and love for NASCAR,” Waltrip said. “I never thought there would be anything that could replace the thrill of driving race cars. I was wrong. Bringing that thrill to the fans at home every week is just as exciting!”

Am I surprised at this? Heck no. I’m surprised he wasn’t already signed through 2014 when they started the current TV deal in 2007. To a company like FOX Sports, Waltrip is considered the biggest name in the booth, thus, the biggest draw. Yes, the new deal means that we’ll have to put up with 53 more (at the bare minimum) Boogitys at the beginning of races, but I’ll deal with that. Not like I could have stopped him, anyway.

Also, in the definite good news category, the ratings are up! (Yay!). Overnight ratings from Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 have been released, and NASCAR is likely all smiles. The quick overnights show a 5.3 rating and an 11 share, which is a 29 percent increase over last year. The rating is a little below the 5.5 overnight that the race earned in 2009, but it garnered a higher share than in ’09. Full ratings will likely be available later today.

Sam’s Town 300

The Nationwide Series returned to ABC Saturday for the first of four races this season (the others are at Iowa Speedway on All-Star Weekend, Charlotte the afternoon before the Coca-Cola 600, and Michigan in June).

NASCAR Countdown was filled with its usual quota of Infield Studio analysis from Brad Daugherty, Allen Bestwick and Dale Jarrett (replacing Rusty Wallace, who had the week off) before getting into their pre-race interviews. To be fair, they actually decided to do interviews with Nationwide Series regulars first before talking to the “whackers” from Sprint Cup, which is a nice change of pace. Often times, the Nationwide regulars get almost no air time in pre-race.

There was a brief feature that saw three of Turner Motorsports’ drivers (Reed Sorenson, Justin Allgaier and Jason Leffler) take a helicopter ride over the desert. Bit of an interesting feature since a lot of fans don’t really know much about Turner’s drivers (other than the Cup drivers like Ryan Newman, Mark Martin and Kasey Kahne who show up every now and then to drive).

A brief Craftsman Tech Garage feature saw Tim Brewer talk about the tapered spacers using a cutaway engine. The main purpose of that display was to show the importance of keeping up one’s momentum in the turns at Las Vegas.

I think that Marty Reid is a little slow on his reaction time to some of the incidents on track. For instance, the first caution flew on Lap 4 for Josh Wise’s trip through the grass and wheelie over the quarter-mile track for Legends cars. Now, I know that much of the time, the commentators are looking at monitors in the broadcast booth. However, the broadcast booth is typically right at the start-finish line on the outside of the track (Indianapolis appears to be the exception to that rule these days). The booth is not soundproof. I’m pretty sure someone would have noticed Wise’s issues before the cameras actually got there. Basically, what I’m saying here is that the commentators should not be complete slaves to the monitors in the booth. Look out the window as well. You might see something that the cameras do not show live.

We also saw a rare cut out of commercial break when Donnie Neuenberger spun for the second time without hitting anything. These days, such a move is welcomed. Good show.

Since the race ended early, there was plenty of post-race time. ABC conducted interviews with Carl Edwards, Mark Martin (and winning crew chief Trent Owens), Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier, Trevor Bayne, Denny Hamlin. There were also interviews with Todd Gordon (Brad Keselowski’s crew chief) and Tony Eury, Jr. (Patrick’s crew chief). In addition, there was some post-race analysis before ESPN left the air.

Josh Wise took a wild ride on Saturday, but the guys in the booth barely took notice at first.

ABC left the air a couple of minutes early, but apparently sprung the slightly early dismissal on the pit reporters with little notice. As a result, the producers told Jamie Little over her headset to stiff Johnny Benson (Patrick’s driver coach), whom she was in the process of asking a question to. Weak. They should have at least given her the courtesy to ask one question to Benson since she had basically started the line of questioning already. And before you ask, no, I’m not saying that just because I was a fan of Benson’s when he was driving in the Cup Series (which I do admit to). If that were Rick Crawford or Geoff Bodine, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Buddy Baker, or any other driver coach, I would have the same opinion.

Also, a controversy erupted on Twitter after the telecast ended. During post-race coverage, Reid mentioned that ESPN was trying to get an interview with Keselowski, but was unable to. Keselowski countered via his Twitter page that ABC’s pit reporters basically ignored him while he was on his way to his post-race press conference. Vince Welch then defended himself by claiming that he himself had called Penske’s PR minion on his cell phone to try to setup an interview. Unfortunately, the minion missed the call and time ran out. He did attempt to call Welch back, but Welch failed to pick up at the time. Keselowski went on to accuse ABC of having some kind of bias, a charge that was vehemently denied by both Welch and Bestwick.

The truth is, ABC didn’t do anything wrong here. These types of things happen sometimes. It is true that ABC made an effort to get an interview with Keselowski, and when they couldn’t pull it off, did one with Todd Gordon instead. Also, Keselowski didn’t mention what that television crew was doing when he walked them on the way to the Media Center. I doubt they were twiddling their thumbs, or having popsicles.

The controversy likely overshadowed what was a pretty good broadcast overall from ESPN on ABC. There was an appropriate level of coverage away from the leaders. Unfortunately, the long green flag runs and the general uncompetitiveness of much of the field made it hard to find good races for position on track, especially towards the end of the race. I was not a fan of how Little’s last interview went down. If they were so close on time, then they should have told her never to initiate the whole thing with intentions of airing it live. They should have had Little tell Eury and Benson that the interview would be taped and used on something like the 11am Sunday Morning edition of NASCAR Now, or on ESPNEWS. As it stands, the producers made Little look bad.

Kobalt Tools 400

Like at Phoenix, FOX went with a half-hour pre-race show. I believe that it will be the norm for the season, although Talladega next month and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte may well be exceptions to the rule.

The main feature of pre-race was a one-on-one interview that Waltrip conducted with recent winner Jeff Gordon. It could be argue that Waltrip shows some strengths in the one-on-one setup. He knows that much of his usual shtick from the actual race broadcasts won’t work in such a setup. It would just irritate whoever he was interviewing at the time. Having said that, I liked the interview.

There was a short piece on Tony Stewart driving a street legal version of his No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet as a cab in Las Vegas during the week as part of a publicity stunt for his sponsor (Mobil 1 uses Las Vegas cabs as a proving ground for their motor oils). Stewart drove what appeared to be a bunch of celebrities (Wayne Newton appeared to be one of them), and at least one Elvis impersonator, around town. It was underwhelming. I wished that they had either had Tony driving around a normal cab (which would have been white and pink, I guess), or picking up normal visitors like Dave Cowens once did during a brief retirement from the Boston Celtics.

Unlike in Phoenix, Revved Up! was more or less combined with the Gas n’ Go segment, which was shortened slightly in order to make room. Waltrip went off on fans that don’t like the new points system. I’ll admit that I didn’t think the change was really necessary (especially since we have a system quite similar to what we already had).

There was a substantial lack of driver interviews during pre-race. Only the Busch brothers were deemed worthy of interviews, and both of those were done via the Portable Infield Desk. I don’t know why FOX chose to go this route. Do they just assume that most of their audience watches NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot on SPEED before FOX’s Pre-Race Show?

FOX seems to be focusing a lot on tight shots and bumper cams early on this season. While nice if you want to show off your wares (technical capabilities), it is unfortunately not the best if you’re trying to cover a big race with 43 drivers in it. Such a tight focus means that Mike Joy has to take a bigger role, or at least, a more prominent role in calling the race. I’m not opposed to Joy having a larger role, but its mainly because of what we can’t see, which is weak.

The most noticeable example of Joy’s strategy came when Robby Gordon spun in Turn 4 on Lap 9. At the time, FOX was showing a bumper cam from Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 and Steve Byrnes was giving viewers some information from pit road about McMurray’s early woes (turned out, it was just about the only on-air mention of McMurray the entire day). Joy had to cut off Byrnes and notify the viewers of the incident. However, it was basically over by the time FOX finally cut to it. In the future, FOX would do well to cut to incidents a little faster. To be fair, FOX did immediately redeem themselves when Andy Lally spun out shortly after the restart. They cut out of a replay of Stewart passing Jeff Gordon for the lead to show that spin.

Truth be told, I’m already getting sick of some of these references to Digger during races. As you guys know, I’m not a fan of the critter and feel he has no place in the broadcasts. Thankfully, we’re not back to the level of having Digger cartoons in the pre-race show, which was an outright travesty in 2009, but I am a little worried now that the ratings are back up.

Once the race stretched out a little more, the issue of tight shots was not so much of a problem, thankfully. Since the field was stretched out, it forced FOX to use some wider shots. Sure, it was by necessity, but it worked.

Fuel filling issues were pronounced during the race, especially on Greg Biffle’s No. 16. Before the race, FOX pulled out their cutaway car to show how the new system works with the self-venting dump cans. It was quite interesting to look at. Something that I hadn’t thought about prior to the season. An example of the tight shots actually being good on Sunday was when Biffle’s team was having issues with getting their car full of fuel. The new dump cans, if viewed tight enough, have a visual tell of when the car is full of fuel (you can see air and bubbles in the vent tube) that wasn’t there with the old setup. FOX was able to catch that on-air during one of the late pit stops, and using the X-Mo feature, which seems to get better every week.

The race ended just about when FOX thought it would, so there was the normal amount of post-race coverage. There were interviews with the top four finishers (Carl Edwards, Juan Pablo Montoya, Stewart and Marcos Ambrose), along with checks of the unofficial results and point standings before they left the air at 6:30pm Eastern.

The coverage was nothing groundbreaking on Sunday. I think that what we saw will be the typical broadcast we get this year. For the sake of arguing the point, I think that FOX would do well to give a little more exposure to some teams further down the order. I feel as though they only get referenced if certain notables are back there (Jimmie Johnson on Sunday would be an example of that).

That’s all for this week, folks. This upcoming weekend used to be what I liked to call “the off-week to end all off-weeks.” For the last two seasons, all three of NASCAR’s National series were off, and basically nobody else was on track. Luckily, that isn’t the case this year. The Camping World Truck Series will be the main series in action with the Too Tough To Tame 200 from Darlington Raceway. Unfortunately, that’s the only four-wheeled circuit racing that will be televised next weekend. Formula One was supposed to have their season opening Grand Prix of Bahrain this weekend as well, but if you’ve been following world events recently, that’s just not in the cards. Their season will start in Melbourne, Australia on March 27. The Grand Prix of Bahrain will be made up at some point, likely near the end of the season.

There are other forms of racing available for viewing, though. Saturday is the Daytona 200, the climax of Bike Week in Daytona Beach. Florida and Sunday is eliminations for the NHRA Tire Kingdom Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida (with special guest Kurt Busch, if he qualifies in the notoriously close Pro Stock class).

Also of note, Daylight Savings Time begins this weekend. Don’t forget to set your clocks ahead one hour before you go to sleep on Saturday night (unless you live in a place like Arizona, where they don’t observe it). Here’s your listings:

Saturday, March 12
Time Telecast Network
1:00 PM – 3:30 PM AMA Daytona SportBike Daytona 200 SPEED
3:30 – 4:30 PM Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
4:30 – 5:00 PM NCWTS Setup SPEED
5:00 – 7:30 PM Camping World Truck Series Too Tough To Tame 200 SPEED
11:00 PM – 12:00 AM AMA Daytona SuperBike Race No. 1 SPEED*

Sunday, March 13
Time Telecast Network
12:00 AM – 1:30 AM NHRA Tire Kingdom Gatornationals Qualifying ESPN2*
12:00 – 1:00 AM AMA Daytona SuperBike Race No. 2 SPEED*
3:00 – 4:00 PM AMA Grand National, Daytona Flat Track SPEED*
6:00 – 9:00 PM NHRA Tire Kingdom Gatornationals Eliminations ESPN2*
7:00 – 8:00 PM SPEED Center SPEED
9:00 – 10:00 PM Wind Tunnel SPEED

*=Tape-Delayed

Note that qualifying for the NHRA Tire Kingdom Gatornationals will be available live on ESPN3.com. Check with your local cable company and/or internet service provider for details.

I will definitely provide a critique for the Camping World Truck Series race in next week’s critique here at Frontstretch. I will also cover SPEED Center, SPEED’s revamping of the former SPEED Report that is hosted by Adam Alexander.

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 networksl personally with an issue regarding their TV coverage from last weekend, please click on the following links:

FOX
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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Rick P
03/08/2011 07:45 AM
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Maybe Keselowski can get his daddy to come do something to ABC’s reporters such as when Daddy Kes said he was going to put the smack down on Carl Edwards after he dissed his baby boy.

What a wimp.

Stephen HOOD
03/08/2011 07:55 AM
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You mention Waltrip did a nice job in his one on one interview with Jeff Gordon. I enjoy Waltrip when he’s on Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain. He actually makes thoughtful points and doesn’t come across as a rube. He’s also good when he’s on documentaries about the good old days.

I don’t know what it is about the race broadcast but Waltrip is far more irritating. Maybe it is the speed at which events are unfolding or the lack of a skilled producer, but Waltrip isn’t nearly as insightful or helpful on the race broadcast or the pre and post race shows. I don’t hate Waltrip like many people do, but I do find him lacking on race broadcasts.

The guy I really dislike is the Reid guy on ABC/ESPN. About half the time he doesn’t seem to know what he’s talking about and he continually talks over the other announcers. He is not very insightful and his race analysis always seems off the mark. I’d like to see someone else in the both for the ABC/ESPN broadcasts and I hope he’s not around when Sprint Cup moves to ABC/ESPN later in the season.

Also, is it just me or was Jamie Little’s interview of Danica Patrick after the Nationwide race a little condescending? The whole “girl” this and “girl” that seemed a bit unprofessional and somewhat pejorative. Little might have been excited, but her interview was a bit too hip hop and she sounded stupid to me.

AnnieMack
03/08/2011 09:37 AM
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Based on the fact that I’ve never heard anyone say they enjoy Darryl Waltrip in the booth, I can’t imagine why Fox extended his contract. Either Fox doesn’t care who enjoys their broadcast or they feel DWs presence brings a bit of controversy that is healthy. Whatever their reasoning, I’m sad they made the decision and wish they had opted for someone who can cover the race without sounding and acting like an idiot. The one (of many) things that DW does that drives me insane is his insistance that he can read the driver’s mind. He’ll sit there and tell you a driver did this or did that because he (or in Danica’s case, she) was thinking this or thinking that. He has no more idea what the driver was thinking than we do. If Fox hung around after the race and put as much into their post-race coverage as they do their pre-race sideshow, maybe they could interview the drivers and ask them what they were thinking when they did something. I can’t wait for Fox to be done.

Joe
03/08/2011 11:47 AM
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Good Lord…..3 MORE years of that self loving wind bag. In his press release he said he never thought he would find anything that would replace the “thrill” of driving race cars…but he did…..NOW he’s passionate about being a “shill” for “TY-OTA”. He’s a joke and so is FOX. But, luckily I found a radio station out of Melbourne Florida AM1300 that broadcasts every Cup race and streams it on the computer. I NEVER have to listen to “ol DW” again! Just mute the TV and here the EXCELLENT play by play by truly giftey MRN and PRN announcers of ALL the action from ALL the drivers. Life is good! And who needs pre and post race shows? We’ve got Frontstretch!

Jersey Girl
03/08/2011 11:51 AM
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While I enjoy DW with his one on one interviews and some of the segments he does on Race Hub, he fails to impress me with his performance in the booth.

You said what we saw from the TV broadcast at Vegas is probably what we can expect to see for the rest of Fox’s tenure-since I thought it was a dreadful waste of 4 hrs of my time – you can count me out.

I spent a lot of time that the race was “on” switching back and forth to “the mummy returns” which was more interesting than what was on Fox.

The weather is starting to warm up and since I have to use my computer and listen to MRN/PRN’s broadcast to actually find out what is going on in the race, why should I waste it inside being annoyed at the fact that I’m NOT actually seeing the race I tuned in for?

Ratings may be up since the 500 usually gets a good audience, but will it last — maybe, but I don’t think I’ll be among the viewing audience.

Joe
03/08/2011 12:02 PM
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Sorry….meant to say “hear”!

Joe W.
03/08/2011 12:33 PM
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Well here is one Joe agreeing with another Joe. If D.W. could for once stop trying to shove toyota down our throats and just call the race, maybe we could tolerate him. How many races did ole DW win in a “yota” oh that’s right a big ZERO. So I just wish he would lay off that or just go away but niether is likely to happen. I love the idea of muting the sound and listening to MRN and PRN. That is the way to watch a race for sure!!

RamblinWreck
03/08/2011 12:54 PM
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Pretty disappointing coverage… I don’t think they showed Clint Bowyer once the entire race. I’m sure plenty of fans of other drivers could say the same.

e
03/08/2011 07:19 PM
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As you guys know, I’m not a fan of the critter and feel he has no place in the broadcasts. Thankfully, we’re not back to the level of having Digger cartoons in the pre-race show, which was an outright travesty in 2009, but I am a little worried now that the ratings are back up.

LOL my kids love Digger. And they loved his cameo on Alvin n the Chipmunks too.

Steve
03/09/2011 02:50 PM
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5pm Eastern time on Saturday is the best they can do for the only Nascar race this weekend? Can’t put this on in primetime? Must be another more thrilling episodes of “Car Wars” reruns on that night. Pathetic!

The reason why Darryl is so terrible in the booth is because he is so unprepared. Add in the fact that his ego can’t handle keeping his trap shut and he makes stupid comments. The big sign of his lack of preparedness is when he told the whole world how unprepared he was after Bayne won the 500 by pulling out a blank piece of paper and stating that was all the info DW had on him. His booth buddies actually thought it was funny.

David Hill loves DW and actually thinks he adds something to the broadcast. Instead of trying to shed the red neck stereotype that Nascar is trying to get rid of, he enables DW to do his “3 boogity” every week. And he wonders why his ratings are down and beleive me they will not stay up as they had the last few weeks. This week off will kill any of that momentum.