The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Why Craven's One to Watch by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday April 26, 2011

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Talking NASCAR TV: Why Craven's One to Watch

Phil Allaway · Tuesday April 26, 2011

 

Hello, and welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, where I look into the race broadcasts that we all watch and sometimes enjoy. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup Series was off, but the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series were both in action at Nashville Superspeedway.

Before we start, Jim Noble announced via Twitter last weekend that he will not be back on TNT’s Summer Series broadcasts in any form in 2011. Noble was the dedicated reporter for Turner Sports’ free RaceBuddy service, available at nascar.com. He would provide updates from the pits during commercials and give some input during the Countdown to Green pre-race show on TNT. It appears that Noble will not be replaced. Noble will still serve as a pit reporter for PRN Radio and will serve as a pit reporter for ESPN at three Nationwide races later this season.

Bully Hill Vineyards 200

The big story on the Setup Friday night had nothing to do with the race itself, but it was all about SPEED. Friday night’s telecast of the Bully Hill Vineyards 200 was the 200th Truck Series race to air on the network, an impressive accomplishment. Really, it’s hard to imagine that we’re in the ninth year of the Trucks being on SPEED.

Recently, I came across the 2002 Advance Auto Parts 250 from Martinsville on YouTube. ESPN2 televised the race with Dr. Punch doing play-by-play with Phil Parsons. Ray Dunlap and Amy East Cook were in the pits. It was a completely different telecast feel from what I’m now used to from SPEED. This change occurred even though the Parsons and Dunlap of 2002 are near identical to the Parsons and Dunlap of today.

It could be argued that SPEED has really placed the series up on a higher pedestal than they could have ever gotten from ESPN, which was still angry (at the time) about not only being frozen out of the TV deal that started in 2001 for the then-Winston Cup and Busch Series, but also not being allowed on track property (outside of Truck races). You might remember that period as the time when Mike Massaro did the equivalent of dressing up as a discarded half-gallon of ice cream in order to maintain ESPN’s presence at the highest levels of the sport.

To help celebrate the 200th race on SPEED, the major feature of the Setup was a countdown of the Top 10 moments that SPEED televised over the past nine years. The countdown was also punctuated with interviews with the notable protagonists. Most of those figures are still actively involved in the series. Carl Edwards, who just so happened to be at the track via his Nationwide duties, was a notable exception. Think of it as a 30-minute long edition of The Vault.

The main problem with SPEED dedicating the entire pre-race to… themselves is that they basically did not preview the race in any way. That is not cool. However, we did get to see Krista Voda get “caked” by Matt Crafton. Oh, what I would do for a screen cap of Voda getting the cake smashed in her face with something like “Pwned” on the picture. Seems like the perfect picture for something like the comment section at Jalopnik. What? I can’t have my cake and eat it, too? I need as much humor I can get these days. Of course, the instant replay of it wasn’t exactly necessary.

Since Michael Waltrip was at the Circuit de la Sarthe near Le Mans, France testing for his debut appearance in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, older brother Darrell was in the broadcast booth in a substitute role. I’m sure that many of my readers were seriously fretting Darrell’s involvement with the production. However, there are a couple of ways that I can gauge how Darrell’s presence will effect the broadcast itself.

Darrell Waltrip makes a solid broadcaster…when calling the Trucks or Nationwide series.

Firstly, as completely innocent as it seems, I look at whether Darrell is allowed to do his whole Boogity thing. You know what I’m getting at. If he does it, then we might be in for a long night. If not, then the telecast might be quite interesting. It’s really all about control. Or to be more specific, the play-by-play man (Allen, in this case) assuming control over his domain. I know, it sounds very Dog Whisperer-ish. Or at the very least, like the Dog Whisperer impersonator on South Park a few years ago in Season 10. It should be noted that this restriction only applies to non-Cup races, where Darrell is not necessarily a regular. If it’s a FOX Cup race, it’s happening whether you like it or not.

Secondly, I look at Darrell’s analysis during the race itself. When he’s focused on the race at hand, he is possibly one of the best analysts in all of motorsports. He has a lot of insight on racing that he can easily espouse and make relevant, even if he never raced on the track itself (like at Nashville Superspeedway). However, he does get off-topic at times and that can mess with a broadcast.

Finally, there is the whole courtesy factor. Is Darrell picking his spots with his commentary, or is he all over people? If it’s the latter, you’ve got problems. There is no problem with someone “chomping at the bit,” but there is with outright cutting people off.

Darrell exhibited all the positive attributes that I mentioned above on Friday night. As a result, his presence on the broadcast was a great advantage.

Allen and Parsons brought their usual degree of enthusiasm to the race telecast. I had no real complaints there. However, there is still the continuing heaping of praise on Kyle Busch for completely random accomplishments. On Friday, it was Kyle leading his 20,000th lap in NASCAR’s top three series. Where the heck did that come from, and why am I supposed to care? He’s a Cup driver in the Camping World Truck Series. Accomplishments like that shouldn’t matter.

Post-race coverage was quite substantial. There were nine post-race interviews, in addition to checks of the unofficial results and point standings before SPEED left the air. That put the bow on an excellent broadcast – with the exception of the pre-race coverage that was missing – to mark such a special anniversary for the network.

Nashville 300

Saturday afternoon saw the Nationwide Series back in action. Regular ESPN carried the standalone race instead of ESPN2. Since it was the first non-Cup support event of the season, ESPN decided that now was a good time to really get to know some of the Nationwide-only regulars. On paper, the features that ESPN did were pretty good. However, I don’t think that they needed to wait this long to break them out.

It is because ESPN waited this long to give the regulars a little more than just lip service that has led writers to accuse them of not caring about them. I don’t necessarily believe that ESPN has some wild bias against the regular Nationwide teams. Even if they did, they would never admit to such a thing because it could theoretically put them at odds with Nationwide, NASCAR and any number of other entities. They claim to simply cover the main stories of the race. Unfortunately, the Cup drivers are the main story most of the time because they’ve been the only ones in contention to win the last 39 races, for better or worse. That is not ESPN’s fault; it’s the fault of NASCAR, the teams, and most importantly, the sponsors.

One feature was based around the rickyvstrevor.com website that Roush Fenway Racing has created to hype Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Trevor Bayne. On the site, the two drivers challenge each other to do different tasks. The concept is nothing new. Its essentially a racing version of Kenny vs. Spenny, originally a Canadian show that was picked up by the Game Show Network in 2004 when they re-launched as GSN. Trey Parker and Matt Stone revived the show a couple of years ago for Comedy Central.

It was nice for teams like Turner Motorsports and Justin Allgaier to get extra feature and camera time at Nashville. But why did it take so long into the season for ESPN to focus on Nationwide-only drivers?

Here, Jamie Little set up a couple of random tasks for the two Roush Fenway drivers to perform as fast as possible. The tasks were Easter-themed. For example, one involved stuffing Peeps into one’s mouth as fast as possible. I thought the feature was a little weird and simplistic, like ESPN was stretched for time. The stuff that is on the Ricky vs. Trevor website is probably better.

There was another feature on Stenhouse and his great improvement since the middle of last season. As well as he has performed in 2011, I literally think that ESPN doesn’t know much about him. The feature shown Saturday contained new footage, but was almost no different from the last one.

Another feature focused on Aric Almirola, his upbringing and his career over the past couple of years. I found it interesting because viewers haven’t learned much about Almirola in his nearly six years in the upper levels of NASCAR. Yes, I knew he was of Cuban descent, but that was about it. There was also no mention of his only “win” in the series (Milwaukee back in 2007, when he was infamously pulled out of the car 59 laps into the race and replaced by Denny Hamlin). There was also no mention made of his success in the Camping World Truck Series. Interesting, but very much incomplete.

Taking a cue from FOX, ESPN also decided to take a look at the pit road loops and NASCAR’s automated speed control system on pit road. However, since FOX beat them to the air with their footage by two weeks, viewers (if they watched the Cup race from Texas) didn’t learn anything in the actual feature. Dave Burns did show where the loops were located on pit road for Saturday’s race in Nashville on a printed-out pit sheet right after it aired. That was a good move. I think that NASCAR’s TV partners should get a hold of the loop locations and make use of them on the broadcasts. Also, NASCAR needs to do a better job of showing fans where the loops are (remember, they do not correspond to lines on pit road).

In addition to the aforementioned features, ESPN gave viewers a dozen pre-race interviews with Nationwide-only regulars, Cup drivers, and other series interlopers (Austin Dillon). Quite a substantial amount. All in all, a pretty good pre-race show. Just shows that when you don’t spend 32 minutes mindlessly analyzing the upcoming race from the Infield Studio, you can get quite a bit done.

The trio of Reid, Daugherty and Craven was an interesting one in the booth. Before we even got to the race, I was under the opinion that Craven is an underused asset in ESPN’s NASCAR coverage. Not too dissimilar to Randy LaJoie’s standing before he completely screwed up and “Smokeyed MacPot.” Assuming that Craven doesn’t shoot himself in the foot sometime in the future, he could be very useful for ESPN’s coverage.

Our own Garrett Horton thinks that Craven could be useful for ESPN’s Sprint Cup coverage in the booth, and I agree wholeheartedly. In that case, I would have no clue which one of the analysts would have to go to accommodate Craven to maintain the three-man crew. A four-man crew, as Ned Jarrett’s guest appearance at Charlotte, and the “Backseat Drivers” shenanigans from 2009 prove, simply does not work.

Why does Craven do well? He explains what’s going on in simple terms, but doesn’t insult the intelligence of the audience. Also, he is very sensitive to how a car looks on track. To give an example, Craven mentioned how Justin Allgaier’s No. 31 was not handling all that well in qualifying. A radio transmission from Allgaier that was played on-air live effectively repeated what Craven said. Also, Reid seemed to be a little more comfortable working with Craven than Dale Jarrett, which is a little surprising knowing that we’re into Reid’s second full year with Dale.

As for Daugherty, he was an interesting choice to partner up. I’ve always been a bit unclear as to his official role on the broadcast. If it is to be excitable, then he passes with flying colors. I guess he’s supposed to be bringing in the insight of an owner to the broadcast. Most of the time, it doesn’t really help that much.

The race broadcast itself was not all that bad. ESPN made a concerted effort to give equal treatment to the Nationwide-only regulars as opposed to the Cup regulars, of which only five were even in the race. They definitely foresaw some of the sentiment that the weekend was likely to bring if the Cup drivers dominated.

Since the race was relatively quick with minimal long cautions, there was quite a bit of post-race coverage. ESPN provided viewers with a dozen more interviews. These interviews were with subjects just as varied as back in NASCAR Countdown. There were also a check of the point standings before ESPN left the air.

The broadcast was quite interesting to watch. Craven is a joy to listen to in the booth, but is and will continue to be underused. Reid and Daugherty were OK, although Brad did say a couple of weird things during the race that made almost no sense.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series returns from their traditional Easter break to race at Richmond International Raceway, typically one of the more exciting races early on in the season. The Nationwide Series will serve as the primary support. Remember that the Nationwide race will be on SPEED due to ESPN’s coverage of the NFL Draft and the NBA Playoffs. Also, the Izod IndyCar Series will be back in action in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Here’s your listings:

Thursday, April 28
Time Telecast Network
8:00 PM – 9:30 PM Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown SPEED

Friday, April 29
Time Telecast Network
10:30 AM – 12:00 PM Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
12:00 – 2:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
2:30 – 3:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
4:00 – 5:30 PM Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
5:30 – 7:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
7:30 – 10:00 PM Nationwide Series BUBBA Burger 250 SPEED
10:00 – 10:30 PM SPEED Center SPEED

Saturday, April 30
Time Telecast Network
12:00 PM – 1:00 PM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
4:30 – 5:00 PM SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
5:00 – 7:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
6:00 – 7:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying Versus*
7:00 – 7:30 PM FOX Pre-Race Delivered by Pizza Hut FOX
7:30 – 11:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Crown Royal Presents the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 FOX
11:00 – 11:30 PM SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED

Sunday, May 1
Time Telecast Network
12:00 PM – 3:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 Versus
3:00 – 3:30 PM Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race (Long Beach) SPEED*
7:00 – 7:30 PM SPEED Center SPEED
8:00 – 9:00 PM NASCAR Victory Lane Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
9:00 – 10:00 PM Wind Tunnel SPEED

*- Tape-Delayed

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races from Richmond next week here at Frontstretch.com. In addition, I will critique the Izod IndyCar Series race from Sao Paulo. The Critic’s Annex on May 5th (in our Free Newsletter edition) will cover Denny Hamlin’s invitational race, which was moved to Richmond International Raceway due to its former home, Southside Speedway, shutting down at the end of last season. This week’s Annex will cover the V8 Supercars from Hamilton, New Zealand.

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 any of the TV partners 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




Tuesday on the Frontstretch:
Five Points to Ponder: Damaging Debris, Double Duty Disasters, And Hendrick’s New Connection
Who’s Hot / Not in NASCAR: Talladega-Nashville Edition
Fact Or Fiction: Chewing On The Meat Of NASCAR’s Regular Season
The Winner Might Just Take It All… Even With A Mediocre Regular Season
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NASCAR Easter Eggs: A Few Off-Week Nuggets to Chew On
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Don Mei
04/26/2011 12:41 PM
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I completely agree with Susan about Ricky Craven. The guy is a class act and extremely thoughtful in his comments. Kind of reminds me of Ned. I dont really see what Dougherty brings to the tablle. If we must have an owners perspective, lets limit it to pre-race conversations.

Wayne
04/26/2011 02:04 PM
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I strongly agree about how good Ricky Craven is at his new TV job.Everything Susan said is true and I personally look forward to when he’s on. I STRONGLY disagree about DW being the best analyst in Motor sports when he’s focused. I’m 61 years old and have been around racing my whole life and most of what DW says does not ring true. Even when he’s focused he’s wrong more than he’s right, plain and simple. Ricky adds to the enjoyment of NASCAR whereas DW ruins it for me. I’m sick of his and his brothers acts and wish they would go away!!

Lastlap
04/26/2011 07:55 PM
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Love that picture of Ricky the Race Nerd. No wonder he couldn’t make it behind the wheel.
Too bad Jaws didn’t fade away like Earnhard did.

Nick Doneilo
04/26/2011 08:45 PM
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I love Craven in the booth. I think NW broadcasts should consist of different people than Cup broadcasts. (When ESPN covers the Cup races later on in the year) Let’s have Reid be the lead announcer for both series, but have Craven and Petree for the Cup races, while Jarrett and Wallace could team up for the NW races. I don’t really care for Wallace, but I like him a bit better than Brad.

Bette
04/26/2011 11:37 PM
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I really liked having Ricky Craven on Saturday.Called it like he saw it. Liked all the comments today except for “Lastlap”. Guess he thought he was funny. Wrong!

SHOEMAN
04/27/2011 12:22 PM
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I have to agree with Susan about Ricky Craven. And I do miss him in the car racing. The most exciting race I have ever seen featured his .002 of a second win over Kurt Bush. One I will never forget.

Joe
04/27/2011 03:12 PM
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I agree with Susan and Wayne! Craven is very good and DW SUCKS!