The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: NASCAR NonStop Major Step Forward For ESPN by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday September 20, 2011

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Talking NASCAR TV: NASCAR NonStop Major Step Forward For ESPN

Phil Allaway · Tuesday September 20, 2011

 

Hello, race fans. Welcome back to another delayed edition of Talking NASCAR TV. Thanks to a lucky day off from my non-Frontstretch job, I was able to watch Monday’s Sprint Cup race live from home, instead of having to wait until I got home to watch it on the DV-R. In addition, the Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series were each in action in Joliet this weekend. Let’s do what we do best.

Chicagoland was the site of a triple slate of NASCAR races this weekend.

Fast Five 225

On Friday night, the Camping World Truck Series returned to action after a week off in Joliet, Ill. It was a somewhat typical night with nothing really out of the ordinary happening. But, let’s see how they did.

The Setup started off like normal with a recap of the previous race (the Good Sam Club 200 in Atlanta) before getting into some of the pre-race interviews. Unfortunately, when Hermie Sadler went to interview pole sitter Steve Arpin, he had technical issues with his microphone. SPEED acknowledged this gaffe, but they made no attempt to try again during the Setup, which bites. I understand that the show was pretty full, but they should have tried to give Arpin his deserved airtime again before the race.

There was a feature on Miguel Paludo and the road that he took in order to reach the Truck Series. Admittedly, I had all but never heard of him before he had entered the series — the vast majority of Paludo’s racing experience was in Brazil, and almost no racing in Brazil outside of the Grand Prix of Brazil at Interlagos (near Sao Paulo) is aired here in the United States. From SPEED’s telecasts over the past year, I was able to gleam that he had been a pretty good driver in Porsche Supercup, which is a spec series. If you want an American comparison (since we don’t have an American Porsche Supercup series), it’s the equivalent of the GTC Class in the American Le Mans Series. They use the same equipment (more or less). As a result, I had no real expectations of what to think of him on track. He’s done well so far and comes off as a little more confident in himself than fellow countryman Nelson Piquet, Jr. does.

Another feature was about Max Papis and his training regimen. The word that comes to mind is “stringent.” He puts himself through heck in order to train for these races. However, the feature itself came off as a commercial for Polar, the company that makes the heart rate monitor that he wears. Polar logos were everywhere, including the bike that Papis trains on and the cycling gear Papis wore while riding said $6,000 bike (estimated cost). Still, it was interesting because the monitor that Papis wears, the one which stores data about his workouts that can be downloaded and analyzed. It’s like having MoTeC data acquisition for yourself, as opposed to your race car (not legal in NASCAR, of course).

Race coverage was fairly typical for a SPEED telecast. The broadcast was balanced with a decent amount of coverage throughout the field. In addition, you had Rick Allen in the booth. Allen is a naturally excitable personality on-air, so you never have any issues with on-air boredom at the play-by-play position.

Post-race coverage was decent. SPEED provided viewers with eight post-race interviews (seven drivers, plus Danny Stockman (the winning crew chief)). One of those interviews was with Arpin, who finished 16th. Sadler stated ahead of time that this would be his chance to make up for the earlier issues. Yes, it’s nice that SPEED gave Arpin a second chance, but it still should have been done before the race started. There were also checks of the unofficial results and point standings before SPEED left the air.

Aside from the pre-race technical issues that inadvertently screwed Arpin out of his well-deserved airtime, SPEED put together a pretty good broadcast. The excitement level was proper and there was a very good amount of racing for position shown. That’s pretty much all I want from a race broadcast and SPEED delivered.

Dollar General 300

Saturday afternoon brought the Nationwide Series back to Chicagoland Speedway for its second visit of the season. Of course, since it’s now September, the college football juggernaut once again played a role, much like the Nards of Doom during the Dash to Death event on mXc when it still aired on Spike (slight viewer discretion advised for inappropriate terminology and ridiculousness).

However, unlike the Nards of Doom, a college football game won’t eliminate you from the airwaves (although, it might push you to another channel if it becomes one of those seven overtime thrillers). But, those games will certainly delay the start of coverage. That was the case on Saturday.

The Pittsburgh-Iowa game ran long by 15 minutes, meaning that NASCAR Countdown contained minimal content. There were a decent amount of interviews for such a short period of time (four of them), followed by a recap of the Virginia 529 College Savings 250 and a Tech Garage segment on engine airflow.

Once the race got underway, I had a gripe really early in the telecast. I don’t understand why viewers always need to be reminded that the apron at intermediate tracks is not out of bounds. This goes for the Cup broadcast as well. We’re not stupid here. Anyone who’s seen a restrictor plate race in the last few years knows that NASCAR puts a double yellow line on the inside of the track to denote what is and what is not in bounds. Now, I am not a fan of that rule in the first place (that is a discussion for another time), but there shouldn’t be a reason to have to say this every time they race at a 1.5 mile tri-oval.

During the event, two groups of drivers received coverage. One group consisted of the bonafide leaders. Granted, that group was pretty small: Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards. The second group consisted of a number of drivers in the top-10 runners that were constantly battling with each other towards the midpoint of the race. Beyond that group, you got nothing. Robby Gordon recently told Dustin Long in an interview that even if he ran full races, he would get the same amount of exposure as if he S&P’ed. It’s even more true in the Nationwide Series unless you wreck. That really needs to change. And they wonder why ten teams S&P’ed on Saturday…

Post-race coverage was relatively quick. It was all done in one segment without commercial interruption. ESPN brought viewers five driver interviews and one with the winning crew chief (Todd Gordon). There was also a check of the point standings before ESPN left the air to get to College Football Primetime.

Even though this event was the fastest Nationwide race ever run at Chicagoland Speedway, the finish was still right up against the end of ESPN’s timeslot, so they apparently had to leave rather quickly. However, I really don’t think that ESPN needed to allocate such a limited time to the event so that they couldn’t do a proper post-race. I shudder to think what it would have looked like if it were a more typical Chicagoland race with six or seven cautions instead of three.

Honestly, this race was kinda boring to watch. Brad Keselowski basically ran away with the proceedings. In cases like that, the broadcaster must find a way to make the race more exciting, and Marty Reid and the rest of the ESPN booth failed to do it. I’m sorry. As the de facto leader in the booth, such a task to make a boring race more palatable is ultimately on Reid, and he just wasn’t up to the task.

GEICO 400

Sunday brought viewers what was supposed to be the first Chase race of the year. Of course, you know by now that it didn’t happen on Sunday. Not like NASCAR didn’t try to get the event in, but the weather just didn’t want to cooperate. Oh, well. You know what that means… rain fill.

ESPN provided viewers at least two dozen driver interviews during the time on-air. There were a couple of repeats. For example, Kyle Busch was given two regular interviews, while Carl Edwards had one regular one and joined Nicole Briscoe, Rusty Wallace and Brad Daugherty in the Pit Studio for some extra discussion. In addition to the driver interviews, a few crew chiefs were also put on the air. Chad Knaus also stopped by the Pit Studio for a chat.

During Countdown, ESPN showed a feature that basically went into Knaus’ past. Previously, I didn’t really know much about Knaus prior to his first stint at Hendrick Motorsports. In the piece, we learned about Knaus having only a high school education and seemingly being stuck working in a Rockford, Ill. factory making screws. He decided to press his luck and leave for the Southeast.

The piece contained what I think was the first mention of Stanley Smith on a NASCAR-related telecast in at least a decade (Knaus was originally hired to work for Smith’s part-time No. 49 Cup team). After Smith’s near-fatal crash at Talladega in 1993, Knaus was basically unemployed. To further his career, he drove to North Carolina to interview with Ray Evernham for a spot with the No. 24 team. Evernham was very impressed with Knaus and basically hired him on the spot. From there, he worked on the No. 24 for a number of years before leaving for DEI, then the Dodge Test Team, Melling Racing and back to Hendrick. I thought it was a very nice feature. Of course, any segment about the pre-Johnson part of Knaus’ career is going to be Evernham-heavy, but it would have been nice if ESPN could have tracked down Smith to get his input (if any) on Knaus (he is still around, and owns a drywall company in Chelsea, Alabama).

ESPN left their coverage from Chicagoland at 5 PM ET on Sunday, a half-hour ahead of schedule, to go to SportsCenter. From there, they did periodic look-ins at Chicagoland until Sunday Night Baseball started. Unlike at Atlanta, the announcement of the postponement was not shown on ESPN. Instead, it was updated in the BottomLine scroll. Kinda weak there, but by 8 PM ET ESPN was focused on the Phillies game from Citizens Bank Park.

On Monday, ESPN came on-air at noon ET with a brief introduction of the race and some words from the booth before the command (given by the GEICO Caveman). If you’re wondering, yes, there was an invocation and National Anthem, but they were before ESPN came on-air.

Once the race started, viewers saw the same Chase focus that we had during the Cup telecast from Richmond last weekend. Granted, there’s still nine races to go in the season from this point, so not every move resulted in a points check. In fact, there were no points checks that I noticed during the race. I don’t expect this exclusion to be the case once we get to even Charlotte in October, though.

Based on what I saw Monday, I don’t think I’d want to be anyone outside of the Chase for the next few weeks. With the possible exception of Talladega, they’re going to be basically ignored. Pretty much the only non-Chaser to get a decent amount of airtime on Monday was Paul Menard. Menard started on the outside pole and ran in the top-10 runners all day before running out of gas on the final lap. Even the Up to Speed segments were quite limited (there was only one all day).

Monday also marked the race debut of ESPN’s RaceBuddy setup. You might expect it to be identical to what TNT gave viewers during their portion of the season. To that, I say “not exactly.” Yes, you still had ten available channels (ESPN chose not to count the two mosaic channels in the overall count, which is their choice, I guess). However, there was an increase in the number of available in-car cameras from four to six. For many of you, that would be considered a good thing. For me, it’s lukewarm. Since I still have to critique the broadcast and can’t just sit around and watch RaceBuddy in-car cameras all day, I tend to only watch during commercials and check out the Battle Cam. That view was excised for this setup, which I’m not happy about. That was my favorite. Otherwise, the setup was identical to what TNT used during their Summer Series.

Also, I had some issues with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.‘s in-car camera. I’m not sure if anyone else can vouch for this problem, but when I clicked on it, I couldn’t get a picture for the first 50 laps of the race. After that, it came in fine. If you had any issues with RaceBuddy along the lines of what I just said, please post them below.

ESPN’s new NASCAR NonStop side-by-side commercial setup debuted in Joliet and generally worked well. With all the free time ESPN had on Sunday, they chose to do a quick run-through of NASCAR NonStop at about 4:40 PM. Since the scroll is still in use, unlike Versus’ setup, they do not need to keep the top-5 runners on screen and thus have more space for the advertiser’s logo.

On Monday, they went to the NonStop breaks starting on Lap 110. I guess that’s a little before halfway, but I’m not complaining. What’s the general effect that the new breaks have on overall commercial breaks in the race? I found that the earlier breaks were a little longer, maybe one extra commercial in each break. Still not as long as the three and a half minute breaks you sometimes see on TNT, though. I feared a substantial increase in commercials in order to allow for the NonStop, but that’s unfounded. Good all around.

Post-race coverage was very brief. ESPN gave its audience interviews with the top-4 finishers (Stewart, Harvick, Earnhardt, Jr. and Edwards) and an interview with the winning crew chief. There was also a check of the points before a quick farewell to get to NFL Primetime. I know it’s Monday and ESPN wants to hype the bejesus out of the Monday night game, but the telecast was scheduled to go to at least 3:30 PM EDT (at least, according to my on-screen guide). ESPN left the air 20 minutes early. Really not necessary.

I’m still not a fan of the supreme Chase focus. People get completely lost in the shuffle with such a close-minded outlook on the race. ESPN is not telling the full story of the race with such a focus, a frustrating philosophy that needs to change.

That’s all for this week, folks. Next weekend, the Chase continues in Loudon, New Hampshire (Weather permitting, of course.) Sprint Cup will be joined there by the Camping World Truck Series and the Whelen Modified Tour for a Saturday show. Here are your listings for the week…

—-
Weekend Viewership Schedule:

Friday, September 23
Time Telecast Network
6:00 AM – 7:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore Free Practice No. 1 SPEEDtv.com
9:30 – 11:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore Free Practice No. 2 SPEED
11:30 AM – 1:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice ESPN2
3:00 – 4:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying ESPN2

Saturday, September 24
Time Telecast Network
7:00 AM – 8:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore Free Practice No. 3 SPEEDtv.com^
10:00 – 11:30 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore Qualifying SPEED
11:30 AM – 12:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Happy Hour SPEED
1:00 – 2:30 PM Whelen Modified Series New Hampshire 100 SPEED*
2:30 – 3:00 PM NCWTS Setup SPEED
3:00 – 5:30 PM Camping World Truck Series F.W. Webb 175 SPEED

Sunday, September 25
Time Telecast Network
7:30 AM – 10:00 AM Formula One Grand Prix of Singapore SPEED
9:00 – 10:00 AM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
11:00 AM – 1:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
1:00 – 2:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN
1:00 – 3:00 PM Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, Mid-Ohio SPEED*
2:00 – 5:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 ESPN, RaceBuddy^, WatchESPN.com&
5:30 – 6:30 PM NASCAR Victory Lane Fueled by Sunoco SPEED$
7:00 – 8:00 PM SPEED Center SPEED
8:00 – 9:00 PM Wind Tunnel SPEED
10:00 – 11:00 PM NASCAR Now, Post-Race ESPN2

*- Tape Delayed
^- Available via free online streaming, no password required.
$- Dependent on when the Sylvania 300 ends. Subject to change.
&- Available only to Time Warner Cable, Verizon FiOS and Bright House Networks customers. Requires password for access.

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series races from New Hampshire here at Frontstretch next week. I will also be covering the Whelen Modified race, but I’m unclear as to whether it will be here on the site, or in the Annex. For this Thursday in the Critic’s Annex, I’ll be covering the Indy Japan 300k from the Twin Ring Motegi. It hurt a little, I’ll telling you that right 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 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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Joe
09/20/2011 01:35 PM
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Phil, you asked for comments on Race Buddy. I have two. First mine kept freezing all day. I rebooted several times to no avail. I realize this might be a local issue. Second, it’s maddening to have to endure that damn commercial EVERY TIME I WANTED TO SWITCH CAMERA VIEWS. C’mon guys, make us watch it 2 or 3 times and then realize “WE SAW IT”. Oh, one more thing. Is there a technical reason the streaming is SOOO far behind the actual telecast?

Joe--
09/20/2011 02:06 PM
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Race Buddy was lousy because of that idiot commercial that ran after every camera change. After an hour of that mess I turned off Race Buddy and went for a hamburger. No more Race Buddy for me and that’s a bummer since I don’t get ESPN.

RamblinWreck
09/20/2011 05:58 PM
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Hm, I didn’t have commercials with Race Buddy. The leaderboard froze up a couple of times, but I just hit “refresh” and it worked fine. For what it’s worth, I was using Firefox 6.

Phil Allaway
09/20/2011 06:12 PM
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I’m with you guys about the same commercial showing every time you switch channels. I’m surprised that it’s an issue. It would recognize the channels you’ve already viewed last year and earlier this year during the TNT portion of the season.

Joe, I had the same problems during the TNT portion of the year, but not yesterday. Interesting. As for why RaceBuddy is so far behind, it’s worth looking into. Definitely not the case with TruckBuddy, though.

DoninAjax
09/20/2011 10:04 PM
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Broadcasters can’t make the race more entertaining because they have a script to follow and cars to plug.

Jim
09/21/2011 08:36 AM
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Broadcasters are killing off truck and nationwide teams with their incompetent, lazy production standards.