The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: Does Wallace's Team Ownership Limit His Preparation? by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday August 23, 2011

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, where race telecast criticism is the name of the game. We’re back from a one week break since I was out of town, covering the races in Watkins Glen (including the rain-delayed Cup race). If you’re looking for a critique of the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen, I did write one that ran in the Frontstretch Newsletter on Thursday. If you subscribe to the Newsletter, you’ll have access to our archives, so take a look.

This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series were each racing at Michigan International Speedway. Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series raced Saturday afternoon at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.


Circuit Gilles Villeneuve always provides great action. ESPN managed to do a good job covering it this week.

NAPA Auto Parts 200

Oh yes. Montreal and the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Always good for on track action and wildness. The only thing that the Formula One events have in common with the Nationwide races is the fact that brakes are an issue. Other than that, it’s a great race to watch.

For Saturday, ESPN brought their coverage to the Ile de Notre Dame. Since the Pit Studio was back in Michigan, Shannon Spake served as the de facto host of NASCAR Countdown from pit road.

Most of the first half of Countdown was spent covering the impending announcement that Danica Patrick will be racing full-time in the Nationwide Series in 2012. I’ll be the first to tell you that I could care less about that fact, especially when some good action was coming up. It would have been a lot more annoying had Patrick not been entered in the race. Of course, that led to ESPN trying to get something out of her about it. If we’ve learned anything about Patrick in her interviews over the past few years, it is that she is very selective in what she says on the record. So much so that she is an incredibly boring interview, and she knows it.

Marty Reid seems to revel in raucous crowds at tracks. When they’re loud and out in force, he gets really giddy. I can’t describe it much better than that. Of course, Montreal’s estimated crowd of 70,000 definitely qualified as raucous.

During the race, there seemed to be a few specific drivers that ESPN decided to focus on. Marcos Ambrose was one of them, along with the French-Canadian contingent of Jacques Villeneuve, Alex Tagliani and Patrick Carpentier. Carl Edwards was in on that as well, along with Trevor Bayne, Robby Gordon, Danica Patrick and Steve Wallace. If your favorite driver was not in that group, than he/she got limited coverage. If you’ve read my critiques recently, then you’ll know that I’m not a fan of that.

Early on, the most controversial aspect of the race was when Maryeve Dufault was spun out exiting Turn 5 and had serious issues getting turned around. That turn has historically been a pretty nasty one. For example, Olivier Panis crashed into a tire barrier (that isn’t there now) in 1997 and broke both of his legs. The crash effectively derailed his career, regardless of the fact that he came back to the car before the season ended. The issue there is that the turn is blind. There is a pond on the inside of the turn, which makes it impossible to actually move the wall in. Spotters basically can’t see the corner from anywhere on the circuit.

All three of the commentators took a negative view of Dufault’s decision making while trying to get back underway. Wallace described it as a “rookie mistake” and suggested that Dufault try to whip the car back around instead of doing what she did. Perfectly valid. Trevor Bayne had every right to be scared in that situation. However, there was no mention of a prior on-track incident between Dufault and Eric McClure that resulted in McClure having to spend time behind the wall. According to Emily Brandt (McClure’s PR Minion), Dufault clipped McClure on the first lap of the race in the left rear. Prior to that, she was weaving about. There was also another instance where Dufault ran into McClure later in the race, prompting Brandt to tweet that NASCAR should park Dufault. ESPN had no footage of any of this, so they couldn’t comment on it. In fact, the only time I remember the No. 81 showing up during the telecast was during Dufault’s three spins. I’m sure that if they did have footage, the booth would have reacted negatively.

The excitement factor was quite appropriate for the booth for much of the race. I had no issues there.

There were a couple of errors in the broadcast, though. For example, Reid misinterpreted the chants from the grandstand when Carpentier dropped out of the event as his last name when it was his first name being chanted. Whoops. The booth also misdiagnosed Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.‘s issues with two laps to go. As you may have seen, Stenhouse’s engine went south at that point. However, the booth was convinced that Stenhouse had a tire issue. It wasn’t until a shot of the smoke coming out of the exhaust pipes a half a lap later did they actually realize that it was really an engine problem. You guys are better than that. It was pretty obvious if you checked your monitor that Stenhouse was blowing up. There was also a camera in Turn 3 that went to black around Lap 60. Luckily, ESPN quickly switched away from that shot.

Post-race coverage was fairly brief since ESPN was running up against the beginning of another Little League game. ESPN provided viewers with six post-race interviews (five drivers, plus the winning crew chief) and left right on schedule to get to Williamsport. The point check was constrained to the scroll to save time.

I always greatly enjoy the action at Montreal, but it seemed that Wallace didn’t do enough homework with the strategies. He said right on the telecast that the pit strategies were confusing to him and that he didn’t quite get what was going on at the beginning of the race. I don’t think you want to admit that on-air. It makes you look unprepared. Here is a place where being a car owner in the series hurts Wallace in the booth. He can’t go from team to team in the garage to get information like the pit reporters and other commentators can. He’s the enemy. They won’t tell him anything that he could use on-air.

VFW 200

SPEED returned early Saturday afternoon to provide coverage of the Camping World Truck Series from Michigan International Speedway. The Setup started off like normal with a recap of the series’ most recent race, the Good Sam RV Emergency Road Service 125.

Featured in the Setup was a piece about the grand opening of ThorSport Racing’s brand new shop (teased in artists’ renderings last year on the Setup) in Sandusky, Ohio. It was a time for celebration at the spacious quarters. Following that, ThorSport’s drivers (Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton and Dakoda Armstrong) went off to nearby Cedar Point to ride some roller coasters. Ray Dunlap tagged along and tried not to look like an idiot.

Another feature was focused on James Buescher and the season he’s had in the No. 31. A lot of emphasis was put on Phoenix, where Buescher failed to qualify (despite being in the top-25 in owners’ points last year, they didn’t run all the races, thus forcing them to qualify on speed). From there, the discussion moved on to redemption for the missed race.

I found no issues with SPEED’s telecast on Saturday from Michigan. Allen, Parsons and Michael Waltrip continue to work very well together. I think it might have thrown them just a little bit to have Kyle Busch in the field, and not be a threat to win. I know, it’s rare, but it happens. Luckily, they got right back in the groove and kept going.

The enthusiasm in the booth was stellar, as always. That is one thing I never have to worry about with SPEED. Also, on a random note, they had one more in-truck camera than normal Saturday (five instead of four). I’m definitely not opposed to that.

Post-race coverage was fairly typical for SPEED. There were seven post-race driver interviews and an interview with Bruce Cook, the winning crew chief. There were also checks of the unofficial results and the point standings before SPEED left the air.

Pure Michigan 400

Sunday brought the Sprint Cup Series out to play at Michigan International Speedway. ESPN was back with their normal contingent at the track. Also, as usual, pre-race discussion in the Pit Studio dominated Countdown. I don’t have anything against the Briscoe-Wallace-Daugherty trio, but I’d prefer that if they’re going to do a full hour of pre-race most weeks, please do some more features and interviews.

Having said that, ESPN did provide some non-analysis pre-race content Sunday. First up was a SportScience feature on athletes and extreme heat. Being the somewhat nerdy person that I am, I like SportScience features. Granted, this one was nothing I didn’t already know, but it’s always amazing to see just how much athletes sweat. I liked SportScience better when it was still a FSN property. I’d prefer that SportScience be it’s own show instead of being limited to pre-game segments and clips on SportsCenter.

ESPN also played an interview with Mike Helton that was taped this week in response to driver calls for better on-track safety (SAFER Barriers, moving of walls, etc.). Definitely a reactionary piece, but still good to have. As usual, Helton didn’t give any definite answers, though.

Marty Smith also did a one-on-one sit down interview with Joey Logano about his season and how he handled the rumors about Carl Edwards swooping in and stealing his seat. A couple members of a group that I discuss the race with every now and then thought that Logano was not far off breaking down and crying, but I didn’t really see that myself.

Races at Michigan are kind of tough to cover since they are prone to a “green flag feel.” You know what that means. Granted, the action around restarts and the actual start of the race is always pretty interesting. I expect ESPN to be on their A-game in those circumstances and they were on Sunday. They showed viewers plenty of action for position and made use of their available technology to show multiple races for position at once.

However, once the race got “out into the open,” so to speak, it is a totally different story. At that point of the race, there is still racing for position, but you might have to take great pains to show it. I did not really see that. I saw a focus on the front running teams and their battles, but not much beyond about tenth.

Also, the first (of two) Up to Speeds that ESPN did was completely focused on the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers. They were all running 12th or better at the time. I have nothing against Hendrick Motorsports, but spread the wealth. There are more teams out there that are deserving of coverage. I’d rather not see something like that for the rest of the season.

Post-race coverage was fairly substantial. ESPN provided viewers with eight post-race driver interviews, plus an interview with winner Kyle Busch’s crew chief, Dave Rogers. Continuing on a trend that started in Watkins Glen, ESPN gave an unscrolled look at the unofficial results, which is something that I am happy that they’re doing now. There was also a check of the point standings and some post-race analysis before ESPN left the air for SportsCenter.

Generally, this was an average telecast for ESPN. I’ve listed my specific gripes above. I had no issues with Bestwick, Petree or Jarrett in the booth. Michigan races are generally not the most exciting events, but our guys did their best to make it interesting. As long as they continue to improve the scope of the broadcast, ESPN will continue to improve.

That’s all for this week. Just a short layoff before next weekend’s racing begins. It’s Bristol time once again. You know what that means. Ok, maybe not quite as much as in the past, but it is definitely still in play. All three of NASCAR’s “National” Series will be at the high-banked short track for action this weekend, but that’s not all. Here’s your listings for the week ahead.

Wednesday, August 24

Time Telecast Network
5:00pm-6:00pm Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
6:00-7:30pm Whelen Modified Series UNOH Perfect Storm 150 SPEED
7:30-8:00pm NCWTS Setup SPEED
8:00-10:30pm Camping World Truck Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 200 SPEED

Friday, August 26

Time Telecast Network
4:00am-5:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium Free Practice No. 1 SPEEDtv.com^
8:00-9:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
10:30am-12:00pm Nationwide Series Practice SPEED
12:00-2:00pm Sprint Cup Series Practice SPEED
2:30-3:30pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
3:30-5:00pm Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
5:00-6:30pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
6:30-7:00pm SPEED Center, Friday Edition SPEED
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
7:30-10:00pm Nationwide Series Food City 250 ESPN

Saturday, August 27

Time Telecast Network
5:00am-6:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium Free Practice No. 3 SPEEDtv.com^
8:00-9:30am Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium Qualifying SPEED
10:00-11:00am NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
4:30pm-5:00pm SPEED Center, Pre-Race SPEED
5:00-7:00pm NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
6:00-7:00pm Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying Versus*
7:00-7:30pm NASCAR Countdown ABC
7:30-11:00pm Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race ABC

Sunday, August 28

Time Telecast Network
7:30am-10:00am Formula One Grand Prix of Belgium SPEED
12:00pm-2:00pm V8 Supercar Championship Series Coates Hire Ipswich 300 SPEED*
4:00-7:00pm Izod IndyCar Series Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma Versus
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center, Post-Race SPEED
8:00-9:00pm NASCAR Victory Lane Fueled by Sunoco SPEED
9:00-10:00pm Wind Tunnel SPEED

*- Tape-delayed
^- Available via free streaming online

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide races from Bristol next Tuesday here on Frontstretch, guaranteed.

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:

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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Jim
08/23/2011 01:33 PM
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I thought the best parts of the Truck Race broadcast were when the roar of the trucks would drown out Mikie’s voice while he was talking. It just didn’t happen often enough.

I also noticed the ‘Through the Hendrick cars and the rest (or some) of the field’ too.

Favoritism, or payola?

Linda
08/23/2011 03:39 PM
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ESPN’s coverage may have been okay but I get really tired of them only following the lead cars during the race when there is other stuff going on on the track. It’s BORING regardless of who’s in the lead. I want to see racing for position, regardless of where it is on the track. Really wish they’d do something about that before they lose even more viewers, which they will once NFL season starts.

Ultraworld
08/23/2011 04:07 PM
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Rusty Wallace’s poor commentating has been a hot topic ever since he started doing it.

GinaV24
08/23/2011 04:33 PM
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Rusty Wallace has a major conflict of interest with his ownership of a team AND his son driving in the Nationwide series. It isn’t a matter of his being prepared, he simply should not be in the booth.

In addition to his conflict of interest, he’s really bad at broadcasting. the whole thing with not being able to figure out the fuel strategies would hav been funny if it weren’t so pathetic. Good thing Craven was there – at least he tried to help rusty and Marty.

Michigan is a boring race to watch on TV. It was pouring rain in my area so I had the tv on the entire time. I thought Allen did the best he could with the racing this track provides. I can tell you I would never bother to spend the $ to make the trip to this track.

Wayne
08/24/2011 05:44 PM
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Rusty certainly is not a very good broadcaster and I cringe when he speaks, but look at FOX and how many lousy broadcasters they have, the WALMOUTH brothers, Larry MacScreech, or as Monte Dutton refers to him a TV’s wordsmith, and Hopeless Hollywood Hammond who verbally stumbles and bumbles along on the air. So yes I don’t like watching Rusty, but look at the alternative. Rusty should probably join FOX/ SPEED as he would fit right in perfectly with those resident goofballs.