The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Did Darrell Waltrip Go Biased Towards Busch At Darlington? by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday May 10, 2011

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, a column that breaks apart the ins and outs of the racing broadcasts you see each week. In the last few days, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series had a special Mother’s Day present for you: making their one and only trip to Darlington Raceway, one of stock car racing’s oldest and most legendary facilities. With Saturday night’s Southern 500, the 1.366-mile oval has now hosted 165 races within NASCAR’s top three divisions since first debuting on the Cup Series schedule in 1950.

How did the racing look on TV? There’s plenty to talk about this week, so let’s not waste any time…

Royal Purple 200

Friday night from Darlington began with a musical ploy from ESPN. The network, getting creative made prodigious use of the 1975 song “Evil Woman” from Electric Light Orchestra in an attempt to capture the 1.366-mile oval’s nasty characteristics. I don’t believe it worked all that well, though. Truth is, most of the issues that plagued drivers on this night were self-inflicted.

Nationwide’s sponsorship of NASCAR’s second-tier series has simply evolved into financial support of Kyle Busch’s “crush everything” tour – covered at length by ESPN.

ESPN showed off two very well-done features during the Countdown show. One was a segment on Eric McClure and the tragedy he had with a tornado hitting his house in southwest Virginia a couple of weeks ago. McClure and wife Melanie described the harrowing ordeal while sitting outside of their stricken home, an on-location interview that really accentuated the experience. It appeared that ESPN captured the best sides of McClure’s house, because the damage shown didn’t really match the driver’s own descriptions he posted to Twitter after the storm blew through. Unfortunately for McClure, all the coverage he got on Friday night was in the feature, as he did not get mentioned at all on the broadcast until after he dropped out of the race (even then, ESPN never notified viewers as to why he pulled into the garage). The network definitely loses points for telling such a compelling story, then failing to connect it to the actual race itself.

Another feature that was shown featured Bud Moore, Cotton Owens and David Pearson having lunch at a local diner with Dale Jarrett. Like a normal weekday afternoon, the three began to spin war stories with Jarrett helping (at times) to drive the conversation along. Much of the discussion focused on supposed cheating, or hiding said cheating in NASCAR’s golden era. Jarrett sat back for much of the time and watched with a big grin on his face, acting as if he just wanted to take in the discussion. Of course, he had a reason to grin; the piece was strong. But it should be noted that the whole conversation actually premiered earlier in the day during NASCAR Now. The feature could also have been improved by capturing the aforementioned three guys’ discussion in a “natural” form, meaning they do all the reminiscing themselves without Jarrett there to facilitate.

In addition to those special segments, ESPN brought viewers three pre-race interviews and the typical amount of overblown analysis from the Pit Studio.

During the race itself, there was a lot of focus on the front couple of cars (Kyle Busch (as always), Kasey Kahne, and Carl Edwards). Very few of the series regulars got much coverage until Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier reached the front via pit strategy. Such a philosophy fits into ESPN’s desire to focus on the front of the field, regardless of whether the drivers up there are actually Nationwide regulars.

But that narrow-minded focus, especially when you’re televising a series in which invaders constantly snatch up wins, is not always the most prudent. I don’t know what Nationwide was expecting when they plunked down $12 million a year to serve as the title sponsor for this division. Were they expecting a group of strong, independent series drivers to be spotlighted? Or, were they expecting Edwards, Busch and a couple other random Cupwhackers to be the stars of a second-tier division? I’d like to hear their thoughts on the issue.

ESPN also rolled out a new graphic during the race Friday. There are now “Restart Recaps,” which work very similarly to the race recap graphics that pop up from time to time. They list the leader, who got the Lucky Dog (if applicable) and so on. Not a bad idea, but ESPN should not use it as a crutch. Reid should still acknowledge what’s going on ahead of each restart instead of letting the graphic tell the story completely.

The network also failed to show what happened to cause Chris Buescher’s flat tire on Lap 44. That incident led to a caution for debris, also never caught on camera so viewers were left in the dark as to why the racing slowed. Not cool.

Since the race ended relatively early, there was quite a bit of post-race coverage. ESPN provided viewers with nine post-race interviews and checks of the point standings. There was also plenty of post-race discussion before they left the air as well. However, the network still chose to bolt ten minutes before the end of their allotted time. I have no clue why they did it, although the thought of running out of people to interview was a possibility. Regardless, ESPN should make a point to always fill their slot when a race ends early. I’m sure that they have plenty of NASCAR-related programming they can use to fill.

What viewers were given Friday night from ESPN was more or less a typical broadcast. Pre-race coverage was above average, but the race telecast was not so good. Last week, I stated that ESPN should have taken notes on how to cover the series regulars from SPEED’s broadcast at Richmond. Obviously, they chose not to. We’re all losing out because of that.

Showtime Southern 500

Saturday night brought FOX back out to play at Darlington. However, much of the network’s pre-race coverage was dedicated to the shenanigans from the previous Saturday night in Richmond.

Ryan Newman got a lot of airtime, far more than he likely deserved after his problems with Juan Pablo Montoya. He got a regular pre-race interview (as I’ve mentioned this season, very rare indeed) and a one-on-one interview with Darrell Waltrip. Both Waltrip and Matt Yocum pressed Newman to talk about the Richmond incidents with Montoya, with little success. Newman did talk a little about the discussion in the hauler and what was discussed there. Somehow, the moon landing and “Wrasslin’” also made its way into the conversation as well (apparently, Waltrip’s mother was a fan of professional wrestling when he was younger, likely out of the Mid-South territory).

On Saturday night, following his Richmond rivalry gone viral with Juan Pablo Montoya FOX featured Ryan Newman more than the rest of the 2011 season combined.

In addition to the interviews, there was significant discussion of whether a fracas broke out during the aforementioned hauler discussion. Neither driver will discuss it, but opinion is trending toward yes, they did.

During races, FOX will do rundowns through the field when there isn’t all that much action. Mike Joy will go through each lead lap car and talk a little bit about them. This type of coverage was done at least twice on Saturday night, a positive aspect to their broadcast that fans seem to appreciate.

The big issue that developed as a storyline was the handling of the Kyle Busch-Kevin Harvick conflict that broke out late in the race. First, there was the cutaway to show a close-up of Clint Bowyer’s crashed No. 33 when Harvick’s car was spinning on the frontstretch. That was not a good move.

FOX and BSI (the vendor that provides the in-car cameras for the broadcasts) didn’t do themselves any favors here when they were showing a replay of the incident from Jeff Gordon’s roof-cam. They had the perfect view to see whether Kyle intentionally turned Harvick. However, right at the last second, they switched from the roof-cam to the rear bumper-cam to show Bowyer hitting the inside wall. I think that FOX was undecided as to what was the bigger story in that incident. Yes, Bowyer took a big hit (somewhat similar to Brian Scott’s on Friday night). Yes, Bowyer was quite unhappy about the wreck. However, that was not the big story that unfolded.

Yes, there was discussion over whether Kyle’s actions were intentional. Waltrip was not sure if it was or not, claiming he needed to see a couple more angles. That’s perfectly fair. He just didn’t want to make a snap judgment. The aforementioned situation is a touchy subject with Waltrip, who has been accused of essentially having a “man crush” on Kyle. That “man crush” has manifested itself in what many viewers consider to be biased coverage of Kyle over the past year or two. Believe me, I get emails on that very subject every week.

Do I think that Waltrip was blatantly covering for Kyle in this situation? It didn’t appear as such. Not at first. He just wanted to know all the facts before reaching a consensus. However, I do believe that he probably went easy on Kyle. It seemed like he didn’t want to come out and say that Kyle was in the wrong, even though Joy and Larry McReynolds were pretty much convinced that it was intentional. I also don’t necessarily agree with our Amy Henderson’s opinion that NASCAR should have parked Kyle after the spin. Yes, it did look blatant, but not blatant enough for an immediate parking. He should have been docked a lap or two, though. NASCAR is within their authority to assess those types of penalties.

Waltrip was simply exasperated at what happened on pit road after the race. I’m sure he couldn’t believe what he was seeing, becoming nearly speechless along with Joy and McReynolds. I’m sure if I were to ask Waltrip if he was OK with Kyle’s tactics on pit road right now, he would most definitely not approve. No one would actually condone what Kyle did.

In the meantime, coverage of the last couple of laps was completely focused on the top-2 drivers (Regan Smith and Carl Edwards) regardless of the craziness behind them. Paul Menard apparently blew an engine, which only got a brief mention from Joy. Then, a crash broke out on the backstretch involving Bobby Labonte. There was no quick shot of the wreck to establish anything. The only time it was referenced before the checkered flag flew was when Waltrip mentioned it in passing, as if to say “Oh yeah, there’s a wreck over there, whoopee.” Not the best way to cover the final laps.

Unfortunately, the stupidity between Kyle Busch and Harvick took a lot of the limelight away from first-time winner Regan Smith. Stupid stuff always seems to overshadow first-time victors these days. We didn’t really need a split-screen completely dedicated to the conflict while Smith was celebrating his win. Also of note, I cannot recall Smith being mentioned much at all on the telecast prior to there being 50 laps to go, despite the No. 78 running well for most of the race. That’s really rare when you think about it.

Even though the race ended 12 minutes after the end of FOX’s timeslot, there was still a good amount of post-race coverage. There were six post-race interviews, a check of the point standings and a substantial amount of post-race analysis.

The first half of Saturday’s race really wasn’t bad. There was a good amount of coverage throughout the field, and the commentary was fair and balanced. Still too many bumper-cam shots, though. However, towards the end of the race, the coverage became heavily focused on a couple of storylines at the expense of giving even some basic aspects of the event their proper due. That is something that FOX cannot do.

Also, the Waltrip bias is something that needs to be monitored for the rest of the season. When people keep on contacting you with the same type of concerns, it is officially something worth looking at. It should be noted in DW’s defense that sans Kyle Busch, there were no ridiculous moments of favoritism Saturday night, along with zero touting of Toyota products over everything else – like some people have also accused Waltrip of doing in the past. But he needs to be aware of situations where favoritism of drivers might crop up and act appropriately not to cross that line.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, all three of NASCAR’s major series are back in action at Dover International Speedway. Meanwhile, the Rolex Sports Car Series returns from their one month break at the 3.27-mile Virginia International Raceway for their fourth race of the year, where a bounty of $25,000 has been placed on the Ganassi duo of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. Here’s your listings:

Friday, May 13
Time Telecast Network
10:00 AM – 11:00 AM Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
11:00 AM – 12:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
12:30 – 2:30 PM Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
2:30 – 4:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
8:00 – 8:30 PM NCWTS Setup SPEED*
8:30 – 11:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 200 SPEED*
11:00 – 11:30 PM SPEED Center SPEED

Saturday, May 14
Time Telecast Network
10:30 AM – 11:30 AM Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2
12:00 PM – 1:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
1:30 – 2:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN
2:00 – 4:30 PM Nationwide Series 5-Hour Energy 200 ESPN
5:00 – 8:00 PM Rolex Sports Car Series Bosch Engineering 250 SPEED*
8:00 – 8:30 PM SPEED Center SPEED

Sunday, May 15
Time Telecast Network
9:00 AM – 10:00 AM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
10:00 – 10:30 AM SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
10:30 AM – 12:30 PM NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
12:30 – 1:00 PM FOX Pre-Race Delivered by Pizza Hut FOX
1:00 – 5:00 PM Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks FOX
7:00 – 8:00 PM SPEED Center, Post-Race 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, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races in next week’s critique at Frontstretch. In addition, I will cover any other TV-related news that breaks over the next week. The Rolex Sports Car Series telecast will be covered in a future edition of the Critic’s Annex, a column which can be seen only in our free Frontstretch Newsletter.

One more note about the schedule. If you were confused about the Camping World Truck Series times, well, don’t be; you read that right, as the Lucas Oil 200 will be aired on SPEED via tape-delay (NOT live). This adjustment seems to happen every year, a move I simply don’t understand from any perspective. Yes, a 5 PM Friday afternoon start for a race is not ideal, but the Truck Series is one of SPEED’s main properties. I’m surprised that NASCAR does not insist on all the races being televised live, period.

Just for the heck of it, I checked SPEED’s schedule for the 13th last week. Airing in place of the live telecast is a repeat of an episode of The 10, then a repeat of the tape-delayed telecast of the South Boston 150 for the K&N Pro Series East from South Boston Speedway. That telecast premieres Thursday evening at 6 PM EDT. After that, there is a repeat of Truck Series qualifying, then Trackside all before the Setup – a full pre-race show – comes on at 8 PM EDT. Huh?

Simply put, there is no reason to push the Truck Series programming back. You’re selling out one of NASCAR’s top divisions… for what? 20,000 more viewers, if that? It’s a bush league move.

That’s it for now. 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 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. PR 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:
Five Points to Ponder: Smaller Crowds, Bigger Fights, Ugly Words Left For NASCAR To Chew On
Fact Or Fiction: Calming Down Montoya, Vickers’ Free Pass, And Kyle Busch’s Mistake
Who’s Hot / Who’s Not in NASCAR: Darlington-Dover Edition
Who Will Be Sprint Cup’s Next First-Time Winner?

Southern-Fried Thriller

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Beyond the Cockpit: Alexis DeJoria On The 300 mph Women of the NHRA
A Swan’s Broken Wings Equal NASCAR’s Next Concern?
Thinkin’ Out Loud – The Off Week Season Review
Pace Laps: Swan Racing’s Future, Fast Females and Dropping Out
Sprint Cup Series Facilities Can Build Upon Fan Experience by Looking to Their Roots


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05/10/2011 01:28 AM

Talking NASCAR TV: Is Darrell Waltrip Constantly Biased Towards Busch?

There, FTFY.

05/10/2011 08:13 AM

It’s funny that in the years past we never heard about DW’s love for ‘Junebug’ when that was all he could talk about after Sr’s demise. Or the previous few years, and this year on occasion, when they road the ‘Happy’, and now ‘The Closer’ bandwagon. People bitched when all they talked about was Jimmie. Whenever a guy wins a lot over their favorite driver, “fans” are going to whine.

05/10/2011 08:22 AM

No, I don’t think that Old DW is biased towards Kyle Bush. He just knows talent when he sees it. GO ROWDY!!!

05/10/2011 08:32 AM

Yes Waltrip is biased. I can’t stand to listen to him and his Busch love fest. I have gained a new respect for Larry Mac; while Waltrip was stumbling around and only able to say ‘I don’t know what happened” Larry Mac was direct and to the point; “he wrecked him”. Waltrip is supposed to provide analysis, not act as a cheerleader. Waltrip needs to go and go soon. He is the absolute worst.

05/10/2011 08:39 AM

I realize this is Phil’s column but, he brought up “Amy Henderson’s opinion”… face it, unless Junior does it, it just ain’t right. Kyle should have been parked for what? Being a better driver than Kevin Harvick? I place the majority of blame for this incident on Harvick. First of all, Harvick punted Kyle first. Lo and behold, Kyle immediately had the opportunity to return the favor and did so with much better results than Kevin managed. Have at it boys, NASCAR said so. So, now what? Well, now Kevin is indignant. How dare he spin me out? Delana is furious. Go get him honey! So, here we come to pit road and Kevin pulls up on Kyle with obvious malicious intent. Kyle leaves pit road to avoid it. Right then and there, it should have been over. Harvick should have gone to the hauler and went over to Kyle’s hauler to wait for him. But, nooooo, everyone wouldn’t get to see Happy throw a tantrum and show off. So, he heads out after Kyle on the track. Again, Kyle goes the other way and heads back down pit road. So, Kevin gets ahead of him and blocks him in. Kevin gets out of his car and leaves it unattended. That was totally irresponsible on his part. So, seeing this blubbering idiot headed his way, Kyle pushed the unattended car out of the way and left the situation behind. What? The Bud crew members were running down pit road and could have been hit by the car? Really? Why were they running down pit road? Were they bringing Kyle a bouquet of flowers and candy to show him their undying love? Hardly, I believe they all wanted to get hold of Kyle and give him a few what-fors of their own. So, stupid is as stupid does, you run down pit road with malice in your heart and all of a sudden you find yourself in an unsafe environment? Hmmmmm… maybe should have stayed in your pit box? No, I have no pity for Kevin or the Bud crew, they all made decisions that put them where they were. And as far as other people down that way on pit road? Watch the tape, Kyle revved his car and rocked it forward a few times. I guarantee you, anyone down that way could hear that and knew to get out of the way and take cover, something was fixing to move and you don’t want to be on pit road when it does. And, no one was, no one was hurt. So, let’s stop playing what if someone gets hurt. No one was hurt. If we’re going to play what if someone gets hurt, then park the cars and have the guys race each other on simulators. What if someone gets hurt can happen on every lap. The chickification of cup racing is almost complete and if we listen to Amy, it will be all over even sooner.

05/10/2011 09:16 AM

@djrichiep: Actually, what I saw, before Harvick gave Busch the bumper shot (which was meant to express displeasure, not to wreck Busch), was Busch coming down on Harvick and getting into him. So Busch, not Harvick, took the first shot on the racetrack. Harvick told him what he thought of that, and Busch punted him.

05/10/2011 09:56 AM

I don’t like with one of them but….surly you didn’t see the same race I saw….Harvick bumped Busch and started the whole thing. He thinks he can shove anyone in his path out of the way. The best thing Nascar can do is take points away from both of them. That will get them both where it hurts the most.

05/10/2011 10:13 AM

Amy 1, djrichiep 0.

05/10/2011 10:17 AM

I agree they should both be punished. I only wish Harvick had been able to connect a punch or two right in Kyle’s arrogant mouth. Actually the better show would have been Delana kicking the crap out of Kyle.

05/10/2011 11:25 AM

Harvick definitely didn’t try to wreck him, just let him know he wasn’t happy. Scrub flat out wrecked him then made an even bigger bonehead move by pushing his car out of the way.
Is DW biased? Heck no, though he is right behind Kyle in points since he has his nose buried so deep…

05/10/2011 11:41 AM

Guess Harvick should have taken the opportunity when he had it then, huh? He didn’t hesitate to “park” him at Homestead. But, I guess that was OK, because it was Kyle getting wrecked.

05/10/2011 12:16 PM

Harvick is a jerk. Kyle is an assh_le. I disagree with Phil about how FOX covered the victory lane celebration and the near assault on pit road with a split screen. That was perfect because unlike DW’s lack of broadcast skills, the pictures actually told the story

05/10/2011 01:51 PM

DW was biased all night with the #18. They ran through the field with monotone voices until they reached the #18. Then I think it was FOX that invented the new record of most wins at age 26. Later, Busch was driving over his head when he almost lost it near the #78 off turn four, and DW claimed the air messed him up. Finally, his silence when the #18 wrecked the #29 was the worst moment of his broadcast career. Joy and McReynolds saw Busch wrecked Harvick, and Waltrip was unable to choke up a critical sentence against Busch.
In his closing thoughts, he reminded us of the 2003 Darlington race between Ricky Craven and “Kyle Busch”. Sorry Kurt, you’re not the favorite!

05/10/2011 03:17 PM

I have a different opinion of the way they covered the end of the race. I thought they totally took away from Regan’s win to cover the stupidity on pit road. No burnouts, no follow to Victory Lane, just a split screen. I think it was a slap in the face to Smith.

But of course he was not in the plans and never is so FOX was in quite a conundrum at that point. Add in their man crush on Kyle and they blew it as far as I“m concerned.

It just shows me that they care more about the fights and drama than they do about the actual racing on the track. But then again, we see more commercials, promos, and driver montages before we see any actual racing, so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.

Phil Allaway
05/10/2011 07:04 PM

It’s reply time. Just got home from work, so I’m going to go through some stuff here. I’ll start with Steve. I agree with you on the “Slap to Smith’s face.” You also bring up a good point with Smith “not being in FOX’s plans.” Knowing that he was out of the top 25 in points entering the race, I don’t think they planned all that much material about the #78. ESPN considers those drivers outside of the top 24 to be what amounts to non-focus drivers, and thus prep consists mainly of car conditions and so forth. No extraneous stories are extracted. We might have a situ like that here.

Joe, I agree with you that the pictures told the story with the Harvick-Kyle Busch shenanigans. However, Smith definitely got the shaft there.

In regards to Amy’s opinion, I was referencing what she wrote in her Big Six column in Monday’s edition of the Frontstretch Newsletter, which I did not agree with.

Finally, RickP, I understand what you’re getting at there. Truth is, Darrell seems to be the most susceptible to these types of things of any on-air personality that does NASCAR. However, a lot of the examples of possible bias you referenced predate the time that I’ve written this column. Before I started doing the critiquing, I really didn’t notice what Darrell was doing.

05/11/2011 12:16 AM

Jimmy Spenser nows toes the company line hard. No way the real Jimmy Spenser would tolerate that hook from Kyle. He would have punched out baby bro too. Just sayin’

old farmer
05/11/2011 03:22 PM

Does anyone really pay any attention to what DW says? Or to what Amy says?

He, Larry, Mac, an MJ all need to go. Surely Fox can find a better team.

One more thing. Hey, Frontstretch: Amy needs to be sent out w/ DW, et al.