Phil Allaway · Tuesday September 13, 2011
Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV, where criticism is the story of the day. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series each had their second night race of the season at the Richmond International Raceway.
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On Friday night, the Nationwide Series returned to Richmond for the second time this season. ESPN’s normal crew was back, including Marty Reid. Last week, I got on Reid’s case for completely screwing up the call around a yellow that resulted in an improperly timed commercial break. Did he get himself fully back in the game? Let’s find out.
NASCAR Countdown was the usual affair, full of pre-race analysis and substantial focus on a select few drivers. There was a fair amount of discussion about the Nationwide Dash 4 Cash, since Richmond was the third race in that series. Granted, ESPN felt that Josh Wise basically had no shot at the big bucks and they came out and said so. Of course, that was done with the caveat that they had talked to Wise and Wise admitted that it would be very difficult to contend for the $100,000 in the Key Motorsports No. 40, even though the No. 40 was quite a bit stronger than usual on Friday night.
During the race broadcast, there were two groups of drivers that got a lot of coverage. One group was those drivers involved in the Dash 4 Cash (Wise, Reed Sorenson, Elliott Sadler and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.). Wise was eliminated early when he had mechanical issues under yellow (although, he was running decently before it went up in a big plume of smoke). Sorenson and Stenhouse got the lion’s share of coverage, although a lot of Sorenson’s coverage was of the “he won the first two Dash races and he’s not winning” type. Really quite patronizing, to be honest.
The other group was that of the Cup ‘whackers (Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski before and after his wreck). They consistently got the most on-track coverage. Of course, Kyle Busch won again and Edwards was on his tuchis at the end, but Brad Keselowski was a complete non-factor after he hit the wall and eventually got himself lapped.
There were three X-factors in Friday’s coverage. One was Ryan Truex in the Schick-sponsored No. 20, forced to start at the rear due to ignition issues. Then, there was Kenny Wallace, because he’s Kenny Wallace and Richmond is a very good track for him. Finally, you have Danica Patrick. We all know why she gets preferential treatment, and I don’t agree with it.
I’ve stated multiple times in the past that Danica Patrick no longer drives TV ratings. The difference from when she does or does not race is negligible at best. ESPN would most definitely disagree with that statement, but it’s what I believe. What’s the ratings difference these days, five percent when she does or does not race? That’s almost nothing. There was no difference in the rating of Friday’s race from last year to this year. Zilcho. Custody of my diddly squat. She’s another racer out there. Big deal. Cover her properly and don’t report on every little thing she does like she’s Kim Kardashian.
Found it interesting that the booth talked about the Spring race at Richmond as if they actually were there when we know dang well they weren’t. Maybe Petree made the trip to keep in touch with his garage sources, but I can’t imagine Reid or Jarrett being there without defined roles.
As for Reid, he was ok Saturday night, but once again, could still stand to improve. His enthusiasm is often mistimed, and it showed pretty badly on Friday. Case in point, the obviously intentional incident where Trevor Bayne was put in the wall by Kevin Harvick with less than 40 laps to go. It was as if Reid just knew that the retaliation was coming and was just resigned to it happening. The equivalent of saying “whoop-dee-do, here we go again.” It almost seems like Reid isn’t enjoying himself anymore on-air. If that is so, it would be a great shame and quite a fall for someone that was viewed as a savior for ESPN’s Cup coverage as recently as 18 months ago. I guess the drop down to the Nationwide Series is playing a role with Reid.
Post-race coverage was decent, despite ESPN being over their slot. There were six post-race driver interviews and an interview with the winning crew chief (Jason Ratcliff). There was also a check of the point standings before ESPN left the air.
The race coverage was heavily influenced by the storyline factors that I have listed above. I generally would just be happy if all the racing on-track was covered equally. As it stands, we have maybe 13 drivers that get coverage and everyone else is like a ghost car in Gran Turismo 4 time trials unless something happens. That is not the way to promote a race series, or the drivers in it. A more inclusive approach is needed. Simple as that.
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Saturday night brought the Sprint Cup Series back to ABC for their final race of the regular season. Say what you want about the Chase (let’s just say that I’m not a fan of this setup), but it’s what we’ve got. Does the specter of the Chase affect ESPN’s broadcast? Let’s find out.
Since the race was on ABC instead of ESPN, they went with just a half-hour of pre-race coverage. Most of the pre-race coverage was focused upon the Chase, and in particular, those near the bubble. The only drivers interviewed were battling for those final spots. Of course, there was also the requisite amount of pre-race analysis from the Pit Studio as well.
There was also a recap of Tuesday’s Advocare 500, which produced Jeff Gordon’s 85th career victory. Gordon sat down and reflected on his victory and what it meant to him. In addition, he also talked about his chances at potentially getting his fifth championship. It was interesting to watch, if a little short. I would have liked to see a little more on this.
Since Sunday was the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, ESPN showed a feature in which they asked various drivers their memories of the attacks themselves and what they felt at the time. I guess it was touching. No one cried, but the statements were heartfelt.
As you all know now, Saturday night’s race was a wreckfest early on. This, naturally, created issues on the broadcast. The well-publicized three lap moment of silence fell during a yellow after the biggest wreck of a race. I knew this was going to happen. Always seems to, regardless of how good the synergistic intentions were.
Regardless of how I say this, I’m going to come off as nothing more than an insensitive troll. But, it is what I believe, and I’m not apologizing for it, so don’t ask. This moment was screwed up. Who thought doing a three lap moment of silence in the middle of a race like this was a good idea? I guess they wanted to be different from everyone else. Also, they probably figured that three laps under green at Richmond would be just a shade over a minute. I don’t know. It would have been much better, and had much more of an impact had it been done before the race. ESPN would have still televised it and everyone would have gotten the full impact of the situation.
Here, it just came off as ill-placed and simply not thought out well, also an injustice to those who died. Most of this was not ESPN’s doing (although, they agreed to it), but RIR’s. I’d also rant about being completely clueless as to what was going on at the time with that wreck and how in situations like this in 2001, both FOX and NBC would break off from the silent laps to report on what was going on if something notable happened (basically, wrecks were the only exception here.)
Aside from that mess, the race telecast was heavily stilted towards those already in the Chase, or those on the Bubble. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s the go-to move this time of year. I could care less about the Chase, but it’s all that anyone talks about at Richmond. Guess I should be happy there were so many wrecks, because I got to see people that I wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise on the telecast. Like Stephen Leicht.
Somehow, ESPN found a way to miss the restart from the first caution of the race. C’mon, now. That was six laps into the race. That is patently ridiculous. I understand that you have backers for the race that have paid a good amount of money for the exposure. However, I would much rather see a race restart and a commercial getting delayed to the next break than the Snookmeister crushing pistachios with the top of a sun tan bed while wearing high heels. Nothing against Dutchess County’s grandmaster of the poof hair-do, but that’s just what I believe.
I guess that there was more coverage up front than in past September races at Richmond, but that was because Chasers led basically the entire race (with the exception of the 19 laps Jamie McMurray led early on). What I’m basically saying is that if you weren’t in the Chase, or in contention, you had to do something extraordinary to get much of a mention on-air. That’s never good, and I don’t care what time of year it is.
There was a strange technical slip-up late in the race when ESPN was trying to go to commercial. Allen Bestwick voiced out the lead into the break, and all the typical graphics and music were there. However, the race didn’t go to break. We were treated to an extra two laps of racing before Bestwick came back on and apologized for the technical issue. Not sure what the issue was. Could be something as simple as “someone in Bristol forgot to push a button.” Regardless, the break came after Bestwick did his lead for the second time. It’s low-rent stuff like this that really seems to hurt ESPN’s telecasts on the technical side of the coin. It’s disheartening. I want ESPN to be better than this, but these issues keep showing up every week.
With the 15 cautions in Saturday night’s race, the event ended 15 minutes past the end of the timeslot. Often, when races are shown on ABC, this would mean a quickie post-race show so that the East Coast can get to the 11 o’clock news. Not so much this time. I’m guessing that Saturday being the cut-off was the primary reason here, but there was an expanded post-race show. There were 14 post-race interviews conducted, and a check of the all-important points. Granted, all of these were with drivers either in the Chase, or people that just missed, but that’s still a lot of coverage. I was very happy with the post-race coverage.
Even though I was happy with post-race coverage, the race coverage itself left me wanting a little. The technical issue and the Chase focus really brought the telecast down. On the other hand, I think the booth was quite amazed at the action we got Saturday night, especially since recent races in this schedule slot have been quite lackluster. As a result, we had a very enthusiastic booth all night, which is always good to see. There are lessons to be learned from this race. Namely, spread your coverage out a little more and find a way to make sure that production workers in Bristol don’t screw up the telecast.
That’s all for this week. Next weekend is another full weekend of on-track action. The Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series are all racing at Chicagoland Speedway during week No. 1 of the Chase. Meanwhile, the Izod IndyCar Series, Grand-Am and ALMS are also in action.
Friday, September 16
Time Telecast Network
2:00pm-3:30pm Sprint Cup Series Practice ESPN 2
3:30-4:30pm Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
4:30-6:00pm Nationwide Series Happy Hour SPEED
6:00-7:30pm Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
6:30-8:30? American Le Mans Series Qualifying WatchESPN.com^
7:30-8:00pm NCWTS Setup SPEED
8:00-10:30pm Camping World Truck Series Fast Fuel 225 SPEED
Saturday, September 17
Time Telecast Network
12:00pm-1:30pm Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
1:30-3:00pm Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
3:00-3:30pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN 2
3:00-6:00pm Rolex Sports Car Series EMCO Gears Classic SPEED
3:30-6:00pm Nationwide Series Dollar General 300 ESPN 2
4:15-10:45pm American Le Mans Series ModSpace ALMS Monterey WatchESPN.com^
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center SPEED
11:00pm-2:00am Izod IndyCar Series Indy Japan 300 Versus
Sunday, September 18
Time Telecast Network
9:00am-10:00am NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN 2
11:00am-1:00pm NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
1:00-2:00pm NASCAR Countdown ESPN
1:00-3:00pm American Le Mans Series ModSpace ALMS Monterey (Highlights Edition) ESPN 2*
2:00-5:30pm Sprint Cup Series GEICO 400 ESPN
5:30-6:00pm? NASCAR Victory Lane Fueled by Sunoco SPEED$
7:00-8:00pm SPEED Center SPEED
8:00-9:00pm Wind Tunnel SPEED
^-Available via password-protected online streaming. Check with your Internet Service Provider for availability.
$- Dependant on when the GEICO 400 ends. Subject to change.
I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series race in next week’s critique here at Frontstretch. The Izod IndyCar Series event will be covered in the September 22 edition of The Critic’s Annex in the Frontstretch Newsletter. This week’s Newsletter will cover The Day: 1992 Hooters 500, a great 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:
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