The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Favoritism Kills ESPN At Loudon by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday July 19, 2011

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Talking NASCAR TV: Favoritism Kills ESPN At Loudon

Phil Allaway · Tuesday July 19, 2011

 

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, where criticism of telecasts is the primary purpose. We do not endeavor to simply voice pot shots on others for no reason other than the fact that we’re angry, like someone did this weekend during a press conference.

It was a fairly busy weekend in New Hampshire with the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series both in action. The K&N Pro Series East and Whelen Modified Series were also present, but those two races either have not, or will not be televised. Meanwhile, the Camping World Truck Series was ran at Iowa Speedway. How were these telecasts? Let’s find out.


SPEED did a good job this week, covering racing all through the pack. Image by Kyle Ocker

Coca-Cola 200 presented by Hy-Vee

SPEED provided viewers with another jam-packed edition of NCWTS Setup in order to prepare viewers for the Camping World Truck Series event. I’m not sure if the heat index readings that SPEED displayed on-screen were really accurate. If they were, the dewpoint would have been roughly 82 or 83 degrees, which is very rare.

SPEED brought viewers a couple of good features on Saturday night. One was centered on the Space Coast Center For Mothers With Children, a non-profit that helps out homeless families in Melbourne, Florida. You might remember James Buescher running their logos on his No. 31 back at Dover in May. The feature talked about how the Bueschers help, and how the center assists the community in Brevard County, Florida. It was an interesting look at a company trying to improve the well-being of children.

A second feature was based upon last year’s truck race at Iowa, which brought Austin Dillon his first career victory. Effectively, the piece had Dillon and crew chief Danny Stockman talking about the experience. Not a bad look back.

Around those interviews, there were also nine pre-race interviews, a pretty substantial number by Truck Series standards. Of course, there was also the pre-requisite cake smashing during the Dakoda Armstrong interview. Seems to be a trend, now. I’m not complaining about it, though.

Finally, we had two brief pieces. One was based around Richard Childress Racing’s ARCA and Camping World Truck Series drivers (The Dillon brothers, plus Tim George, Jr. and Joey Coulter) having a charity bowling competition at a local Bass Pro Shops. A second mini-feature involved Steve Arpin and Ray Dunlap having a display building competition at what appeared to be a local Hy-Vee grocery store. Shenanigans ensued.

The race broadcast itself was filled with plenty of racing for position. Now, not all of that racing was up front since Austin Dillon was running away with the race at times. SPEED did a pretty good job of showing us action from all over the field, and we were better off for it.

I was a little annoyed that SPEED never gave us a replay of what happened to cause Ron Hornaday’s spin on Lap 76. Hornaday was running decently when he had his incident. Yes, he didn’t hit anything and was able to continue without too much of an issue. Still…

During the race, there was a brief 15 minute red flag after Justin Marks broke a portable concrete wall when he crashed on Lap 103. SPEED spent the time either in commercial, or basically killing time. There was also an interview with Ty Dillon.

Post-race coverage was decent. SPEED provided seven post-race interviews, along with checks of the unofficial results and point standings.

Interestingly enough, one of those seven interviews was with Max Papis, who finished 20th. Papis had contact with Marks and caused the big wreck just after halfway, and SPEED decided that it would be a good idea to try to get an idea of what caused the wreck. It was a good move since they simply could not interview Marks (he was sent to the hospital from the track).

SPEED’s coverage on Saturday night was quite nice to watch when they were covering the actual races for position. Outside of those moments, it was a little rough at times. Phil Parsons basically screwed up his intro before the race started, although that might have been as much the fault of the production staff as it was Parsons’. I already mentioned the lack of replays of Hornaday’s incident. The production needs to get a little bit sharper in the coming weeks.

New England 200

At Loudon, ESPN brought viewers a special one-hour edition of NASCAR Countdown on Saturday. Having the one-hour format allowed ESPN to actually do a little bit feature-wise to learn a little bit more about the drivers in the series, something that ESPN has basically failed to do so far this season.

To that end, ESPN aired a piece in which many of the young guns (Trevor Bayne, Joey Logano, even Kyle Busch) talked about how they idolized Jeff Gordon when they were little kids. It seems almost crazy to think about Gordon that way. Then again, he’s in his 19th full season, so I guess its understandable. Gordon also chimed in with anecdotes from his own experience coming up as the young ‘un in Winston Cup in the early 1990’s. It was an interesting piece. I’m not sure if Gordon’s really comfortable with his new elder statesman image right now, but I think he’ll grow into it eventually.

Another feature featured Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Trevor Bayne at Fenway Park for another round of random competitions (more of these “battles” are available at rickyvstrevor.com). These battles consisted of who could fling a Frisbee from the Monster Seats the farthest and who could throw the fastest pitch, among others. Nice feature to show for kicks. Granted, we didn’t learn anything since ESPN did a similar feature a few months ago involving (amongst other acts) the game Chubby Bunny.

ESPN also aired a full dozen driver interviews during the show, which was pretty sweet. That number includes Jeff Gordon, who joined up in the Pit Studio after the idolization feature aired. Friday evening, Dave Burns did a short interview with Travis Pastrana following the K&N Pro Series East race. Since Pastrana is due to make his Nationwide Series debut in two weeks at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, I guess it’s already time for ESPN to start the hype machine. Expect a Pastrana feature, pre-race and post-race interviews, an in-car camera, and all sorts of Travis-mania on July 30th.

ESPN’s race coverage was more of the same that we’ve seen for much of the season. There was a definite focus on the frontrunners in the race coverage, to the detriment of other teams out there.

However, the most memorable part of the broadcast had nothing to do with the lack of coverage for smaller outfits. It had to do with Jason Leffler’s crash on Lap 106. Apparently, leading up to the crash, Leffler and Steve Wallace had had contact multiple times. Finally, on the backstretch, Steve appeared to simply dump Leffler into the outside wall by hitting his right rear corner. Let’s just say that it is more likely to be intentional when someone turns another driver on his right rear corner than on his left rear.

Steve didn’t exactly come out and say that it was intentional later on, but he did admit to being a bit perturbed with Leffler’s actions. He claimed that “… I got sick of [getting hit], then he wrecked himself.” On paper, it sounds ridiculous.

For some reason, Rusty Wallace (Steve’s father and car owner) decided to defend his son by claiming that it was simply a racing accident. He somehow got Ricky Craven to agree with him. The only way that it could have been a racing accident is if Stenhouse got in the back of Steve’s No. 66 and pushed him into Leffler. One replay inferred that it could be possible, but the angles didn’t add up. The others simply made it look like Steve turned into Leffler.

I’ve written in the past about how Rusty does have a tendency to give too much praise to his son, Steve, on-air in his commentary. As much as Rusty despises when people talk about this (and believe me, he’s not a fan), it is unprofessional. Of course, in this specific situation, it is a two-pronged issue. Firstly, does Rusty actually believe it was just a racing incident with no intention involved? Secondly, if he doesn’t, is he simply covering for Steve? The second question is incredibly hard to prove and would require the answer “No” to the first question.

I know that a parent’s first notion is to protect their children. However, Steve needs to be held accountable for his actions. If he does something ridiculous intentionally during a race, then he needs to be called out for it. If I dumped someone intentionally, I assume that I would be rightfully blamed for it. I wouldn’t really want to talk about it after the race, but I’d eventually have to take my lumps. If it was intentional, and Rusty covered for him, then there is no lesson being learned. Steve would simply become entitled to do whatever he wanted. Obviously, by the actions of drivers like Brian Scott on Saturday, they’re pretty much sick of that type of on-track behavior from Steve.

Post-race coverage was quick since ESPN was already over their timeslot by ten minutes when the race ended. Since Kyle Busch won and tied Mark Martin for the all-time lead in career Nationwide Series wins, they absolutely had to get his Victory Lane interview on-air. While Busch was doing his usual celebration, ESPN interviewed Busch’s crew chief (Jason Radcliff) and five other drivers before cutting to the Victory Lane interview. Martin, being the classy man that he is, showed up in Victory Lane to personally congratulate Busch. There was no check of the point standings before ESPN left the air to get to SportsCenter.

I could go on for paragraphs on what ESPN needs to do to create a more inclusive race broadcast, but there’s only so much space in the critique each week. So, we’ll start with the basics. Report on what you see. Never add bias to the mix. This has been a recurring issue with Rusty ever since ESPN re-acquired the rights to NASCAR for 2007. ESPN representatives should sit down with Rusty and talk this over with him. While it’s nice to want your son to do well, you cannot mask the truth to an audience of millions just to make yourself feel good.

Lenox Industrial Tools 301

Sunday marked TNT’s sixth and final Sprint Cup telecast of the 2011 season. Also, it marked the final appearance of Lindsay Czarniak on TNT, as she has signed with ESPN and will be appearing as an anchor on SportsCenter in the coming weeks.

Since it was TNT’s swan song for 2011, they decided to start off Countdown to Green with a montage recapping the past five weeks of racing. I understand why they did it, but I didn’t really think it was necessary since TNT’s group of races were all in a row with no off-weeks. If they had a couple of substantial breaks thrown in, like the Camping World Truck Series, then it might have made more sense.

The weekly Pride of NASCAR feature was on Cotton Owens. Unlike the other features which contained multiple sound bites from other notable people in the subject’s life, Owens told his own life story to Kyle Petty. As a result, it came off as potentially a little more genuine. Regardless, it was an interesting look into the life of a future NASCAR Hall of Famer.

The race broadcast itself was punctuated with a lot of the issues that we’ve come to know TNT for this season. There were, once again, an excessive number of commercials in the telecast. The bad luck that tends to plague telecasts such as that continued as well. Multiple yellows came out during those breaks. One of which (the fifth) was supposedly just for fluid on the track. Apparently, there was also a car slow on track that was referenced on multiple radios. However, no action was made to make it seem like that was true on the broadcast.

Also during the race, Kyle Busch accused Chris Neville of “trying to create a story out of nothing” when he asked him if contact with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had anything to do with his blown tire on Lap 60. That’s not a gripe on Neville, but on Kyle Busch for being inconsiderate (I would have said something else here, but Kyle Busch is a tricky subject here at Frontstretch at times). I understand that Kyle was angry for wrecking, but Neville had to at least broach the subject, or else he would have been admonished for not covering the story fully. A simple reply in the negative would have sufficed just fine.

Post-race coverage was quite disappointing. On TNT, there were only three post-race interviews (Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin) aired before the network left the air. There were also checks of the Unofficial Results and Point Standings before TNT left to get to a movie. The RaceBuddy-exclusive post-post-race show featured four more interviews, an expanded version of Inside Trax and some post-race analysis.

I know that TNT was a little tight on time, but last I checked, Varsity Blues is not a live event. Varsity Blues is a movie where James Van Der Beek channeled a far whinier version of his character from Angus in a R-rated movie from 1999. Big deal. Especially since Sunday was TNT’s final race of the year, they could have held off on starting that movie right at 4:30pm EDT so that they could properly wrap-up their season. As it stands, we didn’t get much more than a normal sign-off. Weak, weak, weak.

Since TNT’s season is now over, I need to give my impression on their season. I’ve previously stated here in the weekly critiques and in an edition of the Frontstretch Podcast that I think Alexander is a work in progress. He’s still adjusting to the broadcast booth after all those years of pit reporting for both radio and TV. I think he needs more experience. Going back to SPEED Center won’t give him that. He needs to do some more booth work, maybe some K&N Pro Series races to hone his craft. SPEED has those opportunities out there, so I think they should give him a few.

I never had any worries about Chris Neville on pit road. He had already proven himself working pit road for SPEED’s Grand-Am and ALMS coverage over the past few years, and he was simply able to transition that skill to Sprint Cup (and right back to Grand-Am as he’s scheduled to be at New Jersey Motorsports Park for the Grand-Am race this weekend).

RaceBuddy was much improved this season with additional views available. However, it was prone to crashing (at least for me). Even after deleting cookies and scanning my laptop for viruses, spyware, trojans and all that stuff, it was still an issue. It seriously hurt my experience. Turner should look into whether their program was having issues. I haven’t been able to replicate the issues with the TruckBuddy services, though.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series takes their final weekend off of the season. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of action to fill in that hole. The Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series are both back in action at Nashville Superspeedway. Meanwhile, the Izod IndyCar Series will be at the new airport circuit in Edmonton (it’s much longer, perhaps faster, but with tighter curves).

Friday, July 22

Time Telecast Network
4:00am-5:30am Formula One Grand Prix of German Free Practice No. 1 SPEEDtv.com^
8:00-9:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Germany Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
5:00pm-6:30pm Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
7:00-7:30pm SPEED Center SPEED
7:30-8:00pm NCWTS Setup SPEED
8:00-10:30pm Camping World Truck Series Lucas Deep Clean 200 SPEED

Saturday, July 23

Time Telecast Network
5:00am-6:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Germany Free Practice No. 3 SPEEDtv.com^
8:00-9:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Germany Qualifying SPEED
3:30pm-4:30pm Nationwide Series Qualifying ESPN 2
3:30-5:00pm American Le Mans Series Qualifying ESPN3.com&
4:30-6:00pm Firestone Indy Lights Edmonton Round No. 1 Versus
6:00-6:30pm SPEED Center SPEED
6:00-7:00pm Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying Versus
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
7:30-10:30pm Nationwide Series Federated Auto Parts 300 ESPN

Sunday, July 24

Time Telecast Network
12:00pm-2:00pm Formula One Grand Prix of Germany FOX*
1:00-4:00pm Rolex Sports Car Series American Red Cross 250 SPEED
2:00-5:00pm Izod IndyCar Series Edmonton Indy Versus
2:50-6:10pm American Le Mans Series Mobil 1 Grand Prix of Mosport ESPN3.com&
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center SPEED
9:00-10:00pm Wind Tunnel SPEED
10:00pm-12:00am American Le Mans Series Grand Prix of Mosport ESPN 2*

*- Tape Delayed
^- Available online via free streaming
&- Available online via a paid service

Note that if you’re in Canada, the ALMS race from Mosport will air live on Rogers Sportsnet One on Sunday. Also, the series has free streaming of the live races on their website if you live outside of the United States. Unfortunately, for viewers in the U.S., we have to deal with the series’ incredibly stupid move to ditch live telecasts of races on TV in favor of streaming with ESPN3.com.

For next week’s critique, I will provide critiques of the Nationwide, Camping World Truck and Izod IndyCar Series races. For the Annex this week, I’m covering the Prairie Meadows 200 for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards.

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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Bette
07/19/2011 01:25 PM
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I am so glad you had a story on Rusty. He has bothered me (us) for a long time. If he can’t be impartial when doing a race when Steven is running ,he shouldn’t be
doing it at all.He was so wrong this weekend. Thought it was pretty obvious in the reruns. Certainly hope ESPN takes notice.

doug from eastern NC
07/19/2011 01:27 PM
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Hey Phil Track Buddy froze up on me too. It’s seems to always freeze up there close to the end of the race.

Cdakost
07/19/2011 02:31 PM
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Living just a few hours away from Iowa Speedway, I can confirm that Speed’s temperatures were right. It has been/is ridiculously hot here.

Doug in Washington (State)
07/19/2011 05:09 PM
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I had RaceBuddy freeze up for very race I watched. Seems like a bandwidth issue at the server end. I could usually get it going again by switching views, but that gets tiring after a while plus many times when you switch views you have to sit through the same Coke commercial from 3 years ago over and over again.

As for the “Fluid on track” that never got mentioned in the broadcast, at least RaceBuddy cauught the reason (Stremme’s #30 blew an engine, the Racebuddy camera angle was on it as he went to the garage). I believe that was the one that the caution came out AS the broadcast was going to commercial, and they just, went to commercial.

Another funny thing was Larry Mac was in the middle of a long-winded description of how to change a battery (I think) when an incident happened, and only one of the guys in the booth made any attempt to break in- unsuccessfully.

old farmer
07/19/2011 05:10 PM
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I’d swear that I heard Rusty say that the 66 caused that wreck.

Wingcars6970
07/19/2011 05:38 PM
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Chris Neville’s TMZ type questions have made me cringe for all 6 broadcasts and you can clearly see the word is out among the drivers. Not that I like KB.

Phil Allaway
07/19/2011 08:03 PM
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Wingcars, are you saying that Neville asking Kyle about the contact with Earnhardt Jr. was TMZ-like, or are you criticizing something else? If its the latter, do you have any examples that I can go back and look at?

SHOEMAN
07/20/2011 12:08 PM
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@ OLD FARMER You were right. Rusty did say the 66 caused the wreck. I know it was hard for him to say, but it was there for everyone to see.

Bill S
07/20/2011 12:14 PM
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Kyle Busch was “inconsiderate” of Chris Neville? How dare he show any irritability after being asked the same (stupid) question for about the 1,000th time this season! Sometimes equipment failure is simply equipment failure. Let Kyle call out any media-type who tries to make a story (soap opera) where this is none. WTG, Kyle! (Reminds me of Tony storming out of a news conference after one too many stupid questions.)

And Praise The Lord – TNT’s season is finally over! Remember, Phil, “TNT knows drama” even where there isn’t any!

Nick Doneilo
07/21/2011 12:03 PM
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I have TrackPass Raceview as well, and also I had issues. RaceBuddy would work fine if I just had it going. If I had Raceview AND RaceBuddy going, RaceBuddy would crash.

Steve
07/21/2011 01:45 PM
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Wow Bill. Kyle is a meltdown waiting to happen and you criticize the reporter for asking him about it?

You want drama, Bill? Wait till ESPN starts using their script. Scripts should be in hand at Indianapolis next week for all the manufactured drama you can ask for. Script includes, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Dale Jr and nobody else. I’m dreading ESPN’s coverage the rest of the year.

By the way Phil, I was disgusted with the NW prerace. Never tune into these shows much but I thought I would try this week. Watched 15 minutes of it thinking I might learn something about the series regulars. It was all Cup regulars. Interview with Harvick, Kes and the studio thing with Gordon. So much for focusing on the series regulars.

Cdakost
07/21/2011 03:04 PM
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Bill S, I agree with you equipment failure happens. But Neville’s question wasn’t a bad one when you cut a tire a few laps after contact.