The Frontstretch: Talking NASCAR TV: SPEED, Not ESPN Struggles Mightily Through Loudon Coverage by Phil Allaway -- Tuesday September 27, 2011

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Hello, race fans. Welcome back to Talking NASCAR TV. This past weekend, the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series raced at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. They were joined by the Whelen Modified Tour, the ACT Tour and the K&N Pro Series East. The K&N race won’t be broadcast until Thursday night at 7 PM, while the ACT Tour race won’t be televised at all. However, the other three races were broadcast either live or almost live, so we’ll cover them here.

Ted Christopher and Justin Bonsignore battled at length near the front of the New England 100 this Saturday.

New England 100

Saturday afternoon brought the Whelen Modified Tour back to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for their third and final visit of the season. SPEED provided tape-delayed coverage of the event with a special trio in the booth. Bob Dillner covered the play-by-play, while Larry McReynolds and Jimmy Spencer added color commentary.

Dillner is OK in the play-by-play role, but I’d almost argue that he got the role because Mike Joy was preparing for his upcoming trip to Bathurst. I was surprised Joy wasn’t in the booth since he’s very knowledgeable about the Whelen Modifieds. McReynolds, for being possibly the most prepared racing commentator on television today, really doesn’t know all that much about the Modifieds.

Spencer is the X-Factor here. When he stays away from his rants and stupidity that you often see on RaceHub, plus when he was still on NASCAR RaceDay, he’s OK in the booth. Also, he’s the only one of the three up there that actually drove a Modified, so he knows a thing or two about them. Unfortunately, Spencer was already full-time in Winston Cup by the time NHMS was built. He did drive a Modified there in 1994 during the Slick 50 300 Cup weekend, but crashed out early. As a result, he couldn’t really bring much personal Modified experience at the track to the broadcast.

Even with the dominant (at times) Ryan Newman in the field, the race was very competitive and the booth was very enthusiastic. Always great to see.

Now, since this race was tape-delayed (the telecast started roughly 15 minutes after the race started), SPEED could simply stop the tape during commercial breaks. During all but one of the breaks, maybe a lap elapsed. Sometimes, it was less than that. The delay also allowed SPEED to cut out most of the red flag that was thrown just before halfway.

During that delay, SPEED showed a couple of interviews. The aforementioned Newman was already out of the race, so they talked to him about his issues. Leader Ron Silk was interviewed, as was Tommy Baldwin, Jr. about the Richie Evans tribute scheme that was being run in the race. However, the editing cut out a lot of the pit stops that occurred immediately after the red flag. Those stops put Woody Pitkat in the lead and made things confusing for viewers. Not good.

Post-race coverage was very, very brief. There was a post-race interview with winner Ron Silk, and that was it. The coverage immediately transitioned into NCWTS Setup.

As I’ve mentioned above, a lot of the personalities seemed out of place here. Dillner would usually be in the infield serving as a pit reporter. Dick Berggren, who normally does color on these quasi-live telecasts, was pit reporting, despite the fact that he was probably the most knowledgeable person there. It just didn’t seem right.

Also, there was a heavy focus on the front of the field during the race. However, since the action was so fast and furious at the front, there was only a small amount of drivers that could be covered.

F.W. Webb 175

Immediately following the Whelen Modified Tour race, the Camping World Truck Series lined up for their 175-lap race. Or, as it turned out to be, the Kyle Busch Memorial Buttkicking.

During the Setup, there were a couple of notable features. One was about Nelson Piquet, Jr. and his rise through the ranks. There were two facts that stood out here. One, the whole thing was literally a sequel to the feature that SPEED aired on Miguel Paludo prior to the Fast Five 225 at Chicagoland Speedway. Second, they completely skipped over Piquet’s time in Formula One. I’d argue that Piquet probably declined to talk about his time in Formula One due to how that rather infamously ended, but I’m not sure. For full disclosure purposes, when I had the chance to interview Piquet last year, I also did not ask him about anything having to do with his time in Formula One, or Renault. However, it was not because he refused to talk about it. I was under the opinion that there was still a gag order at the time, and his manager was sitting next to me the whole time, staring at his watch and basically saying “hurry it up.”

The other piece was based around the close battle for the championship. The Camping World Truck Series was not really affected by the “pick a series rule” that NASCAR enacted for the 2011 season, but it is still an amazing title chase.

I am fairly confident that SPEED expected a lot more in the way of on-track action on Saturday. Regardless, SPEED should endeavor to show as much racing for position as possible. They did not do that on Saturday. Instead, SPEED chose to give Kyle Busch an unnecessary amount of focus, especially when he was running away with the race. I could care less about what Kyle Busch is doing eight seconds ahead of everyone else, to be honest.

The race ended quickly, leaving SPEED plenty of time for post-race coverage. However, SPEED chose not to take advantage of that time. Only three post-race interviews were shown, along with checks of the unofficial results and point standings. Then, they decided to leave 26 minutes early so that they could get to the Barrett-Jackson Auction in Las Vegas. What the heck?

It was like watching another network televise the Truck Series on Saturday afternoon. I think this one was the worst truck race telecast in years. Ray Dunlap admitted on-air that the race was a “stinker” during his Victory Lane interview with Kyle Busch. Of course, Dunlap was basically saying that Kyle “stunk up the show,” but I don’t think NASCAR generally likes that all that much. I don’t know why SPEED chose to ignore most of the tenets of good Truck broadcasts from earlier this season. I just hope that we don’t see more of the same at Kentucky Speedway Saturday night.

Tony Stewart got lots of camera time Sunday — not as the leader — but as one of 12 cars in the Chase.

Sylvania 300

Sunday brought the Sprint Cup Series to the forefront with Race No. 2 in the Chase for the Sprint Cup from New Hampshire. Entering Sunday’s race, fuel mileage was once again on the mind of everyone. To that degree, ESPN did a special Tech Garage feature on it where Dale Jarrett made a rare visit to the expandable tractor trailer to demonstrate fuel-saving strategies. Of course, almost none of that stuff could even be used in New Hampshire because of the flat turns and comparatively long straights, but it was still interesting, nonetheless.

Kurt Busch, when he wasn’t angry about his car flunking pre-race technical inspection, spent some time with ESPN talking about his love of baseball. Recently, he accomplished the feat of seeing a game in all 30 current Major League Baseball ballparks. With the monetary outlay involved today, such an accomplishment is fairly substantial. The feature itself was a nice look at Kurt Busch away from the track, you know, when he isn’t angry at reporters for referencing his new girlfriend during a press conference (5:10 mark of this clip).

There was also a montage on who was the driver to beat for the title. I watched this piece and it completely failed to pump me up for the race. However, it did put me in the mood to watch some 1980’s NBA Basketball, like say, Game 7 of the 1984 NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics (2:40 of this clip). I guess it’s appropriate, since it is New England and all.

However, the main feature of pre-race was a piece that went into the mind of crew chiefs, especially towards the end of the races. Aside from people like Chad Knaus, Steve Letarte, Alan Gustafson, and others, many of these men work in near obscurity. They are placed under a significant amount of stress during these races. Not necessarily the physical stress that the drivers undergo, but mental stress. Many of the crew chiefs take defeats worse than the drivers, especially since they’re viewed as more expendable.

As for the F-Bomb caught on camera from Kurt Busch during Countdown, I did not hear it when it happened live on Sunday. However, I did hear about the swear via Twitter. Using the magic of the DVR, I went back and looked at it. You could barely make it out (I was straining to hear it). Kurt didn’t even seem angry. It looked more like Kurt having some fun with one of ESPN’s cameramen. My opinion? Big deal. I think a lot of viewers would have never known about it had Bestwick not specifically mentioned it on Lap 278 (three hours after the fact) and apologized.

The big story of pre-race was Kurt Busch’s inspection issues. However, they were just not touched upon until the 50-minute mark. ESPN showed Kurt Busch’s car just sitting in the garage, partially obscured by a truck. I don’t know if ESPN simply didn’t get the information early enough to cover it before 1:50, but it should have been given its proper due earlier in the broadcast.

My guess is that ESPN felt that fans were confused over Kurt Busch’s issues, so they ran a second Tech Garage feature about the measure that Kurt’s car apparently failed. Then, they reran that feature via split-screen 18 laps into the race.

Once again, there was a heavy emphasis on the drivers within the Chase. The only non-Chasers that got a significant amount of airtime were Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer. They had to get up and lead the race to get much exposure at all. Regan Smith earned his fifth top-10 finish of the season, but got only one mention all day long, and that was during a round of green-flag pit stops. The only reason that ESPN really stepped out of the top 10 was to cover Chasers. Towards the end of the race, this choice meant that quite a bit of coverage was back there (a group of Chasers were piled into positions 12-18, with Smith splitting up the bunch).

Post-race coverage was decent since the race ended quickly. ESPN provided viewers with nine post-race interviews (eight drivers, plus Darian Grubb) along with a check of the all-important points before leaving to go to Sportscenter ten minutes early. Tony Stewart then did a live interview from Victory Lane for SportsCenter prior to his winner’s media availability in the Media Center.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I really don’t like the Chase bias. It doesn’t show the whole story of just what the deuce is happening out there on the track. ESPN, you need to expand your focus beyond Chasers, please. Also, please amp up your graphical quality control. I saw some incorrect positions on graphics, along with one graphic where I outright couldn’t see a position listed. I think it was actually white on gold, and that just doesn’t work. Couldn’t see it.

That’s all for this week. Next weekend is shaping up to be a very busy one for race fans. The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series will be back in action at Dover International Speedway for their traditional fall race weekend, pushed back a week from normal. Meanwhile, the Izod IndyCar Series and Camping World Truck Series will be in action at Kentucky Speedway. Here’s your listings for the week.

Friday, September 30

Time Telecast Network
12:30 PM – 2:30 PM Nationwide Series Practice ESPN2
2:30 – 4:30 PM Sprint Cup Series Practice ESPN2
2:55 – 4:25 PM? American Le Mans Series Qualifying^

Saturday, October 1
Time Telecast Network
11:15 AM – 11:45 PM? American Le Mans Series Petit Le Mans^
12:00 PM – 1:30 PM Nationwide Series Qualifying SPEED
1:30 – 3:00 PM Sprint Cup Series Qualifying SPEED
3:00 – 3:30 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN2
3:00 – 5:00 PM V8 Supercar Championship Series L&H 500 SPEED*%
3:30 – 6:00 PM Nationwide Series 5-Hour Energy 200 ESPN2
6:00 – 7:00 PM Camping World Truck Series Qualifying SPEED
6:00 – 7:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Qualifying Versus*
7:30 – 8:00 PM NCWTS Setup SPEED
8:00 – 10:30 PM Camping World Truck Series UNOH 225 SPEED

Sunday, October 2
Time Telecast Network
9:00 AM – 10:00 AM NASCAR Now, Pre-Race ESPN2
11:00 AM – 1:00 PM NASCAR RaceDay Built by The Home Depot SPEED
12:00 PM – 2:00 PM Firestone Indy Lights: Kentucky Versus
1:00 – 2:00 PM NASCAR Countdown ESPN
2:00 – 5:00 PM Izod IndyCar Series Kentucky Indy 300 Versus
2:00 – 6:00 PM Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 ESPN
4:00 – 6:00 PM American Le Mans Series Petit Le Mans ABC*%
~6:00 – 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 password-protected streaming. Access allowed by participating ISP’s. Check with your provider to see if you’re eligible.
%- Highlights

I will provide critiques of the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series races in next week’s critique here at Frontstretch. The Izod IndyCar Series race from Kentucky Speedway will be covered in the Annex.

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Today on the Frontstretch:
Championship Caliber? What Does That Even Mean?
Mirror Driving: Winning Vs. Points, Needing a Boost, and The Lady’s Last Dance?
Nuts for Nationwide: The Curious Case of Elliott Sadler
Happiness Is…Arrogance, Less, Next, and the Outdoors
Frontstretch Foto Funnies: It’s Not Gonna Fit…


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09/27/2011 11:59 AM

Modifieds – By far the best of the televised races from NH. I’ll need to see the K&N race to comment but it will be hard to beat 24 lead changes in a 100 lap race and they don’t bump draft like the mods. Someone should stick a sock in Spencers mouth. To be a past Modified Champion, he is pitiful. Can’t think fast enough or even know the names of the drivers.

Trucks – Just sad. Slept through most of it and the replay on tape. As for leaving early, Barrett-Jackson was way more exciting. For NASCAR to turn what used to be an exciting division into what it is today is a shame. Dunlap absolutely does the best he can with what he has to work with as do most of the Truck personalities.

Cup – It is what it is no matter which network does the telecast.

09/27/2011 01:09 PM

I really hate the chase and Randy is right, no matter who does the telecast they only concentrate on their favorites, pre and during the chase. What irked me to no end was, even though they do the split screen for the second half of the race, there are way too many commercials. Seems as though they figure as long as we can still see what’s happening to the top 10 they can have even more commercial breaks. No one seems to know or care how to televise these races for the fans viewing pleasure. Noticed lots of empty seats as well.