The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Evaluating Waltrip Central On All-Star Weekend by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday May 24, 2011

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, where dissecting race broadcasts is the name of the game. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup Series cast aside the point standings in favor of the Sprint Showdown and Sprint All-Star Race. The Camping World Truck Series served as the main support. Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series made their first of two visits to Iowa Speedway on Sunday.

Before we start, there is some TV news to report. Last week, Turner Sports announced that Phil Parsons is out from his pit reporter role in TNT’s Summer Series. Parsons never really fit into the role all that well. His style on television is far better suited to that of a color analyst, which is what he’s done for Truck Series telecasts over the past decade to good effect. Plus, he still has part-ownership in HP Racing, LLC, which could be seen as a conflict of interest.

Who will replace Parsons as the fourth pit reporter for TNT? It appears that it will be Chris Neville. Neville is a new name to NASCAR, having never covered a NASCAR race previously. However, he has years of pit reporting experience for SPEED covering the Rolex Sports Car Series and the American Le Mans Series. Prior to that, Neville drove professionally in the SCCA Trans-Am Series. On the aforementioned telecasts, Neville has proven himself to be a decent pit reporter. We’ll see if those skills can translate over to the Sprint Cup Series. I think that he’ll turn out just fine, but we’ll find out for sure on June 12th. Having said that, on to the critique.

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Friday night brought the Camping World Truck Series back into action at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The big story was the soft spoken Kimi Raikkonen making his NASCAR debut in a No. 15 Toyota owned by Kyle Busch Motorsports, but using the owners points from Vision Aviation Racing.

Pre-race brought an interview with the aforementioned Raikkonen, who in true Kimi fashion, gave almost nothing to Ray Dunlap. Seriously, the guy is a terrible interview, quite possibly the worst in motorsports. However, unlike some drivers who don’t give much in interviews out of some type of animosity towards the media, the sentiment is genuine. Its in his personality. Raikkonen is just a quiet, reserved individual who has never shown himself to be all that comfortable in interviews.

The main feature in the Setup was about Clay Rogers and his attempt to return to the upper levels of NASCAR via RBR Motorsports. It was a great look at a driver that a lot of viewers may not know all that much about. He couldn’t do much about being caught in the middle of sponsor control in the early part of the last decade.

In the race, the focus on Raikkonen was toned down a little, so that the rest of the race’s stories could be told. Truthfully, SPEED did a really good job in doing that. There was plenty of action on the track to be seen, and SPEED showed as much of it as possible. Usage of higher camera positions definitely helped show more of the action.

Another aspect that I did not have an issue with was the number of commercials. One reader named Sharon e-mailed me Saturday morning complaining about the amount of commercials that aired during the race. I thought it was unfounded. Viewers only missed one minute of green flag racing all night, thanks to the yellows. Now, if there were more green flag action, then there might have been an issue. As it stands, you didn’t miss anything except some laps under yellow.

There does seem to be one ongoing graphical issue with SPEED’s truck broadcasts. It appears that SPEED is having issues with the linkup to the Tiwi-based GPS system that NASCAR uses for scoring (The Tiwi devices are those green circles on the windshield). The positions are ok, but it really cannot show intervals for very long. It keeps showing everyone but the first couple of trucks as a lap or more down, regardless of the time of the race.

Post-race coverage was quite decent, given the shear amount of cautions that led the race to go over its slot. SPEED provided six post-race interviews and checks of the unofficial results and point standings. In addition, there was some post-race analysis before the telecast ended up for the night.

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Sunday afternoon brought ESPN’s crew on-air from sold out (Gee, when was the last time they were able to say that for a Nationwide race?) Iowa Speedway. Due to the fact that many members of the broadcast were off in Indianapolis watching Bump Day at the track (although not going on-air), some changes were made for the broadcast. The most notable of these changes was Allen Bestwick on play-by-play, a move that is often asked for from fans.

NASCAR Countdown was still Pit Studio based, unlike the previous two years in Iowa. Nicole Briscoe headed up the studio and did well with it. However, the analysis coming out of there was the typical type of discussion that really doesn’t draw the viewer in all that much (or at least, it didn’t draw me in).

Since Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards made the trip up to Iowa from Charlotte, ESPN aired an obligatory recap of Saturday night’s Sprint All-Star Race. Didn’t really think it was necessary, as this is not a Cup race. However, there are a fair number of viewers that don’t get SPEED, so they might not have known that Edwards had won. However, no mention was made of Keselowski’s issues.

The only feature shown during Countdown was a discussion with several of the Nationwide-only drivers (Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., etc.) about how they would grade themselves at the one-quarter mark of the season. Generally, the grades were pretty good.

Having Bestwick in the booth along with Jarrett and Petree gives the telecast a different feel. Bestwick has the reputation of a taskmaster, so the ship was run a little tighter than it normally is with Reid in charge.

One gripe that I had actually comes from what we learned post-race. Reed Sorenson admitted that during the run where he dropped out of the lead (and contention to lead, for that matter), he had a slow leak in one of his tires such that it had 12 pounds of air at the end of the run. ESPN referenced Sorenson’s handling problems on-air, but no mention was made of an air leak. They should have had one of the three pit reporters down in Sorenson’s pit after he stopped to at least check with the team about the situation.

As for the Cope twins, they didn’t really attract all that much attention on the broadcast, but they both hurt their racing resumes on Sunday (Amber more so than Angela). ESPN did reference the fact that Sunday’s race was the first time in which three women (the twins, and Jennifer Jo Cobb) started a race. Other than that, the only mentions that the twins received was when they screwed up, for lack of better words. Admittedly, had their original plans gone forward years ago, Sunday’s performance would have been an even worse travesty than it already was (the twins were going to drive a full season in 2006 for McGlynn Racing with sponsorship from the U.S. Border Patrol, and I’ve seen the artist’s renderings of the paint schemes). At this point, Amber and Angela need more seat time. I don’t care what its in, just something. They barely ever race at all. An interview with SI.com from last fall shows that quite well. Away from racing, they run a company called Pink Candy Boutique, a website that sells “Sweet Fashions at Delicious Prices” (that’s their slogan, I didn’t make it up). If they can find the backing, they can focus more on racing and less on dresses.

The commentators seemed to be supportive of the duo, never calling them out for their issues (they both spun in Turn 2 because they got too high, but didn’t hit anything). However, after the Brian Scott crashed being caused by Amber Cope being off the pace, they pretty much accepted NASCAR’s parking of the No. 93. I’m not sure, but it looked like Amber’s car was handling horribly (note that she went into the wall, or came very close to it after Scott spun out).

Post-race coverage was decent, but still rather rushed with the timeslot coming to a close. ESPN gave viewers four driver interviews and interviews with the winning crew chief and car owner before they left the air. They were relatively light on content, though (the Sorenson interview being the exception to the rule).

ESPN’s coverage was ok to watch. I think with the near constant despair in the series in 2011, Iowa was a breath of fresh air. That despair has started to show in the telecasts with the fact that none of the regulars could ever win one of their events, and barely anyone showing up for the races. That, thankfully changed on Sunday.

Having said that, there were still some issues. There was too much bumper cam usage during battles that made it difficult to gauge where people were. There was too much focus on Carl Edwards before and during the race. I could care less about what Edwards was up to, except for when he was right in the middle of the action.

Sprint Showdown / Sprint All-Star Race

On Saturday night, the Sprint Cup Series held their annual All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. As the All-Star Weekend is SPEED’s centerpiece for their NASCAR coverage, they went all-out. The entire NASCAR on FOX team, except for Chris Myers, was on hand for the proceedings.

A three-hour edition of NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot served as the de facto pre-race show for SPEED’s coverage. It was jam packed with interviews and features.

Kenny Wallace did a two part sit-down interview with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his crew chief, Steve Letarte. Topics included the communication between Earnhardt, Jr. and Letarte, the fact that Brian France wants Earnhardt, Jr. to run well, his philanthropy. Kenny can actually do real nice interviews when he calms down on the show. However, his shouting from the stage gets on my nerves at times.

Another feature focused on the 1992 running of The Winston, also known as “One Hot Night.” The feature was complete with interviews done by TNN that night on their broadcast. Luckily, SPEED employs Kyle Petty and Larry McReynolds, who were intimately involved in the infamous finish of that race, so there was discussion of what happened that night after the feature. Interestingly enough, Petty referred to himself as “So-So” as compared to Earnhardt and Davey Allison.

For some reason, SPEED aired a Brad Paisley music video, which was related to NASCAR for only two reasons. One being that Paisley was at the track Saturday (our own Summer Dreyer briefly talked to him Saturday. The second was that Jeff Gordon appeared in the video in his No. 24.

Finally, we get to the Pennzoil Ultra Victory Challenge, which Amy Henderson admitted in Monday’s Frontstretch Newsletter that she doesn’t understand how its judged. To be fair to Amy, no one else did either. No scores were written down. The finalists were chosen in a completely subjective fashion, then the fans voted on those three via text message (Kasey Kahne was declared the winner). At best, a completely bush league competition. I have no clue who made that change, but they should be reprimanded.

However, it was pretty obvious that SPEED was starting to run out of stuff to do when they started showing Chef Nicky (from “The Racing Chef,” remember that show?) cooking up a Montreal peppered steak and Wendy Venturini interviewing a couple of Denny Hamlin’s crew members who had agreed to shave their heads if the team defended their Pit Crew Championship (they did). Too much pre-race, anyone?

SPEED also debuted a new touch screen in the Hotel this week for Hammond and McReynolds to use during the evening. Of course, it did nothing that regular graphics couldn’t do, but its a nice toy for them to have.

McReynolds spent the night in the Hotel because Michael Waltrip was in the booth, joining Mike Joy and older brother Darrell. I could hear the groans from readers days in advance. However, the first thing I noticed with the Waltrip brothers in there was that the excitement factor was up noticeably as compared to normal. Of course, that’s not saying that McReynolds doesn’t enjoy his job (in fact, it’s pretty obvious that he does).

I didn’t really have any issues with Michael in the booth on Saturday. All of the time that Michael has spent with Allen and Parsons over the past few years has really rubbed off on him in a positive way. However, Darrell seemed a little wild at times. There were no obvious moments of bias from him, but he went off on tangents frequently in the telecast, struggling to stay on point with what was going on.

The announcers – and the broadcast – also missed a major issue that often happens on intermediates. Even during the Sprint Showdown, viewers of Friday night’s Truck race would have noticed just how loose the cars would get while side-by-side. This was never actually referenced, although there were some blatant instances in which drivers almost wiped out while racing two abreast. Instead, the only mention of the truck race made during the telecast was a replay of Clint Bowyer finishing second to Kyle Busch, then swearing on his radio about how much he hated getting beat.

In between the Sprint Showdown and All-Star Race, SPEED showed a feature called Hot Wired, where SPEED’s cameras followed Kevin Manion (Jamie McMurray’s crew chief) around during the lead up to the race. Interesting to watch, but we didn’t necessarily learn anything new. In addition to the feature, SPEED showed about eight driver interviews in order to pass time.

SPEED also puts a lot of importance into Social Media. Granted, I understand that Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) is not necessarily all that important to our readership, but it is important to NASCAR’s future. SPEED’s reporters that were not working pit road were tweeting up a storm and replying to fans. Meanwhile, Hammond and McReynolds used the touch screen to display fan tweets and respond to them. Good move. Maybe we’ll see more of that on FOX, and with the other media partners during the season.

Unlike SPEED’s telecast on Friday night, there was a lot more usage of tight shots and more emphasis on the front of the field, regardless of whether they were actually doing any racing for position. Not a fan of that.

Post-race coverage was relatively brief on the regular broadcast since the race went more than 20 minutes over its timeslot. Only Kyle Busch was interviewed before the main telecast finished. The rest of the time was dedicated to Edwards’ celebration, plus explaining what happened during it to ruin his car. Edwards’ official winner’s interview took place during NASCAR Victory Lane.

For those of you who look out for the commercials, no green-flag ones were aired Saturday night, including during the 50-lap first segment. Good show. Breaks were during yellows and segment breaks.

Overall, the telecast was decent, but it could be improved. The Waltrips have learned to work together to a degree over the past year or so. They don’t overlap each other, which was a legitimate fear that many have for that pairing. With the Waltrips, Joy has to maintain a relatively stringent booth in order to keep things from getting nuts. He does that without too many problems. SPEED’s problem was more production based; they simply need to show more cars on the track and not simply focus on the leaders.

That’s all for this week, folks. Next weekend is the biggest race weekend of the entire year. If this were a radio show, a clip of the late Randy Savage saying “Oh yeah!” would play right here. The Sprint Cup Series will be back at Charlotte Motor Speedway, this time joined by the Nationwide Series. Meanwhile, the 94th running of the Indianapolis 500 is on tap, as is the Grand Prix of Monaco. Truly an epic weekend, especially if you try to watch it all in one day, like I did for a school project in sixth grade. Here’s your listings.

Thursday, May 26
Time Telecast Network
4:00 AM – 5:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco Free Practice 1 SPEEDTV.com^
8:00 – 9:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco Free Practice 2 SPEED
2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
3:30 – 5:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
5:00 – 6:30 PM Nationwide Series Happy Hour SPEED
7:00 – 9:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED

Friday, May 27
Time Telecast Network
11:00 AM – 4:00 PM Carburetion Day Versus&
8:00 – 10:00 PM World of Outlaws Sprint Cars from Charlotte SPEED

Saturday, May 28
Time Telecast Network
5:00 AM – 6:30 AM* Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco Free Practice 3 SPEEDTV.com^
8:00 – 9:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco Qualifying SPEED
10:00 – 11:00 AM Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN2
11:30 AM – 12:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
12:30 – 2:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
2:00 – 2:30 PM NASCAR Countdown ABC
2:00 – 4:00 PM V8 Supercar Championship Series Winton 300 SPEED*
2:30 – 5:30 PM Nationwide Series Top Gear 300 ABC
7:00 – 7:30 PM SPEED Center SPEED

Sunday, May 29
Time Telecast Network
6:00 AM – 7:30 AM GP2 Championship Series: Monaco SPEED*
7:30 – 10:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco SPEED
10:00 – 11:00 AM SPEED Center SPEED
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM Indianapolis 500: A Centennial Celebration presented by Honda ABC
12:00 – 3:30 PM Izod IndyCar Series Indianapolis 500 ABC/ESPN3.com%
3:30 – 5:30 PM NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
5:30 – 6:00 PM FOX Pre-Race Delivered by Pizza Hut FOX
6:00 – 11:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 FOX
9:00 – 10:00 PM Wind Tunnel SPEED
11:00 PM – 12:00 AM NASCAR Victory Lane Fueled by Sunoco SPEED

Monday, May 30
Time Telecast Network
2:00 PM – 5:00 PM Rolex Sports Car Series Memorial Day Classic SPEED

*-Tape Delayed
^- Available online via free streaming
&- Telecast includes both final practice and the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100
%- Viewing telecast online requires username and password for both the ESPN3.com service and from an eligible internet provider

As you can see, it is a stacked schedule. I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races from Charlotte in next week’s critique here at Frontstretch. Note that there will likely be some changes on ESPN’s on-air crew from normal on Saturday due to the fact that they’re doing the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. In other words, don’t expect Reid to be in Charlotte. Bestwick will be back in the booth. For those of you who are fans of the Izod IndyCar Series, I’ll also be critiquing the Indianapolis 500 broadcast as well.

For the next edition of the Critic’s Annex, I will be covering the NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (from last night) this Thursday. The following week, I will be covering Indy’s Carb Day, specifically the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race.

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

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Carl D.
05/24/2011 08:17 AM
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Michael Waltrip actually made Darrell look worse than usual. How that’s possible I don’t know. Like other FS readers said yesterday, I’m sick of references to “Ol’ 5-Time” and “Big Daddy”. Could anyone look less like a Big Daddy than Jeff Gordon?

Allen Bestwick is the best play-by-play guy in Nascar. He adds class, knowledge and professionalism to every race broadcast he is involved in. He is the Anti-Waltrip.

Michael in SoCal
05/24/2011 10:54 AM
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@ Carl D – I don’t have a problem with Jimmie Johnson being called ‘Five Time’ or even ‘Ol’ Five Time’, because he’s definitely earned that title. As for Jeff Gordon being ‘Big Daddy’ – I’ll have to finish this post up later because I just spewed coffee all over my keyboard.

AnnieMack
05/24/2011 12:58 PM
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The nicknames are ridiculous and disrespectful. The commercial urging people to come up with a nickname for Trevor Bayne is laughable. Nascar gets more like wrestling every day.

Johnboy60
05/24/2011 01:04 PM
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DW & Mikey together equal tv OFF!

melz
05/24/2011 04:47 PM
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I watched the Versus coverage at Indy Sat. and Sun. That coverage showed SPEED what classy , informative, and truly enjoyable race coverage should be. Boy did I enjoy that. Mikey better than DW? REALLY?? They are both terrible, I don’t now how many times I changed the channel Sat. Night just to get away from them for a while, only to return,change, return, etc. Boy Phil are you easy on them. Please FOX don’t do this next year, can’t wait for TNT!!! As far as excitement, I don’t need their phony,drummed up excitement as I’m smart enough to know when things get exciting.

Dude
05/25/2011 02:27 AM
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Once again way too much boring pre-race, unless a feud is there to report on pre-race coverage serve little purpose. They have 3-4 hours to talk and share thoughts with us during the telecast. They need to show as many driver interviews post race, when emotions are running high and you often will get blunt and honest responses from the drivers, if they are mad at other drivers or like Kurt B. made at his team. Not sure why or when all this need for endless pre-race coverage came about, but I’d sure like to flip flop and have less pre-race fluff and more post race stuff….it just makes to much sense. I’ve got to the point where I don’t even pay much attention during the week anymore. I remember a time about 12 years ago I couldn’t get enough of nascar on the tv. But now it just comes across as trying to create a product that will lure the “new” fan and all the changes with the tight templates leave little to the imagination of how certain teams can try to catch whatever team is the hot running team. New fans won’t get to see a “T-Rex” car and wonder how or why nascar said don’t bring it back to the track. Cheating has always been a part of nascar, as is stealing signs in baseball, it’s all but gone….I guess I ranted a little bit. I just loved the nascar from before the chase, the COT, and the current France man in charge…sorry folks..

Steve
05/25/2011 11:37 AM
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90 freakin minutes between the showdown and the race and SPEED goes over their time slot? What a shocker. Perhaps if they didn’t wait till almost 10pm Eastern to start the All-Star race they might have stayed within their timeslot.

But then that would take away from the overblown hype (which never ended and never happened) and the WWE style introductions to try and please the casuals.

So if you combine prerace (3 hours) and between the showdown and the race (1 1/2 hours), there were 4 1/2 hours of non racing talking heads spewing garbage all night. Does anyone else see something wrong with this?